I’D LIKE TO BE PATRIOTIC, BUT…
An Essay in Verse (for the Fourth of July)
By Dale Polissar
I'd like to be patriotic, but …
I keep bumping up against such minor difficulties as:
this nation killed a hundred thousand innocent civilians
in a stupid, ill-advised, unnecessary
war in Iraq.
A stupid, ill-advised, unnecessary, power-hungry war
that set off waves of screaming militants
across the entire Middle East
intent on doing us harm.
A war that ravaged the lands we landed upon.
And the stumbling fool of a Chief Executive
who set us on that course,
and the quiet, vicious Veep who pulled his strings —
They were not even really chosen by the people! —
this Bush boy, and the ugly Cheney slug —
they did not win the people's vote — they lost the popular vote — instead,
were put in power by the vote of a single man —
a Judge Supreme — when the GOP
turned out to be a meaner, tougher bunch than Demos
in the Florida vote-count Brawl.
I'd like to be patriotic, but …
Look at our present Chief Executive! —
again a man who lost the popular vote.
I am humiliated daily by the sight of that man —
a man who will be, in History,
a great embarrassment to everyone.
No! — who is of course, right now, a great embarrassment —
but a man who will be seen at last, in History,
with ridicule and scorn!
Future generations will be a-mazed!
that such a man could be
A scandal and a shame —
And it would not have happened were it not
for the shameless mesmerizing hatecast of Fox News
and a powerful band of talk-show hosts
who had the people hypnotized —
at least a half the nation who
heard only, only watched their shows —
had half the nation hypnotized,
those snake-oil salesmen
who brand the conscientious newsmen of our land
"Fake News", while they themselves
promulgate the most outrageous lies —
those whitewash wizards had a half our people hypnotized
to cast their vote, again and again,
against their own best interests —
voting for the guys who time and again advance
the giant moneyed men,
the Titans of Industry —
the men who poison air and water and condemn
their children and their grandchildren
to a planet ruined.
I'd like to be patriotic —
hey! — I remember when I was!
A spunky a little red-haired kid —
me and my brother, Lin —
We stood up atop a giant jutting out of rock
in the woods up on Mount Davidson
above our San Francisco home on Miraloma Drive, and we
threw Hirohito and Hitler off the cliff!
"Here goes Hirohito!", we yelled, and
"Here goes Hitler!" — throwing big sticks and stones
from that high spire of rock.
And I was proud!
Our side had won!
And sometime later
when a neighbor came to the door
with a petition to prevent the Negro baseball star —
the awesome Willie Mays —
from buying a home near us on Miraloma Drive,
My father looked at him and said,
"I thought we just fought a war about this sort of thing!" —
And slammed the door in his face.
And I was proud.
And my brother and me'd go to the movies where
our soldiers — Irish, Greek, Italian, Jewish (not many Negroes) —
fought on courageously! Shooting the Japanese snipers
out of the palm trees,
blowing up tanks
(little boys love that stuff!),
on the stuttering deadly machine gun nest,
and coming home to the wholesome hometown girls who loved them.
And I was proud.
We had won the war.
And now life could only get better and better.
And that war — the so-called "Good War" —
Was that a necessary war?
Oh yes, from a certain point of view,
this country had to join that fight.
When a psychopath like Hitler
slammed his fist on land after land
and grasped the whole of Europe
in a Police State's iron grip.
But that little pipsqeak Hitler —
he need not have ever been!
were it not for the punishing vengeance of
the victors of the previous war — the so-called "Great War"! —
— a vengeance on Deutschland, which,
as vengeance always does,
drew vengeance in return.
Do you think that otherwise
a little bitter soul like Hitler
could have seized control
of European culture's most developed nation?
And the previous war — the so-called "Great War" —
now there was truly an unnecessary war!
A war for Empire, Dominance, Control,
that killed full half the young men of the warring sides.
So those two wars — really one war with an intermission — both unnecessary wars.
Oh my God, so many Wars!
Another time, another war:
There I am, in tenth grade social studies class,
standing up, delivering my report,
informing my fellow students
that the war we were fighting in Korea
was in support of a lousy dictator — Sigmund Rhee.
And Miss Vascellatos,
my social studies teacher screaming,
"Where did you get these facts?!"
"The Nation magazine," I said.
"That's a Communist journal!", she screamed.
"A Communist journal!"
… The fifties!
But then there's the fifties college memory of the beautiful Linus Pauling —
who couldn't just rest easy with his Nobel Prize — Linus Pauling,
tall and straight, with silver hair — such a dignified man,
a quiet, gentle smile on his face —
walking peacefully along,
leading a column of us down El Camino Real
in Menlo Park, protesting the burgeoning
of nuclear bombs — thousands of them —
each of which could roast an entire city.
This … the bitter blossom grown
from out that … "Good War!"
Another memory, another war, and me —
picking up a rock to throw —
seeing a policeman brutalizing fellow demonstrators,
instinctively reaching for a rock.
Now it's the Viet Nam War, and I'm
doing civil disobedience
against the Stanford Research Institute,
who devised the "Strategic Hamlet Plan" —
to herd the peasant farmers of Viet Nam
into barbed encampments — thus,
enabling us, in perfect conscience,
to commit the rest of the land
to Agent Orange and napalm flame —
destroying all their lovely fields and forests
… and whatever little yellow human beings remained therein.
I'd like to be patriotic … but …
(Luckily, I dropped that rock.
And later the righteous, scolding black-robed Judge intoned: "You
created the worst traffic jam
in the history of Santa Clara County!"
… And I was proud.)
And then there's the eighties, with Ronald Reagan —
whom Republicans revere —
doing everything he could
to keep our puppet Presidente tyrants in control
of those nuisance brown Latinos
in the lands down south —
Those lands that clearly should remain in the domain
of our Manifest Destiny — domain
of United Fruit and similar corporate entities —
Those nuisance brown Latinos who —
in spite of our swatting them every time they rose —
in spite of our training their dictators' sweet police
in exquisite methods of torture —
kept on rising in their nuisance Revolutions!
I'd like to be patriotic, but …
Yes, but wait — surely you must grant
that underneath these few unfortunate … lapses,
yet there breathes … the Soul of Democracy.
There breathes the living spirit of our deep belief that
"All men are created equal" —
There breathes the Spirit of
Our Founding Fathers.
"Our Founding Fathers".
Do you mean those dudes who signed the Constitution?
— most of whom owned slaves. Hey, let's be clear:
Owned human creatures,
who were yanked from their native land,
who were brought here in chains,
who were bought and sold as property,
who were separated from each other
— mother from child, husband from wife —
as the laws of commerce might ordain.
You mean those guys who specified
in our sacred Constitution (being the leading aristocrats
and business men that they were — the leading men of property)
— who specified that only men of property
would be allowed to vote —
excuse me, only white men of property.
And certainly, only men.
You mean those guys who arranged things
in that sacred constitution
so that in our Senate,
twenty thousand voters in Nebraska have the same
weight as twenty million in New York or California.
Those Founders who arranged things so
our President will not be chosen by majority,
but by an Electoral College,
where again, the twenty thousand voices get
the same voice as the twenty million.
(How our founders feared the rule of the mob!
Mob", from the Latin "mobile vulgas" — the rowdy common people!
— like the "mobs" that had rioted
in Boston, New York, and elsewhere in the colonies,
demanding a bigger share of the pie
— just a short time before these men of property
drew up the Constitution!)
And thus it befell that our last two Republican presidents were not --
— in this great democracy — the choice of the majority.
But what about the Congress? — surely
(aside from the Nebraska vote being equal to New York)
surely it is chosen democratically?
Well, folks, here's what happened — recently!
The minority party, the Republicans —
seeing their days were numbered,
so many blacks and browns,
so many feisty women coming on,
and all the polls revealing that the people
supported all the programs they opposed!
— the Republicans devised a clever strategy:
They threw great massive funds of money (and they had a lot —
the mighty Kochs behind this move) —
threw all that pecuniary weight
into state elections, and then,
having won the state houses — massively outspending Democrats —
they were able to re-draw voting district lines
— "gerrymandering" it's called —
to insure their losing candidates would win.
And, Presto!, they had a controlling majority in Congress!
This outnumbered minority had now become all-powerful!
It happened in a matter of ten or fifteen years —
the unwary Democrats totally outflanked!
Well then, the Congress isn't democratic,
The Presidency — it isn't democratic. But wait!
There is the third, "co-equal", branch of government
to protect our democracy — the Courts!
Alas, our Founding Fathers have arranged things so
the party in power, with an ill-begotten Senate majority,
can fill the highest courts with judges there for life —
pack the court — with judges who they know will do their will,
and bend the nation's laws their way.
For instance, the intended freedoms won so hard in Civil War
were blocked for years in Court Supreme,
And labor laws — the right to organize, and workers' safety laws —
we're blocked for years. And now,
with our present court,
the laws protecting voting rights
are falling one by one, and
even a woman's right to control her own child-baring
may now soon be history.
So the Courts!
— our great Protectors!
The Founding Fathers! … The sacred Constitution! …
Where can we turn?!
But then, perhaps by "Founding Fathers" you meant instead
those men who "settled" this land —
who "tamed" the West!
Those dudes who, in a period of eighty, ninety years, killed off
the hundreds of thousands of human creatures who
had lived here many centuries —
Killed off a proud and beautiful people who
had loved this patch of earth,
and had learned to live from its bounty —
Killed them off, or herded them into reservations,
sent their children off to schools that forbade
their native language.
Dear god, the way we "won" this land —
we have a lot … to answer for!
We are a haunted nation.
Haunted by the ghosts of the peoples we destroyed.
And haunted throughout our history
by the ghost of Slavery.
Yes, Slavery …
And what about that war? —
— what about the so-called "Civil" War.
Was that a "necessary" war?
— that ghastly slaughtering of one another.
And what did we win? We abolished slavery?
We legally abolished slavery —
but continued for a hundred years,
by law or vicious social custom,
treating blacks like dogs.
A hundred years! It's unbelievable! — before they even fully got the right to vote!
Terrorizing them with hood and badge
to keep them in their place!
Red-lining them from decent housing,
herding them into ghettoes,
making their life a steep, steep slog
for any to obtain
a decent job, a decent education — decent justice!
— locking them up — huge numbers of them —
putting them away in jails for minor crimes —
a whole generation of young men!
I cannot look a black man in the face
without I feel the awful history behind him:
the noose, the hanging tree, the whip, the prison cell.
It is there, in his eyes.
So what did we win? — by that "civil" war!
Well, here's what we won:
that we would continue to be one big, big country — not two.
One Union, "Indivisible"!
We won that in the course of time, we would become
"the Mightiest Power on Earth!" —
"the Only Global Power!"
And is that something to be proud of? Am I proud of that?
— to be the biggest on the block?
— the biggest, toughest bully on the block?
— the biggest gang, with the biggest army, the biggest guns!?
Ah, but we used that power to defend the sacred principles of Freedom and Liberty
around the world! … Didn't we? …
Hey, we used that power to defend our power. Hell,
the list of tyrant dictators we supported through the years
— in reaching the fingers of that power 'round the globe —
is a fierce rogue's gallery of brutal, villainous thugs!
Listed here in no particular order:
Mubarak, Franco, Siddarthu, Peron, Sadam Hussein,
Mobuto, Ferdinand Marcos, Noriega, Pinochet, Sigmund Rhee,
Trujillo — it goes on and on!
But, hey! — it's a tough world! Sometimes you have to make
deals with the Devil, just to survive. We were up against
some pretty tough hombres! — Joseph Stalin, Communist tyranny!
At least the power we attained — that power we defended —
allowed our own most blessed and special land to be …
"The Land of Opportunity"! … Didn't it?
'till Franklin Delano Roosevelt came along,
most of the golden opportunity this country does afford
had to be fought for tooth and nail
against the resistance of the government,
and the Robber Barons whom the government served.
The Union Movement, Women's Rights, the rights of orientals, blacks and browns
— all of it had to be won in desperate struggle —
— often facing federal troops or national guard,
facing Brinks detectives and battalions of police —
— it had to be won in desperate struggle —
— none of it given freely,
here in this "Land of Liberty"!
Like the tyrants we supported, hell, we jailed or killed
near every strong, outspoken leader who stood up
for Liberty and Equal Rights: from Eugene Debs to Martin Luther King,
from Mother Jones to Bobby Kennedy —
all of them had to fight, or give their lives,
that the common man might get a decent break.
So then — what about patriotism?
Can I be patriotic?
Well, I am aware that I am privileged to live
in a land of relative ease and abundance.
(A land of ease and abundance if
you are lucky enough to be
born white and middle class.
And even then, let's face it,
most folks live lives of anxious striving
day and night to merely keep a roof above their head.)
And I am aware that I am privileged to live
in a land more democratic than most
— a land where we are relatively free
to speak our minds, our politics.
(Though there be un-American activities committees,
social networks, vigilantes, who will make you pay a price!
And if you are one of those dreadful whistle-blowers —
unpatriotic souls who dared expose
the barbarism of our slaughter in Vietnam
or the bloody havoc of our drone strikes in the Middle East —
you better flee! — get out! — you are not safe
in this Land of the Free.)
And, yes, we are privileged to live in a land where you do not need to fear
the midnight knock on the door —
you need not fear being locked away
in jail for years without fair trial.
— That is, unless you're black, or Latino immigrant!
Yes, I am aware that, being white and middle class, I am privileged many ways.
But I cannot ignore the venality, the savagery, of our history.
And I cannot ignore how specious our democracy has become
through the power of money — how the corporate rich, the Overlords
have won control of government, and bent the public consciousness
so much that the hoodwinked people
will back the party that serves these Robber Barons
in their avaricious schemes.
And I cannot ignore that something like a third of our country
have welcomed a vulgar strongman to be President,
and maybe would welcome it if this big thug
would take the reins completely!
— to "make America great again"!
— to make America white again!
So when I see these crowds start pumping fists
and hear them chanting "USA! USA!"
… truth is, I'm filled with terror and disgust.
For we know where that raw barking leads!
We've seen it in the beer-hall putsch.
We've seen it in the shattered glass of Crystal Nacht.
We've seen it in the thousand arms raised up
like weird insect antennas
from crowds pressed close together
in those grand majestic stadiums of yore.
And what a sad — potentially a tragic — turn of history,
that just at a time when we most desperately need
a wise, compassionate, intelligent leader
who would understand the climate catastrophe
that's coming at us — when only just a little time remains
for us to change our course — that at such a crucial time,
a grievously deceived electorate has put in power
a man whose motive, above all else, is self-aggrandizement,
a man whose intelligence is the intelligence of a predator,
a bandit chief for whom the goals of power and profit are supreme,
an ignorant, unqualified, incompetent illiterate —
who has no regard for facts if they conflict
with his consuming great ambition to be seen as
the big man in the room.
The last time I was arrested
it was at Vandenberg Air Force Base, protesting the deployment of the MX Missile.
The young recruit who marched me to my "prison"
(actually a gymnasium, where we protesters had a marvelous time!,
singing and making stirring speeches) —
this young man in uniform assigned to escort me to confinement —
when I persisted doggedly to follow what our protest training had advised
("talk to your captor! appeal to his humanity!") —
when I persisted in telling this boy that these new super fast and powerful missiles could,
so easily, with one little misunderstanding,
plunge us into an instant push-button war
that would leave the entire planet smoking …
This soldier finally said, "It doesn't matter anyway."
"Why's that?", I said. And he replied,
"The end is comin' anyway." … I said, "The end is coming?"
He said, "Yeah! … the End of Days!"
"Oh, you mean" — "Yeah, you know … like …
Judgement Day …"
He said this with a smile, maybe a little smug,
maybe a little embarrassed by talking so much,
maybe amused by my ignorance —
amused by my concern about such trivia
as nuclear war.
And you know what? — looking back,
over all that has gone down since:
the endless warring in the Middle East,
the resurgence of ugly bigotry here at home,
an ignorant brutish President come to power
who happily shovels fossil fuel
in the engines sliding us towards
an oven that will bake the human race —
and the chefs of this impending chemical stew
— the corporate rich — indifferent to consequence —
just looking out for Number One —
Surveying all of that,
it's pretty hard not to feel that perhaps
that born-again soldier boy may have been right:
perhaps the End of Days indeed is nigh!
Look, the scientists all give us maybe ten more years, at best,
to turn it around … to mend our sorry, dumb polluting ways,
or else our lovely Earth becomes a desperate place:
green lands made desert,
splendid cities flooded,
and the roaming hoards, the frantic millions, refugees,
desperate in migration, just looking for a place they can survive,
swarm like locusts, swarming into lands more fortunate than they.
And in the chaos that ensues — the bombs …
that have been waiting all these years —
the bombs like hungry dogs,
straining at the leash
in trembling greedy expectation …
the bombs are finally released.
But this disaster does not need to happen!
At birth this nation thrust aside
the royalty we had conferred on kings.
And now it's time that we throw off
the royalty we have conferred upon the nation state.
The nation state inherently divides the world
and keeps us from the joining that we need
if we are to come together to avert
this tragic dissolution of our human history.
Oh, we need not deny the heroism of our fabled past —
the heroism of those brave boys/men
who fought that long ago "good war" —
need not deny the many heroes of our history,
the daring and the ingenuity
of this land of enterprising immigrants.
No, there is much to be proud of, much to love
in this great sprawling multifarious conglomeration called
My boyhood heart, still there in me, still feels the pride
that my land was the one that stopped the fascist fist —
still feels in tearful gratitude
the bravery of those boys/men who fought that war.
And, yes, I feel a kinship with the larger family that I grew up with —
this colorful and disparate dysfunctional family — the people of America.
I feel a kinship with their humor, music, language,
and, yes — their basic decency.
And I feel a kinship — no, an embodied deep connection — to this land,
this actual beautiful, stunning piece of earth we live on —
forests, canyons, mountains, rivers, plains —
It is my home.
So, yes, that deep implanted tribal boyhood bond is still alive in me.
But now, at last, it's time the human species must
Our loyalty must now needs be a loyalty to Earth,
and to the Human Race!
I say — with the British war resister
thrown in prison for opposing the so-called "Great War" —
the war that was "to end all wars" —
— I say with her:
"The World is my country!"
The World is my country!
That is the loyalty we must embrace, if human culture is to survive —
in something more than desperate ragged mere survival mode.
That is the tribalism we must now salute: the Human tribe!
Our instinct for survival must now burst the bounds
of tribe that we're conditioned to —
the tribe of nation.
We must now reach out and must protect, while we still can,
the Human Tribe!
It's not too late, but very fast the options are diminishing.
We have a little window — there is still a chance — to turn this thing around.
Can human beings be big enough of heart, and smart enough,
to do what we must do?
Who knows? — perhaps this nation could awake again —
and once again assume that brave heroic role
that once upon a time the peoples of the world
had come to expect of us —
could be once more the strong big brother
who can lead the nations of the world
away from this impending sad catastrophe.
Then, perhaps, one could again — as in one's childhood —
feel a righteous pride in this great land.
I'd like to be patriotic …
Truly, it would be good to once again
feel proud of this great land!