The Government Is Not the Countryby Jacob G. Hornberger
Jun. 01, 2010
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One of the bromides we hear every Memorial Day is how countless American soldiers have died for their country. Thatís nothing but sheer nonsense. Many of them died not for their country but rather for their government. Thereís a difference.
Unfortunately, many Americans conflate the government and the country. In their minds, they are one and the same thing. Thus, for them when soldiers die for their government, they also die for their country.
By the same token, such people often question the patriotism of citizens who oppose a particular war in which their government is engaged. Since such people consider government and the country to be one and the same thing, they conclude that the protestors hate their country.
Actually, however, the government and the country are two separate and distinct entities. This phenomenon is confirmed, by the way, in the Bill of Rights, a document that expressly protects the country from the government. In fact, the reason that the Constitution limited the powers of the government was to ensure that it would not run roughshod over the country.
During World War II, there was a group of antiwar protestors who called themselves the White Rose. They not only opposed the war, they also refused to support the troops. They drew a distinction between their government and their country. They believed that their government was in the wrong in waging the war and decided to take a stand against it. In their minds, they were standing up for their country by opposing their government.
Those within the government, however, disagreed. Not surprisingly, they conflated government and country and considered the members of the White Rose to be traitors who hated their country. After quick kangaroo trials before tribunals known as the Peopleís Court, the members of the White Rose were convicted and executed. While many of their fellow Germans considered them unpatriotic, I believe that they were the true patriots for having the courage to stand up against a wrongful war being waged by their government.
A similar issue involving patriotism and treason arose in 1776. A common mistake many Americans make is with respect to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. Oftentimes, people think that the signers were Americans. They werenít. They were as British as you and I are Americans. They were British citizens living in British overseas colonies.
So, when those British colonists signed the Declaration of Independence, they were standing up against their own government. Their government considered them to be traitors. I consider them to be patriots for having the courage to oppose wrongdoing by their own government, even to the point of risking their lives in the process.
When one reviews many of the various wars that the U.S. government has waged, Americans should ask themselves an important question: Did American soldiers die for their government or for their country in each of those wars?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.