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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
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Consumer Reports

Patriotism is no excuse for stupidity -- AS reporters go, Seymour Hersh is not only famous but also pretty darn reliable. He won a Pulitzer Prize during the Vietnam War. He broke the story of the My Lai massacre. When he writes, people listen.

Recently, he and I were on a radio show together. I asked him about his latest piece for the New Yorker in which he reported that the first real U.S. commando effort in Afghanistan had gone badly and that the Taliban -- thanks partly to an ill-advised, overly noisy U.S. effort -- had fired upon a dozen of our elite soldiers, seriously wounding several of them.

The government has denied this, "but it was a debacle," Hersh said.

He did not say it with malice. He did not say it with glee. He said it grimly, a reporter reciting the facts he had gathered.

No sooner had he hung up than someone called in to react.

"That man is un-American! He should never be allowed on the air!"


Meanwhile, in Houston, a radio station has been playing a parody song called "Bend Over, Bin Laden." It suggests Osama bin Laden "get on his camel" and prepare to be, well, assaulted on a bad flank, so to speak.

This same radio station raised nearly $20,000 from this song. The purpose? To "adopt" a bomb.

Oddly, no one has called in to label this "un-American."

In San Francisco, a high-rise office building has covered nine stories with a giant vinyl flag. Furniture stores announce a "red, white and blue" sale.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, a man reportedly tried to run a down a Pakistani pedestrian with his car.

"I am doing this for my country!" he screamed.

The dictionary definition of patriotism is "devoted love, support and defense of one's country."

It says nothing about automatic rage or throwing away your dignity. A UCLA professor recently said, "Patriotism has historically served as a benign umbrella for angry people."

Well, L-rd knows we had enough angry wackos in this country before Sept. 11. That some of them now may be admired because they wave a flag is, frankly, a little scary.


Now, understand, I am glad this nation is surging with patriotism. I feel it. You feel it. We don't often appreciate our freedoms and luxuries. So I applaud our new dedication.

But being patriotic, to me (and by his speech Thursday night, President Bush agrees), also means supporting good things inside this country -- volunteering, mentoring, doing charity work -- not just armchair quarterbacking a war.

It's worth noting that the people usually calling the loudest for bombs are either people sitting on a couch or TV pundits who have a book to sell.

Neither type will come close to risking a fingernail in battle. But they sure have vocal cords.

And some are in use right now, spewing blind hatred or saying folks like Seymour Hersh are "un-American." They couldn't be more wrong. Aren't we mature enough to handle the facts? Don't we want our leaders, above all, to be honest with us?

Dirty ditties about Osama bin Laden may amuse. But let's not forget the following:

It is not patriotic to suppress the truth. That's what bin Laden does.

It is not patriotic to run over neighbors who look different from you. That is how Islamic radicals behave.

It is not patriotic to worship death and destruction, to adopt bombs, to get itchy for some good old nuclear warfare. That is what we're trying to stop our enemies from doing.

Patriotism has never been a synonym for "loud" or "obnoxious" or "dismissive" or even "right wing." Not unless you consider John F. Kennedy a traitor.

To love, support and defend one's country. It is a beautiful definition. But colors alone do not make you worthy. And telling a countryman to shut up if you don't like the honest news he's bringing does not honor the spirit of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. It insults it.

Comment on JWR contributor Mitch Albom's column by clicking here. You may purchase his runaway bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, by clicking here.


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10/23/01: Terror is sugar-free
10/16/01: The army of the in-between
10/11/01: New war begins with delivery of darkness
10/08/01: Give peace a chance?
10/01/01: If this is supposed to make us feel secure, it isn't working
09/28/01: And our flag is still there
09/26/01: On the road to Ohio, life's little joys return
09/25/01: Our challenge: Not to change who we are
09/17/01: We can learn plenty from the horror
08/31/01: Back to school: Revenge of the boomers
08/22/01: The price of connectedness
08/16/01: An anniversary without celebration
07/31/01: Wanna name my kid? Pay me a cool Mil' --- OK, a half-mil'
07/25/01: Hey, there's no television on my ice floe!
07/10/01: When nobody knew what a Heisman was
07/02/01: Business opportunities for the empathy-impaired
06/25/01: Bunker mentality: At least Archie's meanness was satire
06/18/01: Famous fathers, eat your hearts out
06/05/01: 'No comment' on Bush twins is hard to swallow
05/30/01: Veteran scratches out the hatred
05/22/01: O.J.'s genius
05/15/01: No more kidding around
05/01/01: Haunted by the past
04/16/01: Before you file that extension...
04/11/01: Ever want to break an airport agent's neck? This guy did!
04/03/01: The best role models aren't on TV
03/19/01: 'March madness' is aptly named
03/07/01: I'm sorry, I apologize, I beg your forgiveness
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