I have argued many times that loving your country and supporting your government are not the same thing. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, and overthrow the government,” is not a quotation you’ll find in Bartlett’s. When a powerful state wants to defend itself from perceived threats, it encourages everyone to consider country and government in the same light. If you offer your loyalty to one, you offer it to the other. When Edward Snowden acted to protect a vulnerable country from a criminal government, what was the first label government used to describe him? Traitor. What did he betray? He betrayed his country!
That’s exactly what a mob boss says, without irony, when an underling turns him in. He calls him a traitor. Whom did the underling betray? The boss! Traitorous behavior counts as such only in the eyes of the beholder. If you have broken the law, you have lost the ability to call someone a traitor, and have anyone take you seriously. Honor among thieves is no honor at all.
The conflation of country and government occurs both institutionally and emotionally, since we serve our country when we serve in the armed forces. We love the one, our country, and sacrifice ourselves for its sake when we enlist in the other. Who, during this process, can miss government’s desire to transfer our love of country to itself? When the department of defense refused to have flag-draped coffins photographed as they came off the plane from Iraq, what calculations do you suppose that decision required from the public relations people? Which options costs us more love and loyalty: allowing photographs, or not allowing them?
Either way, from government’s perspective, to be killed in battle is the highest service, the most sacred sacrifice of all. Let families of fallen soldiers decide for themselves what they think of it. Who organizes and deploys armed forces? Government. Who pays you when you are a soldier? Government. Who declares war? Government. Who demands your allegiance and obedience when you serve in the armed forces? Government. Who cares for you if you are wounded? Government. Who cares for your family when you are killed? Government.
You have the idea. Service in the armed forces is service to your government. Service to country is so closely bound up with service to government that we don’t bother to separate the two when we think about patriotism, protection, and betrayal. I suppose that if government fights only just wars of self-defense, you can get away with likening government’s interest with the country’s interest. When government turns criminal, however, government’s interest becomes antagonistic to the country’s interest. Interests of officials who hold power diverge from interests of citizens who do not.
Observation tells you when your country reaches a condition of vulnerability. Government endeavors to identify enemies of the state, while the state’s servants become enemies of the people. No country in such a position can survive without patriots who sacrifice their own lives to protect citizens’ rights. Government officials mock Edward Snowden because he lives in a country even less free than ours. Believe me, he does not prefer to live there. He exiled himself for a reason. He sacrificed a great deal in order to protect us from our own government.
When you hear a government official call a citizen a traitor, look hard before you judge. Look at the record of someone who would use such a word. If you judge that the accuser has integrity, that’s one thing. If you judge that the accuser speaks for a criminal enterprise, that’s another. We live in a time when making judgments of this type has become simpler than it used to be. Government has committed a series of crimes so serious, so close together, and so brazen that we cannot possibly give it benefit of doubt any longer. It has declared war on its own people, and on people abroad. Our best hope for safety lies in the integrity of patriots who resist it.
Always faithful. Semper fidelis. That’s a motto of men who carry arms for their country. The true integrity of the Marine Corps ideal is that marines declare their loyalty to each other, not to their employer, or to an abstract nation. Their comrades come first, last, and always. That’s a bond we have to remember, as we fight to protect ourselves from our government.