- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Jonathan Foreman, a native of England and veteran international journalist, was embedded with the U.S. Army as a war correspondent during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His new book, “The Pocket Book of American Patriotism,” is partly a timeline of American and world history and partly an anthology of culturally significant American quotations, songs, speeches and documents.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Foreman:

Question: What were some of the gaps you wanted to fill with this book?

Answer: The book is an American primer. The idea is to fill in the gaps left by the demise of traditional civic education. I see this as a kind of “warts and all” history. It’s not a “rah-rah, nothing bad has ever happened here” history. There’s a lot of tragedy in the country, the process of assimilation. There absolutely are flaws. We have the original sin of slavery. … We’re a mature society. We acknowledge things. It sounds waggish, but I think there’s a sort of moral progress.

You hear from people who say they’re going to leave the country if certain people get elected. Most of the stuff is hot air. It’s kind of amazing what people say about America, and they don’t know anything about it. This is a reminder of the struggle. We are the inheritors of extraordinary traditions. Very good people fought and died for freedom and our ideals. That’s what patriotism is about.

Q: Are there things that are a big deal to us now that history will reveal to be unimportant?

A: There’s a certain perspective. There’s certain things that really were titanic, like the Civil War, and there are things that seemed titanic that were not.

You wonder about Supreme Court appointments. Even the previous battles — we’ve had people on the left who thought the world was going to end when Clarence Thomas was nominated. Katrina, and the reconstruction of the city, I think that will be a big deal. I wonder how history will view that. … They’ll see that in ‘05 there was a hurricane that killed 1,000 at the most, and then a few weeks later an earthquake in South Asia that killed [many times] as many people as that. What was important in [the] 2000 [election]? [But then] look at September 11. The issues that were important on September 10th … the world can be altered really quickly.

Q: How is patriotism different from xenophobia?

A: There are people whose national feeling obviously has an ugly side. Patriotism defined very broadly can have a side that’s about chauvinism and hating foreigners and demanding a heightened kind of loyalty. That’s what sets off alarm bells in some people when they see the word “patriotism.” I see patriotism as something far more positive … love of and devotion to one’s country.

America is different from other countries. Other countries have “blood and soil” patriotism, which leads to a kind of xenophobia. It’s difficult to have that in America because people haven’t been here long enough, having ancestors here stretching time out of mind. You can’t really have a racial nationalism here. People came together, and they founded a country based on a proposition. That makes it fundamentally different.

There’s nothing hostile to foreigners about patriotism. Patriotism is about love of your country. To believe that we’re good, we don’t have to believe that other people are bad. But I do believe that we’re very fortunate to be Americans. If you tried to do this in some other country, it would be a very difficult task. It was nice to be born into a country where there really are things to be proud of.

Q: What lessons from our history apply to the war on terror? What have we learned, what have we not learned?

A: I’m troubled by some of the wrong lessons we learned from the Vietnam experience. Vietnam cast this weird shadow over American policy-making. We end up with all sorts of weird myths. The myth that there was a stab in the back at home, the myth that the army should never get involved in a warfare and nation-building effort. I was embedded in Iraq twice. Some of the stuff we’ve gotten wrong is because we were acting hesitant because of these half-memories from the Vietnam era. There was a kind of risk aversion that grew up in reaction to the Vietnam War. It’s misremembered by the left, it’s misremembered by the right, by people of a certain generation of the armed forces.

I think some people make this mistake of assuming that patriotism requires a sort of blind, Soviet-style loyalty, or Orwellian disregard to the fact. Being patriotic is not like adherence to a religion. Being a patriot doesn’t mean you have to claim that everything is perfect and wonderful. … We’re a mature society. Our greatness doesn’t depend on denying that we’ve made mistakes or that our ancestors did acts that were cruel or thoughtless or dishonest or foolish. We broke treaties with the Indians. … McCarthyism, retention of Japanese-Americans, Jim Crow. There’s plenty of injustice in our history. But that doesn’t mean we have to start spelling America with three K’s. [Critics] are holding America up to some kind of impossible standard. Find me a country where people have always been angels.

People on the left sometimes go on about where we supported horrible dictators in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but then we overthrow someone whose crimes dwarf that of Somoza and Pinochet and many others — Saddam Hussein — and everyone gets terribly upset. People can’t see the wood for the trees. What we did in overthrowing Saddam was, in many ways, America at her best … living up to her ideals.

Q: How will history look at President Bush?

A: It’s one of those interesting questions of our time. The answer depends on what happens in the war on terror, whether we hold our course or not. Good, wise, morally right people can seem very different if they fail. Look at Vietnam to see some of that. You read [Mr. Bushs] speech that I’ve included in the book, the “Forward Policy of Freedom” speech, and I think people who believe that everyone deserves liberty will … see a president who had his heart absolutely in the right place. Questions of implementation are something else. The jury is very much out.

Q: What makes American patriotism unique?

A: It’s easier to be patriotic where nationalism hasn’t led people to commit terrible crimes, and I think that’s true of the United States. We don’t have to worry about some terrible beast inside us. American patriotism is different because it’s the patriotism of a society that was formed by people who wanted to make a new society. We’re a nation that’s based on ideals and attitudes, the attitude of free people who wanted to escape something and build something new. There’s a kind of inherent optimism in American patriotism. It’s about idealism.

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