The Last Refuge – Ten Years Later

Note: The following was originally published on November 23, 2001 – ten years ago. Has anything changed in the past decade?

By Richard E Walrath – November 23, 2001 6:31 pm

Samuel Johnson was talking about patriotism when he uttered those famous words “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I’m not sure that people have generally agreed with his statement, but it’s certainly true that standards of patriotism have changed over the years.

Today, patriotism means racing up and down the highway at high speed in an SUV with a flag sticking out all four windows and thumbing your nose at, or giving the finger to, the driver of a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle.

If you can’t afford one of these roll-over models owned by selfish, unpatriotic vulgar people, you can still be patriotic by jumping up and down and waving the flag. I have nothing against waving the flag; by the way, I just think it takes a lot more than that to be patriotic.

I can remember World War II (I remember the Korean War, also, but that would be hard to forget as I was there in 1950-51). People did more at home than just wave flags in WW II. They didn’t run up and down the road in their cars because gas was rationed, and if you wore out your car, that was too bad because they weren’t making any more-there was a war on, you see.

Food was rationed – red stamps for meat, blue for the rest of stuff people could buy. They saved fat from the little meat they could get for the war effort – fat was used to make explosives. Now as part of the war effort, people are encouraged to go and spend their money to buy more to get “our economy rolling again.”

But the 911 tragedy that has supposedly changed so many people in this country cannot hide the many problems this country faced before September 11. Pollution, poverty, global warming have not gone away because of that fateful day, and nothing has been done, is being done, or will be done about them.

Patriotism, to me, is a love of your country and its people. It’s not just saying, but doing. To me, someone driving a smaller car to conserve fuel is more patriotic than a person racing up and down the highway with a flag sticking out of each window.

Polluting the air, poisoning the water whether by individuals or industry are not patriotic acts. This land was not given to us to despoil—owning it does not give us the right to ruin it.

If possible, there are those who show even less regard for the people of this land than they do for the land, itself. Run-down schools, currently in need of billions of dollars of repair, poverty, hunger in this land of plenty, car sales at all all-time high even as the number of people unemployed continues to climb.

How much time is left for us to learn to love our land and our people? How much time to learn the true meaning of patriotism? Some people believe we have run out of time and have entered the Period of Chastisement.

Prometheus brought fire to man when he was shivering and cold. Man took the torch and scorched the earth until smoke filled the skies and the earth was bare. What the gods have given, the gods can take away. Prometheus may be back to claim the flame any day.

I wonder which is better?

A world totally on fire or a world totally without fire?

Is that to be our choice?

© 2001, 2011 Richard E Walrath

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