Is Patriotism a Virtue?
I have embarked on writing an article of a subject that I am certain will ‘rock some boats’, ‘rufflesome feathers’ or just plain tick some people off. Patriotism is a topic that I have pondered over manyyears and have had numerous discussions and debates with people from all walks of life. Having hada multi-cultural upbringing, and having worked with people from different parts of the world, I havehad the opportunity to see the bigger picture and in some ways, maybe the pros and cons of variousnational and cultural aspects; But most importantly, of the aspect of Patriotism itself.Patriotism in simple words is ‘the love of and/or devotion to one’s country’. However its definitionhas changed dramatically over time and its present meaning varies and is dependent on context,geography and philosophy. But let me state at the outset what Patriotism ‘is not’. In my opinion,Patriotism is NOT mindless loyalty to one’s own nation having no regard for the people or characteristics of that nation or others. And the above is what I have mostly seen of Patriotismdisplayed in many parts of the world including my own country – India.Greek philosopher Socrates stated “Patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that hiscountry does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.” This view I completely support. What I have seen over the years of ‘conventional’ patriotism is more an over-zealous ‘nationalism’ than it is anything else. And this hason many occasions made me ‘not feel’ patriotic. Let me first state the positive and practical‘importance’ of Patriotism.I once read a fascinating article that stated the importance of a moderately high blood pressure to a boxer. While that may not be a very helpful analogy, the undertone is that certain fields require you tohave a certain aspect in order to perform your designated duties to that field; National Security for example. It is absolutely necessary for every soldier or authority in any wing of the armed forces tohave a sense of patriotism. The motive being a higher cause or ideal makes it crucial, in this case, protecting or defending your nation. And this is positive. However, like I said above, the aspect of patriotism is more complicated than that. While the context in which patriotism is exhibited here may be right, there are philosophical problems. Soldiers on both sides of the war may be equally patriotic but therein lays the problem of ‘ethics’. Only one side may have or be the closest to a higher or rightideal. You will immediately see what I mean. But what does it mean to the average civilian? Whatdoes it mean to you or me?A few years ago I heard of an Indian astronaut – Kalpana Chawla, who was part of the ColumbiaSpace Shuttle Mission for NASA. When the news broke out of their intended mission, I was thrilled.To have an Indian be a part of a prestigious team for NASA was both a pioneering and proud momentfor India. And I could not have felt more proud to be an Indian then. And then tragedy struck. After 16 days in space and on entry into Earth, minutes away from touchdown, Columbia exploded mid-air in a blazing trail of fire that left debris across hundreds of miles over two states. The United Statesand India were stunned when the first live pictures broke out on live news. In the aftermath of theincident, many days later, I was disgusted with some sentiments that a relative and a friend had to say.They expressed that they were actually ‘happy’ that Kalpana died the way she did because she‘deserved’ it. Their reasoning was that having been born as an Indian, in India, to Indian parents, andeducated in India, she decided to travel abroad and seek a job with NASA and do a mission for themfor her own glory and for the glory of the United States! In other words, according to them, it ‘servedher right’! I was flabbergasted not to mention seething with rage toward them. Besides the basichumane feeling toward the loss of life, these ‘patriotic’ Indians were actually blinded by their own patriotic, or in my words, nationalistic feelings toward and against, a fellow Indian! Words failed mefor the lack of what I felt toward them at that moment. And to my shame and disgust, many suchsentiments were felt throughout India by some minorities. I was baffled by the stark contrast as Iwatched Kalpana’s memorial service in the US, with an American flag-draped casket and a 21 gunsalute, while just two channels away, effigies of Kalpana were being burnt and spat on back home inIndia. A foreign nation honored her while her own motherland spewed hatred against her. And for