I Don’t Love My Country
by John Mendelssohn
I don’t love my country. I love my friends. I love the oceans, white with foam, and the Grand Canyon. I love New England in October, and the way the Santa Monica Mountains look in the morning and at dusk from my 10th floor bedroom window. I love that there have always been a great, great many kind, brave, altogether wonderful people in my country, but do not accept on faith that the proportion of such persons is higher in my country than in anyone else’s, and I suspect most countries have their own beautiful scenery if you know where to look for it.
I don’t love my country. It’s my country through geographical happenstance. I’m American because I happened to be born here to parents who’d happened to be born here, to parents who’d chosen for reasons unknown to me to immigrate here rather than another of the more salubrious countries of the late 19thcentury — England, say, or Australia, or Canada., or one of the Scandinavian countries. I have come to understand that whole Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free thing was essentially a come-on intended to attract cheap labor at a time when the country was industrializing.
I don’t love my country. Countries are artificial, but the horror their armies visit on each other quite real. Five hundred years ago, an imperceptibly short period of human history, my country didn’t exist, as it surely won’t even 100 from now. How many countries have arisen and how many ceased to be in the past three centuries? How many borders have been redrawn?
I don’t love my country’s having pretty much wiped out its original inhabitants. I hate my country’s xenophobia, a remarkable trait for a country populated almost entirely by the descendants of immigrants. I hate that when political candidates lie through their teeth in my country, an appallingly high proportion of the electorate eagerly believes them. I hate that many of my neighbors are at best gullible and childlike and at worst defiant in their stupidity. As a Jew, I hated being told when young that I was among God’s chosen. I hate no less being told the same thing now, as an American. I hate that when someone in my country declares, “My country right or wrong,” he or she is actually widely applauded.
I love that I can say these things without fear of thugs kicking down my door and causing me to disappear, and that to this point the thugs have been confined to my country’s airports. I do not love my country trying to make me believe that freedom of expression is exclusive to my country, though. I don’t love their apparent belief that one educated in its public schools and at a state university is really that stupid.
I hate that my country is very rich, but that poor people are shivering and cowering at night on its streets. I hate that the weak and infirm are told by so many in my country that their predicament is a consequence of their own laziness. I hate that my country is unable to remove weapons of mass destruction (that is, semiautomatic weapons) from the hands of madmen (the obscure domestic ones, rather than the prominent international ones whose photographs appear on the news) because my country’s legislators tremble at the mere mention of an organization of men with small penises and big machismo.
I don’t love my country’s being an international bully, and I loathe its pretending that the wars it fights to keep itself rich and powerful are about Noble Ideals. I don’t love my country’s having taught me, 10 minutes after compelling me to pledge my loyalty to the flag under which so much horror has been perpetrated, that the Communist countries brainwashed its young. I don’t love my country’s scoffing at the jihadists promising prospective recruits 72 virgins and Paradise while in the next breath promising its own young “heroes” (that is, veterans) standing ovations at ball games, and maybe even parades. I don’t love my country’s getting those young people to put themselves in mortal jeopardy to advance the agendas of venal motherfuckers, be they “our [political] leaders” or corporations. Indeed, I hate it, passionately.
I hope you share my love of kindness and compassion, and my perception that no nationality has a greater tendency to those things than another, just as no nationality suffers more profound grief than another when its sons and daughters are killed or maimed only to make richer and more powerful a politician or his most important donors. I hate the tribalism that keeps us from recognizing our common humanity, patriotism being tribalism’s shifty-eyed little nephew. If you don’t love your country to the extent I don’t love my own, it’ll make it a lot easier for us to be brothers.