Robert Jensen in his article “Saying goodbye to patriotism” criticizes the negative effects of American patriotism which became especially influential after September 11 terrorist attacks. Jensen, professor of journalism at the University of Texas, claims that considering American political life patriotism can be blamed for the conflicts and wars. In this paper, I am going to summarize and criticize Jensen’s ideas on patriotism.
Jensen begins his article by stating that so-called American patriotism has become extremely powerful after 9/11 attacks and those who disagree with this trend are often labeled as “communist”, “traitor” or “anti-American”. Jensen uses the dictionary meaning of patriotism as the “love and loyal or zealous support of one’s own country” (line 31-32). He tries to show that this love or loyal support to one’s own country can easily turn into militarism and nationalism. In his view, patriotism after 9/11 attacks was used in USA for mobilizing support in American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Jensen also complains about people who advise him that he could have these views and feelings but at the moment he should not state this because the country is in a war. In Jensen’s view, these people believe in democracy and human rights but they think that these ideals and norms belong solely to American nation. However, Jensen thinks that a true democrat should care for the well-being of all humans not just Americans and other approaches are in fact barbaric (line 90-91). Jensen later begins to criticize American foreign policy which led to the death of hundred thousands of people in the 20th century. He suggests that “any use of the concept of patriotism is bound to be chauvinistic at some level” (line 157) and this will lead to the rise of racism and xenophobia. Jensen finally asserts that we should abandon patriotism and do not try to distinguish patriotism from nationalism or chauvinism if we really want peace for our country and for the world.
Jensen’s ideas are strong and well-built but his starting point seems very weak to me. Jensen makes the dictionary definition of the term “patriotism” and builds all his arguments on this definition. However, beyond its dictionary definition patriotism in my understanding has a positive meaning and it refers to a person’s love for his/her own country which is clearly different from nationalism that has a pejorative meaning. Patriotism does not force a citizen not to criticize his/her country’s policies and support wars. As far as I am concerned, this is the critical difference between patriotism and nationalism that the writer ignores. Nationalism includes aggression and a claim for superiority whereas patriotism is just the love for the country. It is also clear that what Jensen uses as patriotism is more like nationalism or even like chauvinism. Although I am aware of the fact that this (difference between patriotism and nationalism) could be easily used in popularizing nationalist and militarist feelings by media and states, I still think that a defensive and not aggressive love for one’s own country which does not curtain this person’s objectivity in political matters, should not be equal to ethnic nationalism or chauvinism which is based on racial superiority claims and often leads to wars and imperialism.
Finally, from my point of view, patriotism is a normal and even beneficial feeling since it is based on the protection of the rights of its citizens and it is rather defensive. However, aggressive nationalism or chauvinism is totally different from patriotism and it should be condemned. The important for states is to produce patriotism for their citizens in order to work and live in harmony without causing the enmity perception of other states and nations by producing nationalism or chauvinism.
- Jensen, Robert, “Saying goodbye to patriotism”, A talk delivered to the Peace Action National Congress on November 10, 2001
 “If freedom and democracy are not unique to us, then they are simply human ideals, endorsed to varying degrees in different places and realized to different degrees by different people acting in different places? If that’s true, then they are not distinctly American ideals” (line 111-115).