American flags are flying everywhere these days on buildings, in windows, on cars and, sometimes, on people. It is the patriotic thing to do. What a particular person means by displaying the flag is sometimes questioned. For some it commemorates the death of loved ones in battle and for others it signifies the freedom to dissent, an extremely significant characteristic of the American way. For others it means my country can do no wrong!
With all the controversy about the proper and patriotic response to the nuclear build up, perhaps it is time to return to the 1983 Peace Pastoral of the U.S. Catholic Bishops for insight on the notion of patriotism.
In that pastoral letter the Bishops wrote: “The virtue of patriotism means that as citizens we respect and honor our country, but our very love and loyalty makes us examine carefully and regularly its role in world affairs, asking that it live up to its full potential as an agent of peace and justice for all people”. What constitutes a “patriot” in this age of terrorism may be the most important question facing us today.
In a 1939 book, National Patriotism in Papal Teaching, Cardinal John Wright concludes that the obligation to seek national defense by moral and juridical means and not by force of arms is an obligation, not only of heads of state, but also on each person precisely as a patriot.
Wright goes on to say that, “it cannot be too much emphasized that the perfection of the patriotic obligation to defend the fatherland is not to defend it by force but to defend it by the means most calculated effectively to achieve the ends of defense with a minimum damage to the (common) good…We may well conclude that the popes impose on the patriot the obligation to seek the means of (the) fatherland’s effective defense elsewhere than in armaments.”
So far, our government has shown uncharacteristic restraint in relying on force of armaments to respond to the Iranian nuclear build up. Apparently collaboration with other governments, intelligence work, financial mechanisms, sanctions and a variety of non-military means are being used to curtail their nuclear ambitions. As patriots we should wave the flag and l applaud these efforts. The US does not need another war.