© 2023 KRWG
News that Matters.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Silver City FM Outage

War in Ukraine Shows Difference Between Patriotism and Nationalism

Peter Goodman


Russia’s attempt to obliterate Ukraine, Ukrainian courage, and another “pardon” for the corrupt, right-wing populist Alberto Fujimori (Peru’s former president) trigger thoughts about our democracy.

Vladimir Putin is what happens when we allow one man or small group to amass such power. His information blackout is what happens when reporters aren’t free to report the truth. This war illustrates the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

But let’s not get too proud. Most everything Putin has done, we’ve done, helped allies do, or turned a blind eye to. The U.S. has a long history of bullying smaller nations and toppling democratic governments in favor of dictators who were friendly to us – as Putin does in Ukraine and Georgia.

The excellent How Democracies Die discussed Fujimori at length. Elected President, he abused the office to enrich himself and his pals, while usurping additional power. He’s still popular with some Peruvians, just as some here retain blind loyalty to Donald Trump, another “populist” who tried to remove checks and balances restricting his power.

In my youth, our racism and our imperial conduct (exemplified in the senseless Viet Nam War) appalled me. Although we had “democracy” and “a free press,” those were limited. Blacks effectively couldn’t vote in the South; many urban voters were still controlled by “machines”; and because everything was so vast, information was somewhat controlled by rich folks’ ownership of newspapers and TV networks. Our free press freely helped the government gull the American people about Viet Nam and other blots on our national character.

I experienced some persecution for our views. In the South, I feared the police, for good reason; at college in Pennsylvania, after citizens beat up participants in the town’s first antiwar “vigil,” the cops driving one victim to the police station stopped in an alley and warned him, “You’re the ones we ought to be getting. And we will;” here, an LCPD detective filmed our demonstrations, and law enforcement carefully watched political dissenters. Antiwar advocacy cost some folks jobs. The U.S. didn’t feel all that democratic. Yet there were grounds for hope, including our Constitution.

Our democracy was under fire during my father’s youth, during the Depression, Extremists left and right argued persuasively that our system had failed. Lindbergh, America’s hero, was a pal of the Nazis. The world was engulfed in wars. My father signed the Oxford Pledge, never to go to war. When we were attacked, he enlisted as a Marine pilot, fighting Japan.

Putin reminds me to cherish our democratic values and relatively free press. Some friends insist we’re no different from Russia. Our billionaires get fat even during a pandemic, and we too abuse our international power. But I see significant differences. I’m also sensitive to the threats our democracy faces, as well as to its many warts. That’s why I’m saddened by that blind loyalty to the racist and corrupt Mr. Trump; but it’s also why some well-intended restrictions on free speech concern me. And why it seems important to try to tell the truth to our kids about our beloved but imperfect nation.

To me, the way through seems to be to keep our eyes open, think for ourselves, and reject uncritical belief in anyone or anything, including our government. As my favorite bumper sticker says, “Don’t Trust Everything You Think.” True loyalty looks out for missteps and seeks to correct them, lovingly, as we would with friends and family.