I was one of three invited speakers at the Kansas City (Missouri) Peace Vigil and Rally held on June 24, 2007, at Mill Creek (near J.C. Nichols Fountain at 47th and Main Streets). The theme of the event, "What is the Highest Form of Patriotism?," was sponsored by the KC Iraq Task Force & the American Friends Service Committee and drew about two dozen people.
When I am asked to speak at such events concerning the U.S. war on terror I find myself focusing on the "tough love" approach that interrogates and deconstructs some of the most beloved U.S. ideas (freedom and justice), documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence), leaders (Founding Fathers), and slogans (God Bless America, Peace is Patriotic). My approach parallels that of Buddhist writer, practitioner, and teacher Noah Levine who says that in order to obtain happiness and true freedom from the confusion and suffering of this world one must defy the lies. "Everyday we are lied to by the world. Our families, our societies, our relations tend to be filled with delusional ideas. Human Beings have created a deeply dysfunctional culture. The insecurity of the human condition has led to the creation of many violent religions and scientific rationalizations. We have been destroying each other and this planet for too long. Human ignorance is the status quo; even in the most highly educated or religious people we see the unnecessary suffering of ego identity, lack of acceptance, and greed for power.
In America we like to talk about equality and human rights, but this country was founded on violence and oppression. Our forefathers stole this land for the native peoples, waging war on the rightful inhabitants of the continent...this is just not an American phenomenon of course;"
(Against the Stream, pp. 118-119, 2007).
Of course my challenge is to use this approach while at the same time extending loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom (right understanding and intention), and conduct (right speech and action). My aim is to bring about freedom from our dysfunctional thinking, actions, and beliefs so that true, compassionate change may take place to alleviate the suffering for all sentient beings.
What is the Highest Form of Patriotism? I Say Acknowledging Our Addiction to War
Identity as Patriots
A patriot is someone who loves his or her nation and is willing to sacrifice for that nation. There are of course different forms of patriotism that many of us subscribe to and there are those of us who eschew the label and the behavior that goes with it since it creates a certain divisiveness of identity and loyalty that can and often does degrade into an us versus them thinking and behavior. War correspondent Chris Hedges speaks of the danger of nationalism stating, “Most national myths are racist at their core. They are fed by ignorance. Those individuals who understand other cultures, speak other languages, and find richness in diversity are shunted aside. Science, history, and psychology are often twisted to serve myth. And many intellectuals are willing to champion and defend absurd theories for nationalist ends” (War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, 2003, p.24).
All of us have one or more identities that shape our views, behaviors, and contributions in this world. Our identities are fundamental to our existence as humans, teaching us how we should feel because of who we are, and how we should engage the world around us and within us. It is clear from the history of many Indigenous nations, histories which long predate those of later nations who came to these lands, that rigid personal and national identities can bring us into peace or conflict with one another. And, generally it is the latter. If one truly desires to study all aspects of war and peacemaking and peacekeeping in this hemisphere, one needs to begin with a formal, exhaustive, and appreciative examination of how our nations treated successfully and unsuccessfully with one another. There is much to be learned about humility, arrogance, diplomacy, and the making of relations and enemies between our tribes.
When we see ourselves (and foster in our children) peace, compassion, honesty, enlightenment, and equality (toward all nations, including the animal nations that fly, swim, crawl, or the plant nations that pose upright before the sun, or all the nations we cannot see) we naturally gravitate toward views and behaviors that are just, supportive, accepting, respectful, and whole. When our identities and our societal discourses center on inculcating in ourselves and our children with the belief that we are “the greatest nation on earth,” “the moral compass and beacon of hope for the rest of the world,” and that the “founding fathers” serve as the moral standard of not only this nation, but for all nations who must aspire to our idea of democratic rule, we certainly will find ourselves in conflict with other nations, other tribes, other people, and other beings. When we so arrogantly or ignorantly see others as separate and less than us because they were born in another nation, grew up in a different culture, learned a different language, and possess a different consciousness we willfully destroy what the great Lakota elder Black Elk called the great "hoop of life."
We must see that we are only a part of the whole; we are not the whole. Instead we are what Chief Seattle called referred to as a link in the web of life. "Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves." And, because of our self-declared importance and our continued, deliberate, unyielding efforts to place ourselves at the top of the food chain, we are now facing extreme global crises living in what ecologists call an "overshoot and collapse" society of unsustainability where our cravings, addictions, consumption, waste, and anger and disrespect for ourselves and all other beings can no longer be supported on or by this planet.
For many of us Indigenous Peoples who are surrounded by the American occupying forces which are composed of more than 500 years of broken treaties, stolen lands, stolen children, stolen resources, stolen religions, and unfulfilled promises, we continually find ourselves coming into conflict with the American identity and patriotism that looms large upon these lands. Many of us come into conflict with your Constitution which claims equality and liberty for all, yet clearly has and continues to control our commerce and participation in the international community by declaring that only this nation had the right to regulate the business and political affairs of our Indigenous nations. Many of us come into conflict with your Declaration of Independence which refers to our nations when it states, “The present King of Great Britain...has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers; the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Soon, on July 4th to be exact, many American patriots will be celebrating the words, spirit, and ideas this most sacred American document. In fact, as a reminder that they reside in the greatest nation in the world and that their government was founded on the most egalitarian ideas, some of the most "progressive, liberal" individuals and organizations will proudly give public readings of this document in their Churches, public auditoriums, and city parks. Will this nation again affirm my status as a savage on July 4th, 2007?
Many Indigenous Peoples come into conflict with this nation’s symbols. For instance the American Flag, which so many American patriots were (and continue to be) willing to give their lives for, was carried by U.S. soldiers when they rode into many of our villages to commit savage, bloody massacres of unarmed women, babies, children, and elders. For many, but not all Indigenous Peoples, this Flag has come to symbolize oppression for our nations and has left deep spiritual and psychological consternation whenever it is paraded around in our ceremonies or sacred lands. Still, there are many of our Indigenous nations that pay homage to this Flag for their own national or personal reasons, which serves as a consternation to me. This Flag will also be present at many Fourth of July celebrations in just a few days. Finally, your slogan “God Bless America,” which is often found on a bumper stick alongside a picture of the American Flag has brought conflict to many. I ask is the arrogance of this nation’s patriotism such that it can order God to bless it? How about saying please, or we’d be honored, or we humbly beseech your blessings?
Peace is Patriotic
It is difficult to believe the slogan, peace is patriotic, or that this nation desires peace when it possesses the largest military budget in the world, spending 554 billion dollars in 2005. How big is this expenditure on a global military expenditure scale? The US military spending was almost 7 times larger than the Chinese budget, the second largest spender in the world, and almost 29 times as large as the combined spending of the six so-called “rogue” states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria who spent $14.65 billion. And it is two times larger than the Indigenous (Individual Indian Monies, IIM) that this nation has stolen, lost, or misspent when it assumed control of our economic lives back in 1887 through its Department of War and later Department of Interior. In fact, many of you probably know very little about how much money this nation has stolen from our people while it was legally responsible to hold this money in trust. If you think that the money wasted and fraudulently obtained by U.S. contractors in Iraq is large I invite to please examine all the resources, lives, monies, and territories what this nation has stolen from us.
When this nation proclaims itself to hold the highest moral position in the world and wants others to accept this belief, it is obvious that it will need the weaponry to enforce and create this reality. When you become a warrior nation bent on imposing your will upon those you deem less than you, and you do not acknowledge the terrorism of your actions and genocides that you undertook to achieve your political, economic, and moral standing, and when you do not make apologies, restitution, or peace and disarm, and when you take that ignorance of your history and the fantasy of the founding father’s to the rest of the world, I can assure you that you will meet conflict and resistance from others you mean to rule or deceive. You will meet resistance; as much as you experienced when you invaded Vietnam; as much as you are seeing today from many of the tribes in Iraq; and you will see resistance if we attack Iran. And when we believe our own dysconscious racist myths and false patriotism – it is we who become the terrorists.
The conflict that we see raging today in Iraq, and possibly soon to be raging in Iran or some other nation that resists and confronts the imperialist, racism of this nation, must be mediated by those individuals in our tribes and nations that have attained and possess states of enlightenment that teach us we are truly all one nation of humans who must depend, assist, and love one another for the sake of our common humanity and destiny, which is impermanent but nonetheless as important as each breath we are taking at this moment.
Presently, the presidential democratic and republican front-runners will not be capable of stemming this nation’s addiction to war or patriotism. Nor do they seem capable of breaking their addiction to this nation's false history. Few visit with our tribes, except in very superficial instances, and none will seek counsel from our peacemakers. None will advocate to change the Constitution or Declaration of Independence on our behalf, and none will apologize and make restitution for stolen lands, resources, monies, and genocide. So, even if the new U.S. president and Congress end the war in Iraq in 2008, the lies of the past and contemporary U.S. history, the aversion to the truth of what happens and continues to happen to Indigenous Peoples in the U.S., and false teachers of American patriotism will continue into the next generation; and this soft war of truth versus deception will continue to smolder in these lands.
If we do not look after the welfare of one another as a loving, concerned family member would for his or her brothers and sisters, especially for those we consider to be different, or from another nation, race, or tribe, we will continue to find ourselves on that slippery slope of the downward descent to that place where there are no friends or allies; It is the place where there is no peace or quiet or sanity; here there are only enemies, addictions, anger, greed, and dangers which envelop all of our being - creating within each of us abundant dissatisfaction, hatred, and suffering. Are we there yet? We must now at this time in our history, more than ever, make it a priority to shape our identities to include truth, love, compassion, understanding, and empathy for our common struggles as we continue in our efforts to become fully human in this life. There are few alternatives at this point.
I am Sahnish and Hidatsa. I am Indigenous and I am tribal and, thus, one of my fundamental realities, which have been shaped by the views of my people, is that “We’re In This World A Short Time.” It is a reality that is deeply reinforced whenever this phrase is sung during our ceremonies, especially during the burial of our people and at their memorial which is held a year later. The acknowledgement through these words concerning their life and death and what they did while here serves as an important reminder to all the people in our tribe that we have only a brief window of opportunity to do what is good, just, right, and loving toward ourselves and all others. We believe that our spirituality leads us toward a larger ontological accountability that we pay here and in the hereafter. Through this phrase it has become exceedingly clear to generations and generations of our people that, while we’re here, we must become fully present and mindful to the fact that the difficulty and ease with which we pass through this world must be done with the highest degrees of sincerity, honesty, humility, wisdom, intelligence, compassion, and love. We seek peace with all nations of the world. We seek truth with all nations.
I have given my thoughts on the theme of this gathering and I hope that you take my words as they are intended, as a "tough love" approach on this nation’s addiction to war, sidestepping truth, and the patriotism that fuels those wars and lies. Freedom from this suffering is possible in this lifetime. And, if we are end or reduce this suffering we must calmly and assertively encourage this nation to complete a "searching and fearless moral inventory" of itself. In this spirit, in closing, I want to suggest that the highest form of patriotism during times of war and peace is comes from several of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I will only briefly focus on the first step, but remind you that when an individual or a nation is addicted it must be confronted by those of us who are "clean and sober," and continue working hard to maintain our sobriety for the sake of ourselves and all sentient beings. The use of the twelve steps perhaps makes more sense than any approach at this time because when this nation elected George W. Bush as president it chose an addict to lead this country. Of course, this is not the first time it has done so and with the way things are going and overall addiction of folks in this country to material resources, it won't be the last.
The first of the twelve steps is, "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable." Now more than ever it is important for this nation to make an admission that is powerless in its ability to avoid colonization, war, distorting or ignoring truth, and imposing its beliefs, values, and ideas upon other nations without regard and respect for their individuality, diversity, culture, and history. It is a nation whose passion and addiction for war and patriotism has created the most destructive nuclear weapons in the world, which presses all nations towards the brink of extinction. The powerlessness of this nation has all life on this planet hanging in the balance. And this is what addicts crave: complete control over others because they have no control over themselves.
Let's help this nation with its addictions. Let's help one another with our addictions and let's see beyond the lies. Let us serve the truth and see beyond the false teachers and let's come together to intelligently, assertively, and compassionately confront this runaway nation for the sake of all being on the planet. Thank you.