What Is Patriotism?
by Emma Goldman
San Francisco, California
Men and Women:
What is patriotism? Is it love of one's birthplace, the place of
childhood's recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it the
place where, in childlike naivete, we would watch the passing clouds,
and wonder why we, too, could not float so swiftly? The place where we
would count the milliard glittering stars, terror-stricken lest each one
"an eye should be," piercing the very depths of our little souls? Is it
the place where we would listen to the music of the birds and long to
have wings to fly, even as they, to distant lands? Or is it the place
where we would sit on Mother's knee, enraptured by tales of great deeds
and conquests? In short, is it love for the spot, every inch
representing dear and precious recollections of a happy, joyous and
If that were patriotism, few American men of today would be called upon
to be patriotic, since the place of play has been turned into factory,
mill, and mine, while deepening sounds of machinery have replaced the
music of the birds. No longer can we hear the tales of great deeds, for
the stories our mothers tell today are but those of sorrow, tears and
What, then, is patriotism? "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of
scoundrels," said Dr. [Samuel] Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest
anti-patriot of our time, defines patriotism as the principle that will
justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires
better equipment in the exercise of man-killing than the making of such
necessities as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees
better returns and greater glory than that of the honest workingman...
Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism.
Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into
little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had
the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves
nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings
inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living
on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his
superiority upon all the others.
The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course,
with the result that from early infancy the mind of the child is
provided with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the
Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood he is
thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord
himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any
foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater
army and navy, more battleships and ammunition...
An army and navy represent the people's toys. To make them more
attractive and acceptable, hundreds and thousands of dollars are being
spent for the display of toys. That was the purpose of the American
government in equipping a fleet and sending it along the Pacific coast,
that every American citizen should be made to feel the pride and glory
of the United States.
The city of San Francisco spent one hundred thousand dollars for the
entertainment of the fleet; Los Angeles, sixty thousand; Seattle and
Tacoma, about one hundred thousand... Yes, two hundred and sixty
thousand dollars were spent on fireworks, theater parties, and
revelries, at a time when men, women, and children through the breadth
and length of the country were starving in the streets; when thousands
of unemployed were ready to sell their labor at any price.
What could not have been accomplished with such an enormous sum? But
instead of bread and shelter, the children of those cities were taken to
see the fleet, that it may remain, as one newspaper said, "a lasting
memory for the child."
A wonderful thing to remember, is it not? The implements of civilized
slaughter. If the mind of the child is poisoned with such memories, what
hope is there for a true realization of human brotherhood?
We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we
are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the
possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon
helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone,
who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon
that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the
thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and
that she will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other
Such is the logic of patriotism.
...Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that
patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the
necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into
being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations
of the world; a solidarity which represents a greater harmony of
interests between the workingman of America and his brothers abroad than
between the American miner and his exploiting compatriot; a solidarity
which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers
to the point when they will say to their masters, "Go and do your own
killing. We have done it long enough for you."
...The proletariat of Europe has realized the great force of that
solidarity and has, as a result, inaugurated a war against patriotism
and its bloody specter, militarism. Thousands of men fill the prisons of
France, Germany, Russia and the Scandinavian countries because they
dared to defy the ancient superstition...
America will have to follow suit. The spirit of militarism has already
permeated all walks of life. Indeed, I am convinced that militarism is a
greater danger here than anywhere else, because of the many bribes
capitalism holds out to those whom it wishes to destroy...
The beginning has already been made in the schools... Children are
trained in military tactics, the glory of military achievements extolled
in the curriculum, and the youthful mind perverted to suit the
government. Further, the youth of the country is appealed to in glaring
posters to join the Army and the Navy. "A fine chance to see the world!"
cries the governmental huckster. Thus innocent boys are morally
shanghaied into patriotism, and the military Moloch strides conquering
through the nation...
When we have undermined the patriotic lie, we shall have cleared the
path for the great structure where all shall be united into a universal
brotherhood -- a truly free society.