In comments to an early post, Timmer recently said that judging from my statements, I had clearly not done any time in the military. I've gotten this sort of reaction before in blog discussions. Ironically, I have been in the military as have many of my most ardently anti-Bush friends.
There's something about this sort of comment that I find troubling. The message I keep hearing from people is that there's some sort of litmus test for being "a true American" and "belonging here." People need to pass some narrowly defined citizenship test based on patriotic zeal. My own feelings on this is that everyone "belongs" wherever they were born (if not elsewhere as well), whether that be in America or abroad. These people who claim that you have to be patriotic, pro-military or from the "heartland" in order to be a true American have gotten things ass-backwards. Patriotism doesn't trump belonging. Rather, it's the other way around. Belonging to one's land, community, and point in history actually trumps country. "Country" could disappear tomorrow and we'd all still belong here.
To put this in more philosophical terms, patriotism is only good in so-far as a country participates in "the good." Seen in this light, patriotism isn't really good (or bad) at all, since it derives these qualities from something higher. Likewise, our sense of basic dignity as people isn't derived from the laws or institutions that aim to reflect this dignity. Timmer implies that there's something about being in the military (courage? fortitude?) that especially qualifies a person for full citizenship. I would argue that our society boasts many people of courage. A teacher willing to work in a dangerous section of town in order to help disadvantaged youth possesses courage--and probably faces much more physical danger everyday than 99% of the people in the military. No one should imply that I or anyone else do not belong or are not qualified to enter discussions about what's happening here.