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September 26, 2001
On patriotism and Zealotry

By Jonathan Roosevelt


"I consider myself to be a patriotic American with a long family tradition of service to the country. I worked in the government for seven years, four of which were abroad. Two of our family served this country as Presidents. My father had a distinguished career (following military service in WW11) with the C.I.A.. My brother was a Democratic nominee for govenor of this state.

A dictionary defines patriotism as "love and loyal or zealous support of one's own country...". Interesting, because "zealous", "zealot" and "zealotry" are words frequently associated with, or used to define, people who take extreme positions, such as religious fanatics. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden come to mind. That is NOT how I think of myself or of my patriotism.

Like patriotism, "war" is a word with important nuances. Military operations are often implied, but a country can be said to be at war simply by being in a state of hostility or contention. Think of the wars against poverty and AIDS.

My patriotism tells me that this is the type of war the U.S. should now declare against terrorism. First, we must gather intelligence. We must identify and locate the terrorists. To win the war it is equally important that we understand them. That too is intelligence.

Those who have already committed acts of terrorism (murder) must be brought to justice (to me, that means brought before a legitimate judicial system and given a trial). Precise military operations may be necessary . In the case of those who have not yet committed acts of terrorism, through our understanding of them the US should be a leader in an effort to demonstrate to them that they can better achieve their objectives by non-violent means.

We must convince would-be-terrorists that they are being heard, that the just aspects of their causes will be addressed and that change is possible.

As a starter, the United States might take a harder look at the "fairness"of its Middle East policies and make some called for adjustments.

I believe that the people of this great country now have a rare opportunity to take some giant steps forward in our relationship to the rest of the world as well as in how we regard ourselves. This will require courage, honesty and a non-zealous brand of patriotism. It will require patience, compassion, self-awareness and open-mindedness.

To this end, our President needs help from all of us. Because of the huge power of the press and the national T.V. their role is vital. It is not patriotic to support, uncritically and unequivocally the President just because this is a time of crisis. No leader is truly well served by advisers and citizens who, because of fear of being thought unpatriotic, say, "Yes, yes, you are wonderful and you are doing the right thing". That thoughtless "support" can be moral cowardice and un-patriotic.

President Bush's speech Thursday evening was well delivered and he seemed both comfortable and sincere. But, much of its content was shocking. It was frightening. It was even stupid. And yet the media applaud it.

If a leader wants the cooperation of other nations he doesn't issue DEMANDS, rule out negotiations, act like a teenage bully trying to put together a gang by threatening, "If you are not with us you are with the enemy".

Why should the Taliban be demanded to hand over bin Laden without some strong evidence that he was involved with the September 11 atrocity? Yet this is what President Bush demands, and it is not negotiable and it must be done immediately. No wonder our allies are qualifying their commitments of support. They don't like being told that they support terrorism if they do not jump 1000% on Bush's bandwagon. They warn us to proceed with caution. The American press and citizens should be qualifying their support also.

Patriotism and zealotry are close cousins, easy to confuse and often merge into each other. If fanaticism is our enemy, we can become our own enemy by carrying patriotism too far. Patriotism is not "my country, right or wrong". That is zealotry or fanaticism.

I support an appropriate war against terrorism. However, I cannot support conduct of this war in a fashion which will escalate the violence and murders, which will alienate us from our allies, which will harden the dedication of terrorists, and which will eventually cause great dissension in this country.

J. Roosevelt
Sudbury, MA