It’s been called the last refuge of scoundrels. It is undeniably linked to “us-against-them” tribal impulses, rooted in emotion and often impervious to reason. It feeds nationalism and militarism, making it a potentially dangerous phenomenon in a world of modern weaponry. Yet patriotism—outward, vocal, and enthusiastic patriotism—is still considered a vital element in American politics, an aspect of our culture that we not only tolerate but encourage.
To many humanists, this is worth rethinking.
The American patriotic impulse was on display last week as a controversy erupted(link is external) over a photo, shown above, of a baby cradled in a flag. The venom of so-called patriots permeated the blogosphere and social media, as photographer Vanessa Hicks was on the receiving end of intense vitriol. For depicting a baby wrapped in the red, white, and blue, Hicks was called “disgraceful” and even told that she should kill herself.
Hicks, who happens to be an army veteran, fended off the cyber bullying and gained many supporters in the process, with many agreeing that the photo was indeed patriotic (not to mention cute). The father of the baby is a military man, Hicks pointed out, as she rebuffed the notion that the photo should be considered “desecration” of the flag. Nevertheless, the scrutiny and criticism continued. “Is this photo unpatriotic?”(link is external) asked CNN and just about every other major media outlet, making it one of the top stories in the week’s news cycle.