kyle flynn's picture

    Independence Day

    It's been suggested here at Dagblog and elsewhere that focusing so much attention on Edward Snowden is distracting us from the important work of holding our government accountable for the misdeeds Snowden has helped to expose. And while I agree the narrowly framed hero/villain back and forth has some limits, I think it begs a broader, more thoughtful conversation about our evolving attitudes toward Patriotism, especially in the context of foreign policy, as we continue racing through the 21st Century. The eve of the 237th anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence seems like as good a time as any to jump into the fray.

    Last week I stumbled upon this post over at TPM by Josh Marshall. It's a reply to a piece in the New Yorker by John Cassidy which quotes Marshall. The pieces revolve around Snowden in one way or another, but it goes deeper. It's good, meaty stuff. One thing Marshall wrote jumped off my screen:

    “At the end of the day, for all its faults, the U.S. military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I’m not a bystander to it. I’m implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does.”

    I understand the sentiment. In the past, I've shared it completely. It's a perfectly reasonable point of view and I'm sympathetic to people who hold it. It's just not mine anymore. That's a tough pill for me to swallow, one that requires unlearning much of the heavy handed indoctrination we endure from our earliest days. It means moving away from a place of comfort and even a bit of pride that can often come easily from being an American. But simply put, I don't feel responsible nor implicated, with any sincerity, by the actions of my country, particularly when it's the actions of the armed forces. Ultimately, I no longer feel the obligation to support my government in any traditional, meaningful way. There simply remain too many qualifications for me to make that claim.

    For the record, count me in the column with folks who welcome leaks which expose the misdeeds of the United States or any other government. I don't feel any less safe as a result, nor do I feel betrayed at all. I simply think I'm better informed about the conduct of those in positions of power. Frankly, I look forward to more people from around the world continuing the healthy trend.

    Don't get me wrong. I realize people exist who would like me dead or harmed because I'm an American. The same goes for my family and friends and neighbors. I get that. But if we're honest about it, we have to recognize their reasons don't simply boil down to the randomness of citizenship. Some of the venom seems fair and reasonable. The armed forces of my government have for decades, continuing this very day, gone to where they live to kill and harm their family and friends and neighbors. If I could reach out to them I'd suggest their destructive actions won't solve any problem or settle any difference. I would plead that violence begets violence. I would insist we are not enemies, despite the official position of my government. But that strikes such an absurd note, I do feel reduced to a bystander.

    As I searched in vain for Marshall's original post which Cassidy quoted from, I came across this reflection by a TPM reader. This part struck me: was always assumed that the United States, secure in its position as the world’s sole superpower, would be...doing what it could to bring about a more unified, less contentious world community. Contrast that with the tenets of realism, which assume that competition between states is an immutable fact of life, and that individual nation-states are, in some sense, perpetually at each other’s throats for the upper hand on the world stage. [I]t’s a vestige of a bygone era, a worldview that has no appeal to children of the Information Age, who have seen the power of unbounded, collaborative spaces like the Internet and are increasingly disgusted with the human toll wreaked by self-serving foreign policy.

    As Michael Maiello wrote recently, “the world is more than a collection of teams.” So much more. Going forward, I reject the notion that my country has a legitimate claim to pursue self interest. I won't be cowed into a corner that organizes political maps into columns of friends and foes. And I won't trade in an idea that requires us to compete with people around the world for natural resources and jobs, dependent upon a military to enforce. I will support any initiative or policy prescription, originating anywhere on Earth, which develops cooperation among all people and promotes a peaceful world. Period.

    I'm not ungrateful. I'm perfectly aware the accident of my birth has provided me with an enviable degree of creature comfort. But I take no credit. Moreover, I'm certain it has meant somebody else, somewhere else, has had to make due with quite a bit less. It's a set of circumstances shared billions of times over, one way or the other. It's a luxury we can no longer maintain if we're interested in living in a worldwide community that shares both the labor and the fruits of that labor. Count me interested. No more country first. Happy Independence Day.


    A thoughtful, interesting, and articulate essay. Thanks for this.

    Question for you. You describe your alienation--if I may use that word--as a new perspective that you did not have earlier in life. So I'm curious, why now? What changes or events caused you to disassociate yourself from the U.S. government? Were they personal, political, something else? (Just to be clear, I'm genuinely curious; this is not a challenge.)

    "Alienation" is interesting. So is "disassociate."  I can see why you'd use both of those terms. They wouldn't have been first choices for me, but I'm warming to them.

    I'm interested in answering your questions, but they're tough. I'll be out of touch for a few days. Maybe it'll be clearer to me when I return.

    All right, I'll try to remember to check back.

    PS I used the word alienation hesitantly, knowing it wasn't the word you chose. It just seemed to fit your description of having previously identified with the U.S. and the government but having lost that sense of identification somewhere along the way. I meant nothing disparaging by it.

    Michael, for what it's worth, it never occurred to me you might be using words disparagingly. To be clear, disassociation seems a bit too formal, but close enough. But alienation hits too passive a note. I don't feel like an outsider or estranged. I'll say this. I'm not apathetic. I'm still quite willing to pay my taxes, vote (I've got a 95% voting record I'd like to maintain), march, picket, rally, write letters, phone my congress people, help my neighbors, hand over what little money I think I can spare to the good cause, and otherwise contribute in my tiny way to a better America. I ain't going nowhere. I enjoy very much my neighborhood and the town of Olympia where I've lived for 25 years. I'm sentimental about the region—the cities, the Pacific Ocean, the mountains and rivers, Puget Sound, the rain, the beer and coffee, the people. I'm dug in. But I'm sorry America, I'm just not in love with you anymore. We can still be friends.

    There isn't a precise moment I can point to that changed things for me. The idea has been gnawing at me for years. I just finally got sick enough of contorting myself, especially coming from a left/progressive/liberal place, into unnatural positions defending America's honor. I quit. And quite frankly, it feels great. Reading those two posts over at TPM inside of 10 minutes was serendipitous. Their juxtaposition crystallized a couple thoughts I felt like saying out loud, so to speak.

    What I didn't get around to expressing, and what was actually among the first thoughts that came to mind, is that the lousy, self serving foreign policies of the United States and Nations everywhere are interfering with solving the one threat that matters most for all of our futures: Climate Change. The global political cesspool we suffer today that was shaped largely by events in the latter half of the 20th Century (which, ironically, America doesn't take nearly enough credit for) could undo us all. The old and older grudges, the fear and mistrust, the cloak and dagger approaches and the tribal attitudes we cling to are going to have to make way for a massively more cooperative worldwide community. Until then, the illusion of folks living within well defined borders competing for prosperity with other folks living within other, well defined borders is a Maginot Line of sorts.

    Of course, I forgot to check back until Bruce mentioned this post on another thread and reminded me. Thanks for this. My curiosity was aroused because for all its flaws, I don't find American foreign policy to be any worse than it used to be and in some ways better. We no longer shake our nuclear weapons at our enemies, engage in proxy wars with rival superpowers, or clandestinely assassinate sovereign leaders. Iraq and Afghanistan, for all their horrors, are not as horrible than Vietnam. One can argue that the improvements are paltry and meaningless, but I think it's hard to argue that American foreign policy is any more self-serving, amoral, or hypocritical than it has been since WWII.

    So my question was, in essence, why now? I would think that you would have disassociated long ago. Do you think foreign policy has changed for the worse in the past few years? Was it a personal change? Something else?

    It isn't just competition between states. The US is at the center of a fractious economic empire, and efforts to maintain control at home and keep the wealth flowing in have made our image as the Officer Friendly of the world harder to believe.

    This reminds me a bit of a question my 5-1/2 year old boy asked recently. He wanted to know if we were the good guys. It was an odd question. Tough to answer.

    That's what the boy keeps asking the man in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

    It's hard to reconcile a globalist viewpoint with a nationalist outlook. I deal with Aussies and Germans and Pakistanis and Chinese, usually in a cooperative manner. While I'm very supportive of shutting down Chinese APT1 hacking (as well as the larger, worse Russian hacking), I don't see the countries and its people as inherently enemies. I certainly can't rationalize how we should spy on them while they shouldn't spy on us as a general rule, rather than a response to specific legal issue.

    While I have lots of criticisms about China, I also recognize it's a complex country and culture of 1.4 billion people - that governing it and evolving it isn't a trivial exercise, that there's no simple recipe of transposing US best practices to them, or even that US best practices haven't passed shelf life in 2013.

    Yes, as part of the worldwide community I have different expectations and that community has different expectations. Can nations adapt?

    I'd like badly for nations to adapt. But more than that, I'd like to see a post-nations world. I know, I know. A little corny. A bit too Lennony.

    Well we have to have some units of organization. "Nation" is an arbitrary term - Kentucky could be suddenly called a nation, and what has changed? We could dissolve all political unions, and then we'd need to arrange someone picking up the trash and we'd start all over again.

    I see the EU as something more of how nations adapt. Not perfect, could be other ways, but one model that's at least a big step forward from 1949 or pick your year. What changes might evolve in the next 50 years in the format?

    Well, there are leaks that expose governmental 'misdeeds' I suppose.

    Who the hell defines the word 'misdeed'?

    Are there leaks that expose governmental good deeds?

    LBJ had a bug up is arse about some domino theory and commies 'taking over' the lands of the King of Siam!

    Now, let us suppose that Frank Thomas is a CIA agent working undercover (what in the hell do we mean when we label someone 'undercover'?) and the Snowden tells the Ruskies or the Chinese Reds or Cuba? or whatever that Frank Thomas is a CIA agent.

    Is Frank working in Egypt and attempting to protect Egypt's current elected leader?

    Or is Frank working with military to undermine a Muslim leadership?

    Everything seems to be secret except in the internet.


    We are a country of tweets and soundbites and 30 second ads for drooping manhoods.

    Here comes the sun and we discover that people working in the FBI or NSA or CIA or whatever alphabetical pseudonyms might be available and some kid (at least a kid to me) can download all this info and end up in Russia?

    I have no tools to help me work this all out.

    This subject is so fucking complicated that I am not sure who to attack verbally!

    Oh well...

    All we can do is lay out some of the issues like you have and hope we get the best answers available.

    the end

    Except I do love America with all of it's faults.

    The rest of the world, some 7 billion folks look to us. They look to the US.

    They want our gadgets and they want our 1400 square foot homes (with the hope of achieving 3,000 square feet)  and they want our suburbs and they want our movies and they want our TV stations and they want our...our...paradigm. I guess. 

    That is all I got right now.

    And I have far too many emotional reactions with regard to this subject.

    Happy Fourth of July to you!

    Have a great Independence Day today, Richard.  I, too, love this country.  Some of the people in it give me the heebie-jeebies but I really wouldn't want to live any place else.

    We're worth the trouble we put into making ours a country we can be proud of again.

    What do you mean, "...making ours a country we can be proud of again."? I'm curious what moment in history you're eager to get back to. You've been an outspoken critic of Snowden from the beginning and you've referenced on more than one occasion that his age has something to do with it. I'm wondering if maybe this all fits together somehow. I included this link in the post because I think there does exist a generational element to what I'm driving at. I think MB's point of view is interesting and relevant, and I think he expresses it well.

    Kyle, not everything centers around how we feel about Manning, Greenwald and Snowden.  Other things go on in this country and as an older feminist, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-choice, pro-child, pro-health care, pro-union advocate I resent the fact that all of the things I've fought for, and those before me fought for, are now being undone.  They're being undone to a dizzying degree and they're being undone by people who were voted in by a majority who don't know their asses from holes in the ground.

    Most of the domestic changes to necessary social programs taking place right now are "gross violations of basic decency."  They need to be addressed. Now.

    Your anger at me for my feelings about Ed Snowden seems genuinely misplaced when there are so many other issues that define who I am.  I don't need to explain myself to you, any more than you need to explain yourself to me.


    Your last paragraph baffles me. I'm sorry you've picked up traces of anger from me toward you. Be assured, I'm not angry. And yes, I'm certain you and I would agree completely on 90% of  everything, but this is 10% territory. As long as we're sharing this conversation we do need to explain ourselves to each other. Color me crazy, but it seems to me that's what most of this exercise is about, explaining ourselves. 

    It's interesting to me that both you and Ramona mention you love America. Super. I hope it brings you great joy for years to come. I'm indifferent on the subject. I can't imagine how whether or not I love America adds up to a hill of beans. It certainly isn't required to participate as a citizen and contribute meaningfully to its progress. In fact, you could make the case that all this love being showered on the U.S.A. like it were an insecure teenager actually makes being critical more complicated. What often ends up happening, seems to me, is folks who love America wind up playing down or glossing over or ignoring its failures and exaggerating and mythologizing its achievements.  

    It's simply a comment, Kyle.  You are not required to feel the same way.  Some might find that kind of talk icky, but there are some of us who really do love this country.  We haven't been brainwashed and we aren't stupid.  We don't shower love on our country like we might on a little kitten.  We aren't enamored teenagers who blindly love it without seeing its faults.  We do love it enough to want to try and save it.

    The people in charge are in their places of power temporarily.  We live here, our memories are here, our ancestors are buried here, and our next generation is growing up here.  What's not to love?

    I don't consider it icky. I think it's antiquated and unhelpful. And to be clear, I'm not suggesting people who love America are enamored teenagers. I think we treat America like it's a teenager. 

    It's a mindset, Kyle - your questions/POV are disturbing in that they point to a general shakeup in nationalism (meant unpejoratively) as gets more and more replaced by globalism (or more exactly, "multi-regionalism").

    Part of the issue is "where are your thoughts". In a more physical, communications-limited world of say 1930, most every act is physically local and most thoughts are devoted to nearby activities or filtered through a local organization. Even up to 20 years ago, local TV was much more watched than national (primarily for the weather).

    Nowadays, even dealing with banks is often on-line or an anonymous ATM. Shopping is on-line or a generic Walmart or say an Ikea or 7-11 or Starbucks or Apple Store that looks much the same in Paris, Atlanta or Hong Kong. Same with cinemas if we're not watching on-line or cable. On-line calls around the world are no big deal, so calling the local pet supply is about the same as calling India at a few cents a minute. Getting news out of the Guardian or BBC or Al Jazeera is about the same as a domestic news source. And if you've traveled a bit, you might have a third or more of your acquaintances abroad - some people manage that just via their virtual on-line blogging.

    In some ways, it parallels what corporations are dealing with. While Microsoft is nominally a US company, it's set up everywhere. Are their German and Indian and Chinese employees worth less because they're American, or do they adopt a more generic global view?

    It used to be a big deal for people to migrate from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. Now it's frequent that people move abroad or immigrate to the US. What's the big difference? Learning to say "hey, y'all" vs. "Bonjour, ca va?"? Sure, different customs, different environment - but am I eternally devoted to the different neighborhoods I grew up in, the different schools I went to, the different work places I was in? If Jamaica's 5 hours away and London's 7 or 8, what's the limit on the mind?

    I went to college with a Nigerian, a Venezuelan, an Iranian, an Israeli Palestinian, a Chinese, a Macedonian. They were all foreigners having roughly the same college experience as me. Should they be devoted to their own country's worldview and habits and customs, or to mine as "proper guests"? How does one expect our devotion to the idea of America and its system supposed to differ or be the same? That Facebook guy who came as a teen from Brazil, moved to Miami, went to school in Harvard, then re-settled in Singapore at 27. Half of his life has been out of the US, but many Americans expect the US part to be the deciding portion.

    Even for political systems - if it even matters to you and truly affects you - things are relatively equal in the EU, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia - laws, police, courts, elections, business, roads, schools, holidays...entertainment, sports, pubs, concerts, discos, museums... Lots of Americans manage to settle in Thailand or Mexico or Belize without any big concern or headache either. Are we supposed to carry some innate feeling of allegiance to some system called "America" no matter what we do, how we change? Is that America the same one as 1790, 1830, 1880, 1932, 1956, 1975, 1995, 2013? Is that Germany or India or China or Argentina or South Korea we're comparing it to the same as it was in 1949?

    People in my church got used to not seeing me in decades, my high school stopped inviting me to reunions, my last grocery store stopped sending me most esteemed customer offers, Kiss & King Crimson got used to me not showing up at their concerts. But America is an unvarnished concept of allegiance that's supposed to carry through no matter how much I, it and the world changes?

    And if I drive an Audi, have a Samsung phone on a T-Mobile contract, work for Sony, bank at HSBC, frequent The Body Shop, shop at H&M, smoke Dunhills, married to a Vietnamese, can you tell where in the world I live or grew up?

    For those who are embedded in that system, they'll likely continue to see that reaction as only natural. For those who are religious, it's only natural to see the world tied to that belief - if it includes a specific church, that's part of the worldview. Those thoughts & feelings & connections are important. If you shift to other important ties, you may or may not shift the importance of ties - you might just accept that much of this is haphazard, and your new system could shift to a 3rd with no big difference.

    Anyway, it's part of the shifting sands of the current age, and it affects different people in different ways (or sometimes not at all)

    I love this comment. Seriously. I've been trying to put my thoughts together on this all day and you've done it though I still feel some allegiance to the country I grew up in even though I'll probably never live there again. It's not unvarnished though.

    And you are so spot on about the equalizing factor that consumerism plays. In my city today for lunch I had a panini. Then, I drove to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend where I had Chinese for dinner followed by a couple mojitos. My friend had a martini. Another friend had a caipirinha. Then, we went to a club and danced to Mary J Blige. 

    In many ways my life is different than it was in the USA. But in many other ways, it's hard to notice a big difference. 

    Yeah, I'm still an American and somewhat a southerner while never really a southerner, and at one point I thought of myself as an ambassador but that point faded. You can call me Joe.

    Snowden has not revealed any misdeeds. Get the facts.

    NSA programs are funded by the legislative branch, carried out by the executive branch and approved by the judicial branch. They are similar to information gathering done for over a hundred years in the USPS. Snowden may have revealed Clapper making 'erroneous' statements, probably arguable in legal circles.  He is not in fact a whistleblower.

    Recent history. The nation voted to re-elect George W. Bush after, as CIC, he started what a former Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor called 'the supreme international crime of aggressive war'.

    Nearly half the country then voted again for the same party in 2008, and even more in 2010. Accountability....? Not at the ballot box. Then it was claimed Obamacare was a crime, more so apparently than sending the nation into an unnecessary war.

    Citizens need an informed perspective on what their government is telling them and what it is doing. They have to be conscious of the human costs of decisions made by elected officials, and the ultimate consequences and outcomes of those actions. They have to own the government and be aware of how it can serve them, and demand accountability. That is democracy, it should depend on informed voters, not billions in political ads. Got a ways to go to get there.

    As to the NSA metadata? - Congress needs to keep an eye on it. Another War President? No thanks.

    Not exactly the conversation I was hoping to inspire, NCD. I am honestly not sure what you mean. 

    Somewhere I heard and took to heart the lesson not to love something that can't love you back.
    A very large percentage of our country's people practice something akin to a national religion which has as its dogma, 'idolatry of ideology' which includes the craziness of glorifying human sacrifice.  Thomas Paine I am not. Neither do I want other people, either Americans or those who love some other country they were born in, or some other ideology they were indoctrinated into, having to consider buying into Paine's regret just to keep me comfortably numb.
     Thanks for your well stated intellectually independent thoughts on Independence Day.
    I do want to say that every person I ever loved is an American, but I recognize that that is just geography in action.

    Yeah, I think we have the 'love your country' bit and the sacrifice part down pat by now. Time to move on.

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