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Sochi 2014: A Time for Patriotism?

5 February 2014 By Justin Thau, Columnist 2 Comments

On the eve of 22nd Olympic Winter Games, I don’t feel very patriotic. I feel quite anti-American, to be honest.

I’m not a terrorist, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be (just want to get this out of the way). I was born about 15 minutes east of Towson University and have lived in this area my entire life. I was at Pot Spring Elementary School, about 10 minutes north of here, when the World Trade Centers in New York came crashing down. My grandfather served in the Coast Guard during the Korean War and my uncle served in the Air Force during the Persian Gulf War. I thoroughly enjoy apple pie, rock and roll, and the cinema of Quentin Tarantino.

However, when it comes to America, I feel cheated. I feel lost in a sea of highly questionable ethics. I feel like the façade we’ve come to know as patriotism is merely blind moral collectivism.

I found I needed to write about patriotism leading into the Olympics specifically because of the media coverage surrounding LGBT rights in Russia. A great deal of animosity has been thrown Russia’s way for their definitively anti-homosexual laws, and deservedly so.

Russia has a countrywide ban on same-sex marriage, but their laws go further than that. There is no recognition of same-sex unions, there are no anti-discriminatory laws in place regarding LGBT members of the workforce, and there is no freedom of expression in regards to sexual orientation. Oh, and a 2013 survey showed 74 percent of Russians believe homosexuality should not be allowed in society. It appears Russia has a problem with LGBT civil rights – and yes, that is putting it lightly.

Do you know another country that struggles with civil rights, both LGBT and otherwise? A country that insists it is post-racial, yet has self-segregated itself even after the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s? A country that insists on having over 10,000 troops deployed in each of six other countries, yet stresses to appear to be democratic? A country that purports to be a champion of international civil rights even though it continues to kill innocent civilians, many of them children, with drone strikes in the Middle East?

This same country has rather passively sent gay athletes to Sochi as part of its Olympic delegation in an attempt to make an international statement about Russia’s anti-gay laws, or something to that effect. Meanwhile, domestically, this country maintains a ban of same-sex marriage in 33 of its 50 states. In 2012, over 60 million adults of this country voted for Mitt Romney, a presidential candidate at that time who believes in the hetero-normative definition of marriage.

Starting to sound like America, right?

I refuse to be duped by the elected officials we’ve so blindly put in charge of our morality. You’d be wise to do the same. Our government wants you to feel like you’re doing the right thing by being patriotic. Red, white, and blue, y’all! When the Opening Ceremony airs tomorrow, you may find yourself beginning to get amped up to root for American athletes in Sochi. That’s fair. I like Shaun White, too.

Yet, I encourage you to question why you simply accept that rooting for America is the right thing to do. Is it because of those homosexual delegates? Is it because you pledged allegiance to the flag every day in school for approximately 12 years of your young life? Is it because you think the right thing to do is stick with your country no matter what moral contradictions you see occur within it?

What you believe and what is moral are not necessarily one and the same. You may believe that America is the greatest country on the planet, but you can’t objectively conclude that America is always on the progressive side of civil rights. You may believe that America made an important statement regarding LGBT rights by sending homosexual delegates to the Olympics, but you can’t necessarily conclude that America even comes close to majority support for LGBT civil rights.

You may believe that homosexuality is a sin, but does that mean homosexuality is immoral? And if so, what is your justification? If it’s that God or the Bible says so, okay. However, that same logic would lead me to believe that if Joe Pesci or Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking said that eating chocolate is morally reprehensible, I’d have to believe it too. I mean, when Joe Pesci says something, I must believe it to be moral. Otherwise, Joe Pesci will come whack me in the head with a baseball bat. Talk about Hell on earth.

Again, think for a moment – why should you be patriotic leading into these Olympics? If you find that you feel patriotic just because someone said you should be or you just feel that way or that you believe America is awesome, look into the matter further. I did, and I concluded that blindly rooting for American athletes over the next two weeks is incredibly misguided, as is this country’s double standard when it comes to civil rights.

Sure, the United States of America may look like it has its civil rights in good shape from the outside whereas Russia does not, but internally there is still much work to do in this country. Hey, you know what? I think I just described what it really means to be American: image first, internal progress eventually.



  • jeff said:

    You should be cheering for the US Olympic team because only in this country do you have the absolute freedom to write such trite as this. You should cheer for the US because millions of American men and women fought and died to protect your write to be a moron. That’s why you should cheer. If you don’t like this country go somewhere else. Oh wait, you wont because you would not get away with half of what you do here and your quality of life would be miserable.

  • Samuel said:

    Only in America likewise would one get away with such tripe*, one supposes he meant, as the above comment. It encapsulates the standard American response to any questioning of its policy:

    i) “Only in this country do you have the absolute freedom to write such trite [sic] as this.” This is, of course, not true – Canada, Switzerland, Brazil, Ecuador, Norway, Spain, Poland, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Malta, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Greece, Germany, France, Denmark, the Czech Republic, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and a whole host of other countries have rigorously-upheld free speech laws or free speech provisions in their constitutions according to the UN and Amnesty International. Nor does America have wonderfully unqualified free speech provisions. Oliver Wendell Holmes almost a century ago, and I say this as a fan of his, realised that unlimited free speech in a modern country is impossible and enshrined into Supreme Court precedent, very sensibly, that free speech is curtailed when it presents a “clear and present danger” (Schenck v. United States, 1919). This brings the US in line with most countries with free speech, where there remains legislation (the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance) and judicial precedent (R. A. V. v. City of St Paul, 1992) to limit offensive or dangerous speech. This isn’t even to delve into the concerning parts about being prosecuted for sharing information relating to national security, and so on. An American citizen could play emigrant roulette and most likely land on a state with more liberal free speech laws.

    ii) “Millions of American men and women died to protect your write [sic] to be a moron.” Did they protect your write to right atrociously? More seriously, this is of course nonsense. In spite of the common American delusion that the US fights wars only to protect the liberties of its citizens against despotic regimes, this is not the case. The US fights wars to protect its national security interests, not the supposedly-unique liberties of its citizens; this isn’t a cynical perspective, it’s the official policy of the US government (cf. the Iraq War Resolution). The Iraq war, incidentally, was fought indeed against an authoritarian dictator, but would this have ever affected American citizens’ liberties? Would Saddam Hussein have conquered the United States and enforced his ideals on the American citizenry? Needless to say, the answer is no. Likewise any war that the US has ever fought, against Japan, in Europe or otherwise. (Let’s ignore the democratic complexities of Taishō democracy in Japan under the Meiji Constitution, which specifically upheld free speech, due process, freedom of movement, right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, right to petition government, and much of what American exceptionalists hold to be unique to the US.)

    iii) “If you don’t like this country, go somewhere else.” Admittedly this isn’t unique to the United States (which places it in the company of just about everything), and one comes across it frequently in political discourse here in the UK, yet American patriots seem the quickest to resort to this. Of course, one could have said this to the American revolutionaries fighting British rule under King George III, though it’s not so common to hear that, because most people who say this sort of thing are well aware this it’s nonsense which doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. To suggest that the solution to having problems with the country is not to petition the government as an American is constitutionally allowed to, or to raise issues in the public sphere, but to leave the US and leave it to the arch-chauvinists to populate the country is a patent absurdity. It’s even more bizarre when the author of the article is not decrying America and calling it poisoned at the roots, but is rather suggesting moderate reforms or the cessation of hypocrisy when discussing Russia’s treatment of LGBT people.

    All in all, how tragic that perhaps a few people may have fought and died to give you the right to speak as an automaton who trots out tired clichés without having even thought about them – because why have free speech when you’re not even speaking for yourself, or as yourself, or using your own mind to do so?

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