War and Patriotism

Recently fellow blogger rubot (blog here) re-tweeted this quotation from another Twitter account:


This is a famous quotation by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. This was actually a letter written in 1896 titled “Patriotism, or Peace?” and the text above is:

To abolish war we must abolish patriotism. To abolish patriotism, we must first to become convinced that it’s evil, and that is hard to do.

If you think about it, it’s true. Usually war is started by people who believe they are patriotic, and feel that some other group threatens their country or their livelihood. Sometimes that threat is real, but oftentimes it’s not. Either way, once people start thinking about “us versus them”, they stop trusting other people, and eventually become more hostile until there is war.

Doing one’s civic duty is one thing, but patriotism is a kind of blind arrogance and very dangerous.

But as Tolstoy explains, it’s a hard habit to give up. People identify themselves by their country or ethnicity. I consider myself American because I was born in America, grew up in America, learned English as a kid, watched American TV, played with American toys, ate American food, had American friends, celebrated American holidays, etc. So it’s very difficult to not identify myself as American. Each reader can probably say the same thing about themselves.

But as the Buddha taught his son, Rahula:

‘This is not mine, this is not me, this is not my self.’

What does this mean? My “American-ness” comes from my environment. I don’t have any “American genes” or anything. My parents lived in America, so I was born in America. People in America speak English, so I grew up learning English. I had no choice.

But none of it is really me. If you look deep enough, none of those things are really you either.

But, like Tolstoy says, old habits die hard.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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