Rethinking patriotism this Fourth of July

By Camilo Mejía

June 14, 2007

This Independence Day, we should rethink our concept of patriotism.

Is it patriotic to support a war that our president launched on false premises and that has turned into a disaster?

Or is it patriotic to oppose that war?

I had to face this question while in uniform.

Back in 2003, when I fought in Iraq, my infantry unit was going out on combat missions without bulletproof vests and without basic radio equipment. For a while, we even had to suspend patrols because we didn’t have enough water to hydrate ourselves.

After 10 months of deployment and five months of combat without a purpose, I made the agonizing decision not to return to the war. A few months later, I publicly denounced the war and vowed that I would no longer fight in it.

That got me a 12-month sentence in a U.S. Army jail, demotion to the lowest rank and a bad-conduct discharge from the service.

I have no regrets.

Today, our young men and women in the military still find themselves in the role of occupiers, in a war that to this very day remains unjustified, a war that seems to be helping only U.S. companies like Halliburton that have profited from it.

The red glare and the bombs bursting in air that we salute in song this July 4 may have an entirely different meaning to our soldiers in Iraq who see the explosions all around them.

Some Americans back home believe they are being patriotic, believe they are supporting the troops, when they back President Bush and his conduct of this war.

But patriotism must mean something loftier than just assenting to the occupant of the Oval Office.

And supporting the troops must mean something other than turning them into sitting ducks, with no prospect of success at the end.

I submit that being patriotic means opposing this war.

I submit that supporting the troops means urging Congress to cut off any funds for this war that are not earmarked for bringing those troops home -- starting now.

Let us show our independence, this July 4, from narrow-minded interpretations of patriotism.

;b>Camilo Mejía was the first combat veteran of the Iraq war to publicly denounce the war as illegal and refuse further participation in it. He is the author of “Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejía” (The New Press, 2007). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org