PATRIOTISM and War

                    from Patriotism and Peace   F.H. Hankins   1920


Of all the emotions that move men to action, patriotism is the most capable. When it is aroused there is no other social force comparable to it in the completeness with which it dominates all men. It lifts the average man up out of the concerns of a work-a-day world into the noblest spirit of devotion.

It quickens the pulse of the sluggard, reforms the wayward, forces generosity from the stingy, arouses the plodder to dreams of heroic deeds, gives courage to the cowardly, and makes the hearts of the shrewd and crafty wolves of society swell with an ostensible love of country. In its face local feuds are forgotten, the bitter struggles of parties and classes are submerged. Differences of creed, social status, and even race are obliterated. This happens especially during war, for war hallows every cause.

Under these circumstances only the group leaders may speak. The citizen must offer himself in silence as a willing sacrifice on the alter of his country in whatever manner those in authority may dictate. Even honest criticism is cursed. The conscientious objector, who in times of peace is praised as a courageous man who dares to stand against the world for what he believes right, is denounced as a sneaking coward and herded into prison. The individual rights of free speech, press and assembly so essential to democratic government, so zealously guarded during peace, and so boastfully displayed to an admiring world, cease to exist and are pronounced enemies to the public safety. The noble sentiments of toleration are denounced, as is also individual variation, which is vigorously defended during peace under the ideals of individual liberty and initiative.

Every social institution is brought into line. All organs of public opinion send forth a constant stream of uniform suggestions. The appeal is made through church and lodge and every customary association, until the members of the social group coalesce into a solid sociality that surpasses the fondest imaginings of the Utopian Socialist. At such times patriotism, like a restless and mysterious genius, fills the entire fabric of society with its magic power. Few individuals escape its enchantment, and almost no one dares invite its hostility. While it ennobles the soul with the sublime spirit of self-sacrifice, it compels men to dilute the honesty of their thoughts. It makes cowards of all but the most stalwart souls by forcing them to substitute the worse for the better reason and the lower ideal for one they feel to be higher.

Under its guise every sort of sinister human purpose thrives. Anything which can be made to appear patriotic is instantly and deeply approved. Any counsel of moderation is pounced upon as enemy propaganda, while the advocates of internationalism are accused of silly sentimentalism and treason. To encounter a suspicion of lack of patriotism creates a greater defilement than the violation of an ancient taboo. As in the days of witchcraft, suspects are whipped, tarred and feathered, hanged or sacrificed on the alter of militarism amid the shouts of the mob and the secret glee of the patriots. Patriotism gives full sway to fear, unbridles the lusts and brutalities of savage man, intensifies our innate suggestibility, and subordinates the mind to every sort of delusion and deceit.

 

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