Patriotism during a pandemic
Timothy Braatz Guest Opinion
The word “patriot” is derived from Latin and Greek words for fatherland. Other languages say motherland. The implication is that a country is a family, and citizens are brothers and sisters.
Patriotism means being a responsible member of the national family. This is a very conservative idea, dating back centuries. When you are kind to your neighbors, you are being patriotic. When you respect the right of fellow citizens to live safely and have differences of opinion and belief, you are being patriotic. Patriotism also requires sometimes making personal sacrifices for the well-being of others.
When President Franklin Roosevelt called for “equality of sacrifice” during World War II (1941-45), many responded, and not just by enlisting in the military. Understanding that the national war effort required great resources, U.S. citizens cooperated with a government rationing system for fuel, clothing material, and foodstuffs. Twenty million housewives pledged not to purchase more than their fair share of groceries — no hoarding, no wasting. Children gathered milkweed for making lifejackets. Entire communities collected tons of scrap metal for ships and planes. Federal officials froze wages and required factories to produce war material, not consumer goods, and the national population took it in stride.
Today, in this time of pandemic, we again see remarkable patriotic sacrifices. Many people are sewing masks to donate to people they will never meet. In COVID-19 hotspots, doctors and nurses are working long hours, quarantining themselves from their families, and risking their lives to save the lives of others. Dozens of these health care patriots have died from the disease. Most people and businesses are cooperating with distancing and lockdown guidelines, knowing that, no matter how inconvenient, it is the right thing for their community.
But a few refuse to make even the smallest sacrifice. In pandemic hotspots, where businesses require masks be worn, some noncooperative customers have responded by intentionally coughing on, spitting on, or physically assaulting employees. This is a free country, they insist, how dare you inconvenience me! In Michigan, home to over 53,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 5,000 deaths, two men murdered a security guard after he asked them to wear masks.
Some individuals and organizations see the pandemic as an opportunity to exploit, not help, their fellow citizens. Some price-gouging companies have raised the price of N95 masks from 30 cents to $15 each and face shields from $1 to $12. A man in New York illegally stockpiled tons of medical supplies to resell at much higher prices. A man in Tennessee hoarded 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer. Wealthy corporations, including hotel and restaurant chains, have taken millions of taxpayer dollars that were intended to bailout small businesses.
It seems the pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst, revealing the patriotic and exposing the unpatriotic.
In March, after COVID-19 reached Idaho, Governor Brad Little declared an “extreme emergency” and ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and venues. He later assembled a Testing Task Force of physicians and scientists, not politicians. In early May, Governor Little began issuing protocols (physical distancing, disinfection procedures) to allow for business reopening. On May 22, he announced the Testing Task Force’s scientific recommendations, including “expansion of molecular diagnostic testing” and “serologic (antibody) testing.”
Some people are protesting these public health measures. Governor Little, they would have you believe, is involved in a conspiracy to violate your rights and take away your freedoms. State representative Heather Scott called the governor “Little Hitler” and said that the emergency closures were “no different than Nazi Germany.” This shameful and absurd comparison encourages you to play the political victim and reject the safety measures. It also trivializes genocide.
A “Disobey Idaho” rally at the statehouse drew several hundred people carrying signs. Many waved flags, but that did not make their message patriotic. One sign suggested that the pandemic statistics were “inflated.” Another said it was all a “hoax.” Several signs suggested that death was preferable to living under this “tyranny,” and even more signs condemned “fear.” But the protesters were the ones expressing fear. Perhaps that’s why some carried assault rifles and dressed for combat.
For residents of Boundary County, where COVID-19 has yet to appear, it can be difficult to appreciate the severity of the pandemic. The USA has over 1.6 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths. The State of Idaho has reported over 2,600 “confirmed and probable cases” and 79 deaths. We can only imagine how much higher these numbers would be without the stay-home precautions. And the numbers continue to climb. The pandemic is far from over and could intensify.
In these difficult times, the Boundary County Human Rights Task Force encourages everyone to think seriously about the proper balance between the right to assemble and protest and the right to health and well-being. Remember that kindness is patriotic, bullying is not.
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Timothy Braatz is a professor of history and nonviolence at Saddleback College. Previously, he taught at Southern Utah University and Arizona State University. He has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Arizona State, and is the author of several books, including “Peace Lessons” and “From Ghetto to Death Camp: A Memoir of Privilege and Luck.” Locally, he wrote and directed the dramatic scenes for Vicki Thompson’s recent productions, “A Common Beat” and “Stardust!”