How to Really Love Your Country:
Five Objectives for True Patriots
by Paul Buchheit
www.alternet.org, December 4,
Throughout history, some of the most respected
defenders of liberty felt that patriotism implies thoughtfulness
over blind acceptance of the norm. Socrates, Henry David Thoreau
and Martin Luther King Jr. all encouraged active efforts to improve
one's country by adhering to the highest standards of behavior,
by government and by the citizens themselves.
There is certainly room for improvement
in America. Here is a Top 5 list of candidates for thoughtfulness
over blind acceptance.
1. How we spend our money
The United States is responsible for almost
half of the world's annual military expenditures of over $1 trillion,
yet President Bush approved another record increase in the U.S.
defense budget for 2008. The total estimated cost of the Iraqi
and Afghanistan conflicts is now $811 billion, much more than
the $518 billion spent on the Vietnam War. Congressional Democrats
estimate that the average American family of four has contributed
over $20,000 to the war in the Middle East.
As 40 percent of each American citizen's
tax bill -- about $5,000 a year -- goes for military equipment
that protects us from Cold War enemies, we spend only one-tenth
of 1 percent of our GDP on infrastructure (in 2005), compared
to 9 percent for China. The American Society of Civil Engineers
gave D to D- grades to our drinking water, navigable waterways
and energy power grids. Every time our power structures go out
or our roads and bridges crumble, the money needed to fix them
is being spent in Iraq, or on unstable allies in Pakistan or Saudi
2. What we give to the world
According to the U.S. Congressional Research
Service, nearly half of the guns sold to developing countries
in 2005 came from the United States.
In 2003, 20 of the top 25 recipients of
U.S. arms sales in the developing world were declared undemocratic
or human rights abusers by the U.S. State Department's own Human
The United States sold weapons to 18 of
the 25 countries involved in active conflicts in 2003. We armed
both sides in conflicts between India and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq,
Greece and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, Peru and Ecuador,
China and Taiwan, and Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia, the United States provided arms to protect the
monarchy from other Saudis who were also armed by the United States.
3. The people we ignore
As we fight for freedom in the Middle
East, people in Nigeria live with 24-hour gas flaring and air
and water pollution caused by our own oil companies, while angry
young men roam the streets with guns because they can't find jobs.
Ten-year-olds in India get whipped as they work without pay in
textile factories making our clothes. Children in the Congo work
12-hour days digging tin oxide out of dusty, toxic mines for pennies
a day so that we can have our cell phones.
A young Congolese boy named Muhanga Kawaya
tells us what children have to endure to dig out minerals for
our cell phones. There are many reasons for this, but one primary
reason is the multinational companies who ignore human rights
"In the hole you have to crawl and
squeeze and suck in your belly to make it through. The next danger
is the huge rocks above; often they bury us and once they move,
it's instant death. Then there's the darkness. And there's no
air. Once you get down more than 200 feet, the air flow stops
altogether. It's up to you to figure out how to breathe. As you
crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch,
there's not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed
all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the
cassiterite, the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint.
Which means you have nothing to buy food with."
4. Our lifestyles
We Americans have 5 percent of the world's
population but use 25 percent of the world's oil. The average
American home has increased from 1,000 square feet to 2,400 square
feet since 1950, even though the average family size has steadily
decreased. Ten thousand new hosquare feet or more. Our big vehicles
average less miles per gallon than 20 years ago, yet we're driving
24 percent more miles than in 1980. We use as much gas idling
in traffic as the annual output of Equatorial Guinea, the third-largest
oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
The "ecological footprint" measures
the amount of land and water needed by a human to support his
or her consumption and waste. The average person in the world
has an ecological footprint of 5.5 acres. Except for the 3 million
people living in the United Arab Republic, the United States has
the highest ecological footprint in the world, with each of 300
million people requiring almost 25 acres.
If everyone in the world consumed at the
U.S. rate, we would need five planet earths to sustain us.
5. The growing income disparity
According to numerous recent studies,
income and net worth have actually been dropping for all but the
top 10 percent of American households since the 1970s. An average
two-income family today has less disposable income than one-income
families had 30 years ago, largely because of escalating home
mortgage, healthcare, and child care costs.
Some oil company and military defense
executives made up to $100 million in 2006. Some hedge fund managers
made over a billion dollars in 2006. An individual who worked
for 50 years, making $50,000 a year, would realize total lifetime
earnings approximately equal to one day's work for a hedge fund
Taxes make it worse. When social security
and sales taxes, transportation fees, and utility charges are
included, the typical wage earner pays about a 40 percent overall
tax. The hedge fund manager pays a 15 percent tax. In addition,
every taxpayer contributes about $500 a year to the tax cuts for
the richest 1 percent of Americans.
So what can we do?
Recent (2007) polls by BBC World Service
and the Pew Research Center show how the global view of U.S. involvement
has continued to deteriorate. Opinions of the United States have
soured not only in Middle Eastern countries but also among traditional
allies such as Germany, France and Britain. Perhaps, most disturbingly,
polls are beginning to indicate that anti-Americanism is being
directed not only at the U.S. government but increasingly at the
We need to make changes. But what can
we do? Find a presidential candidate who has the guts to stand
up to the military and the arms exporters; who will ensure that
multinational companies respect human rights laws; and who will
cancel the tax cuts and capital gains breaks for the wealthy.
And while we're complaining about government, we need to take
a good look at our own unceasing demand for the consumer goods
and comforts that make us many times better off than the great
majority of people in the world.