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Patriotism Is the First Platform of Fools
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A century ago, crowds in Paris were cheering, “on to Berlin!” Crowds in Berlin cried, “on to Paris.” World War I, the supreme example of nationalist/militaristic stupidity, was about to begin.

One hundred years later we hear cries across America to “get tough” with Moscow over fragmenting Ukraine. A dozen US F-16 fighters are being sent to the Baltic, a squadron of F-15’s to Poland, and a US warship to the Black Sea. In short, just enough to spark a war but certainly not enough to win one.

No one seems to have remembered – except Vlad Putin, of course – that the roughly 50,000 US troops and officials now based in Afghanistan are in large part at the mercy of Russia which controls their major supply and exit routes.

As the Ukraine crisis continues to build, it’s absolutely horrifying to recall that most of the American politicians and general public now lustily shouting “on to…where was it again?….oh yes….Kharkov” had no idea where Ukraine is, never mind Kharkov or Luhansk.

Ignorance is a primary fuel of nationalism and aggression. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrel, as Dr . Johnson observed, and the first platform of fools.

Three professors from Princeton, Dartmouth and Harvard University just did a poll that found only 16% of Americans queried could find Ukraine on the world map. Actually, that’s better than I expected, given American’s notorious geographical illiteracy. Seeing Ukraine’s map on TV every night no doubt helped.

Worryingly, but hardly surprisingly, the poll also found that the further a poll respondent thought Ukraine was from its real location, the more likely he was to support US military intervention in Ukraine. Few Americans could find Iraq (Eye-raq to most), Afghanistan, or Iran (Eye-ran) on the map.

“Let’s get those dirty Commies,” goes the latest wave of war fever to sweep the US, “if we can only find them!” Some respondents put Ukraine in Australia, or South America.

Interestingly, the poll found that the group least able to locate Ukraine was +65 year olds – core Republican voters.

Why are Americans to poor in geography? I was in the last class at Georgetown University Foreign Service School to be taught world geography. Though essential for understanding international affairs and history, geography has vanished from America’s educational curriculum as an antique irrelevance. So, too often, has history. Even many well-off, educated Americans are deeply deficient in these subjects.

An influential Republican friend and former presidential advisor told me, “we’ve got to stop Putin from taking over Crimea!”

“Before you go to war,” I advised, “ask your big-time Republican supporters to name the top four cities in Crimea.”



Of course. War fever feeds on ignorance. If mobs in Paris had known in August, 1914, that they would die on the mud of Flanders few would have been so eager for war. All sides in World War One mistakenly believed in a short, sweet military victory. The great French voice against the folly of war, Jean Juares, was assassinated by nationalists.

“The proportion of collage grads who could correctly identify Ukraine (20%) is only slightly higher than the proportion of Americans who told Pew (the respected polling outfit) that President Obama was Muslim in August, 2010,” found the Ivy League professors.

About the same percentage of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive, or that an Islamic Caliphate will shortly rule America. Ever since the Bush administration, stupidity and ignorance have become fashionable.

Leading US newspapers – “The Wall Street Journal” and “New York Times” – have been beating the war drums. The most-watched TV network, Fox, is a mouthpiece for the War Party. Millions of Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian background are naturally deeply concerned by events there. Israel is now involved in Ukraine.

Too few voice urge calm and restraint. President Putin is being demonized into America’s leading hate figure. Few in the media dare say that Putin is reacting in Russia’s interests to NATO’s foolish push right up to his borders.

Republicans are blasting President Barak Obama for being a cowardly wimp. I like cowardly and wimpy when it comes to nuclear weapons. Thank goodness Sen. John McCain is not president or we might well already be in World War III.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Ukraine 
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  1. D. K. says:

    “Interestingly, the poll found that the group least able to locate Ukraine was +65 year olds – core Republican voters.”

    Would you care to make a small wager, Eric, on whose core voters– Republicans’ old White people, or Democrats’ Blacks and Hispanics, of any age– are actually the most ignorant about World Geography– or damn near any other academic subject?!?

    “Why are Americans to [sic] poor in geography?”

    Perhaps because our American elites, including our own professional journalists, are seemingly functional illiterates themselves…!?!?! To wit…

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrel [sic], as Dr . Johnson observed, and the first platform of fools.”


    “Actually, that’s better than I expected, given American’s [sic] notorious geographical illiteracy.”


    “I was in the last class at Georgetown University Foreign Service School to be taught world geography [sic]. Though essential for understanding international affairs and history, geography [sic] has vanished from America’s educational curriculum as an antique irrelevance. So, too often, has history [sic].”


    “’The proportion of collage [sic] grads who could correctly identify Ukraine (20%) is only slightly higher than the proportion of Americans who told Pew (the respected polling outfit) that President Obama was Muslim in August, 2010,’ found the Ivy League professors.”


    “The most-watched TV network, Fox [sic], is a mouthpiece for the War Party.” [N.B. Fox News Channel (FNC) is the most-watched cable-news network. Neither it nor any of its sister networks, including Fox proper, is “[t]he most-watched TV network,” however. (I believe that dubious, albeit profitable, distinction currently goes to an old-fashioned broadcast network, CBS.)]


    “Too few voice [sic] urge calm and restraint.”


    As should have been learned in either English 101 or Journalism 101, writing and drugs do not mix well! Meanwhile, back in World History…

    “World War I, the supreme example of nationalist/militaristic stupidity, was about to begin.”

    World War I was not fought by or for nationalists. It was fought by a gaggle of imperial powers– some of which were internally multinational and multicultural in nature, and most of which had colonial control over other peoples, around the globe– for imperial dominance, both in Europe and abroad.

    “Ignorance is a primary fuel of nationalism and aggression.”

    No, Eric, human nature, as shaped by human evolution, is the primary fuel of nationalism and aggression– as any well-educated person in the 21st Century ought to know, understand and appreciate! Chimpanzees do not engage in territorial warfare because they are ignorant– and, as a rule, neither do Homo sapiens.

    [N.B. For the record, I am neither a Republican (past, present or future) nor a conservative (paleo-, neo- or otherwise), and I am opposed to the United States (of which I am a natural-born citizen) fighting any wars other than to defend itself from its actual enemies, foreign or domestic, as formally declared, in the former case, by the United States Congress, as required by the Constitution of the United States. F.W.I.W.]

  2. Don Nash says:

    Wouldn’t any rational and patriotic American want to know what in the hell American foreign policy thinks it’s doing? American foreign policy as currently being practiced by the Obama regime or the Bush regime before that and the Clinton regime before that…
    That anthropomorphic Uncle Sam is wobbling hither and yon like a drunken lunatic and a damn dangerous drunken lunatic at that.

  3. D.K., were journalism any longer a viable calling providing adequate income, there would still be proofreaders and editors. One should ask rather why this form of literacy is no longer valued by a population which prefers to remain ignorant, because being properly informed would cost too much.

    As far as lunatic policies go, Don Nash, it appears so from the perspective of the interests of the average American, whose well being is undermined by those policies, when rationalism is substituted for the blind patriotism that’s trying to be sold. But the policies are entirely rational in serving elite financial interests, the donorists who purchase the policies they want.

  4. Rod1963 says:

    This article is nonsense and just a smear attack on people the author clearly despises.

    First off our foreign policy is decided by the elites of D.C. and Wall Street. That means the preznit, his staff, some senior senators like McCain, Reid and companies like Goldman-Sachs. It’s been like this for a very long time.

    Then there is the NeoCons who are still very active in formulating foreign policy. Every time you see the Kagan’s or some think tank rep being interviewed you’re generally seeing a NeoCon agenda being promoted since it usually involves war or economic attacks on another nation.

    The only role the American people play is to rubber stamp what the elites want so to make it look legitimate. The elites get their support via the propaganda arm of the government – the press.

    In case you haven’t noticed it always been the press beating the war drums, even the uber liberal NYT, LAT and BG. They did that for the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, you name it. The presstitutes were there cheering it on.

    Whatever the administration in power wants, they’ll manufacture news to support it.

    Take the Ukraine, our ruling elites spent 5 billion dollars over there to install a puppet regime loyal to us and European banking interests and who are now putting the economic screws to the people. Of course Putin wouldn’t tolerate such blatant behavior right next to Russia and ruined our game plan by taking back the Crimea and probably the crown jewels of Ukraine – the industrialized portion later this year.

    And what do the elites and press do? They squeal like stuck hogs and puff themselves up like toads facing a viper. They pound the war drums, make threatening noises, Lurch flies all over Europe giving speeches, but in the end they are helpless. They aren’t facing people living in mud huts anymore, they are facing a country holding all key cards in the game, whose leader cannot be bribed or threatened.

    So we’ll just continue to huff and puff but it’s just for face saving on the part of D.C. elite and the president.

  5. “World War I was not fought by or for nationalists. It was fought by a gaggle of imperial powers– some of which were internally multinational and multicultural in nature, and most of which had colonial control over other peoples, around the globe– for imperial dominance, both in Europe and abroad….” (D.K.)

    Quite right. Lenin by the way is brilliant on the subject–just a small sample:

    “We must now try to sum up, to draw together the threads of what has been said above on the subject of imperialism. Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites, when the features of the epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system had taken shape and revealed themselves in all spheres. Economically, the main thing in this process is the displacement of capitalist free competition by capitalist monopoly. Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions. At the same time the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts. Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system.

    If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism. Such a definition would include what is most important, for, on the one hand, finance capital is the bank capital of a few very big monopolist banks, merged with the capital of the monopolist associations of industrialists; and, on the other hand, the division of the world is the transition from a colonial policy which has extended without hindrance to territories unseized by any capitalist power, to a colonial policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world, which has been completely divided up.

    But very brief definitions, although convenient, for they sum up the main points, are nevertheless inadequate, since we have to deduce from them some especially important features of the phenomenon that has to be defined. And so, without forgetting the conditional and relative value of all definitions in general, which can never embrace all the concatenations of a phenomenon in its full development, we must give a definition of imperialism that will include the following five of its basic features:

    (1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed….”

    Vladimir Lenin

    The few authentic conservatives left in the United States really should broaden their perspective. Indeed, even in regard to Marx, they will be surprised perhaps how often Marx alludes to their clarity, despite naive economic understanding, in regard to what was happening during the Capitalization of Britain by the Liberals.

  6. Heath says:

    So if WW1 wasn’t a nationalist war, why did the Serbs assassinate the crown prince of the Austro Hungarian empire? why did that same empire send its slavic troops to fight the Italians and its German and Hungarian units to fight the tsars army? and at wars end why did the Czechs have the Slovak tossed in prison when they turned up in Paris to whine about their problems in 1919? Why did that damned fool Wilson make such a big deal about national sovereignty in his 14 points?

    As for that muderous tit Lenin following Marx’s example of not ever doing a lick of work yet banging on endlessly about THE VALID ASPIRATIONS OF THE WORLD WIDE WORKING CLASS BEING SUCKED DRY BY THE IMPERIAL/CAPITALIST CLASS well he had some nerve.

  7. D. K. says:

    I did not say that imperial subjects of various ethnic groups did not have nationalistic feelings or desires. I said that the war was fought by various empires, among themselves, for imperial imperatives. They all were fighting to maintain and strengthen their respective empires, not to see their own empires break up and devolve into umpteen ethnically based nation-states– as eventually happened to the losers. If Europe had been comprised of ethnically homogeneous nation-states, in 1914, there never would have been what was, essentially, a European civil war, in two parts, from 1914-1945. Nationalism, which has been derided and demonized for the past century, as a result of the world wars, is a natural, normal and healthy political arrangement. It is imperialism– especially when it involves coercive multi-nationalism and multiculturalism, like that which held the Austro-Hungarian Empire together– which is unnatural, unstable and, ultimately, malignant to human social organization.

  8. “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”- Ambrose Bierce

  9. Patriotism is much like religion in that it leads good people into committing and supporting deeds that they would otherwise consider evil and immoral.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This is indeed a comment, rather than criticism, as you have landed on a phenomenon which I have so often discussed with others: American ignorance, with geography frequently raised as an example. Nothing is new, for having finished university, I opted to go to OCS and became an officer in the USNR. The implications of that were a ca. 40-month commitment, vs 24 if in the draft-system. Commissioned, 66 of us were sent to two-month orientation program, where a geography examination had to be passed: if we were to see the world, we had to know where we were, I guess. It consisted of 50 rapid-fire responses to “questions” in the form of some CPO whacking a large outline wall-chart of the world with but few borders indicated and asking the capitals of countries, names of seas, etc/etc. 40 out of 50 was a “pass”, of which exactly one of us succeeded (a geography major in university) on the first iteration of this drill, which would be repeated over/over for those “failing”. I, having collected stamps in my youth, came in second with 33, and would “pass” on the next “go”. That was in 1950, and all of us were university grads, with no small percentage of ivy-leaguers among us. From there, I would go to an Intelligence school in DC, and thence to Morocco, a country which I could have identified but doubt that I might have then been able to name the capital, Rabat. So what? How many of us knew that we then had five bases (+ a couple of smaller installations) in that country, and we were grads/officers/paying taxes for all “That”

    “That” is the issue, as Ignorance is not bliss, but Expensive, especially when fools blithely allow their government to, supposedly, act on their collective behalf. The result is a DC where $$$ are treated like confetti while the infrastructure of the country is ignored. Waste inevitably becomes the rule/rampant…and That will eventually sink the American “ship”. Pessimism? No. We are on a Hate-Russia trail which will lead nowhere, except to more wasted-$$; but, in many ways Waste is what sank the USSR/their “empire”. As an anecdote, quite a few years ago a relative of mine was AP bureau-chief in Moscow, having previously had no few more assignments in the former east-bloc. In correspondence, he once wrote to me words to the effect that, ”The most important thing you discover here is the Waste, which is unaffordable, and which eventually will bring about their downfall.” It all sounds all too familiar.

    The aforementioned ignorance, of course, grows out of deteriorating education-standards, and I will close on another anecdote which borders on the absurd. Ca. ten years ago, I was visiting in Texas, and this topic arose, I mentioning that I had had the opportunity to have the same chat with a Baptist “youth minister” (curious coincidence, as I am in no way religious) in a prosperous/supposedly-enlightened area of NC. He was not optimistic, indicating that while his youthful charges could name all the then-top-ten tunes, not one could name ten past presidents, and that some even thought that Clinton still was at PA Ave.. The Texas-folk were all educated, in “easy” circumstances, and considered themselves (& not without reason) well above average on all scores. Thus, a disbelieving mother, with a couple of boys in private education, called in her offspring (+ a couple of others) and posed the same question, albeit not allowing, as too easy, either Bush II or his predecessor. The result was a disaster, with even G. Washington missing in a couple of instances. American open-ness/lack of sophistication once was a virtue when dealing with others, especially given relative prosperity; now, it is just plain mindless ignorance, if not stupidity, which must be addressed before we really are Broke.

    PS: I, too, took on the naming of past presidents chore. While I was sure I could name most, I in fact got ALL, while admittedly, it took me no small time to come up with Franklin P.; but I was educated in another age, a disciplined one at that.



  11. Capitalism is in the process of dying and it is going to make a great noise and thrashing about in its death throes. I get this mental image of a large dinosaur screaming and leveling all of the vegetation around it while it rolls around. America is the largest dinosaur around and it is making the biggest commotion in its dying. Wars are being waged for no good reason whatsoever – wars upon the poor, wars upon the “other”, wars against itself.
    Capitalism is dying because it no longer is free or competitive; it deals only in greed. The dinosaurs just got too big for their own good.

  12. John says:

    Heath, since you don’t know much about WW1, I will give you a little help. The Serbs (along with other ethnic groups in Mlada Bosna) killed the archduke because he was part of the occupying power. You know, Serbs did not go to Vienna or Budapest to kill him, right? But hey, don’t let little things like facts get in the way of a good rant.

    “Heath says:
    April 14, 2014 at 6:00 pm
    So if WW1 wasn’t a nationalist war, why did the Serbs assassinate the crown prince of the Austro Hungarian empire? “

  13. Iceman says:

    The failure of democracy. Ever seen that movie StarShip Troopers? In the modern era, the type of democracy the US has is simply too dangerous. We need a new form of government to keep the rubes from making a mistake leading to nuclear war.

  14. tube says:

    Mr. Margolis appears to use the term “patriotism” interchangeably with militaristic nationalism or nationalistic militarism. Never mind that internationalists and cosmopolitans can be just as militaristic as provincials. Etymologically patriot more or less means, I think, bound to the way of your fathers. We most often use it to mean love of country, which is sometimes taken as “my country, right or wrong.” But from the founding fathers of this country, at least, we’ve received such traditions as suspicion of standing armies, citizen soldiery, nonintervention in Europe’s affairs, avoidance of entangling alliances, general neutrality in foreign affairs, etc.

    I don’t remember hearing the phrase “American exceptionalism” until I was told it’s dead, and that it meant “America is so exceptional that whatever it does is good.” Which could mean we can only do good, or that the bad we do is good because we did it. If ever we were exceptional, though, maybe it was because we were safe in isolation, could remember being a colony and didn’t want to sully ourselves in the Great Game, and alone among the powerful didn’t feel the need to meddle. Ignore for a moment that we built a land empire, repeatedly attempted to make it bigger than it actually is (which oughtta be plenty big for anyone), and have acted like the basest European sphere influencers on our side of the world. There was a time, before the Spanish American War I’d say, when we were different. Being a patriot could mean holding to the principles of those bygone times.

  15. tube says:

    The article asks why we don’t know geography, and the simplest answer is because we aren’t taught it. This may be because we figure everyone else should learn about us instead of the other way around, because we are the Rome of modern times, are at the center of the world, are so awesome, and so on. I won’t say why, and don’t exactly know–though I can guess–but will suggest you ask who runs the school system.

  16. Here is fact: The two countries, the US and Russia have switched places (not geographically, but ideologically). From 1918 until 1991, the atheistic, Zionized USSR represented evil, killing tens of millions of its own citizens as well as citizens of E. Europe and Central Asia. Religion was banned, as was anti-Semitism. This is true. Russia was a deeply Christian nation before the Bolsheviks took over and drove Christianity underground for over 70 years.

    The US was a Christian nation with a Constitution that guaranteed religious freedom to all citizens – from its creation in 1776 until now, when it morphed into the USSR of old. The only difference is that the Bolsheviks took over Russia with extreme violence; the neo-Bolsheviks of today used subtlety and deception, turning the old USA into present-day USSA. The current leadership is a coterie of Bolshevik commissars of Lenin and Trotsky’s time; Trotskyites pushing revolutions/regime changes worldwide, making their long-departed hero mighty proud.

    If this nation’s Founders were to return from their graves today, they would not recognize it; be horrified by its downward spiral from a “Light onto the nations” into the exact opposite. As it is, they’re certainly spinning in their graves.

  17. Religion was never “banned” in the USSR, nor even sent underground–those are tall tales, only too enthusiastically repeated and retailed by the Western Capitalist powers.

    What was banned was Russian Orthodox (or other sectarian) political action against the regime, in alliance with the Whites, for example, and later naively in alliance with foreign powers.

    Watch Battleship Potemkin (1925) closely, paying attention to the asymmetrical behavior of the priest. That summarizes the situation succinctly.

  18. “Molotov: It is necessary to show historical incidents in a comprehensive way. For example the incident with the drama of Demyan Bedny Bogatyp. Demyan Bedny mocked the baptism of Russia, but in reality acceptance of Christianity was a progressive event for its historical development.

    Stalin: Of course, we are not good Christians but to deny the progressive role of Christianity at that particular stage is impossible. This incident had a very great importance because this turned the Russian state to contacts with the West, and not to an orientation towards the East….”

    Stalin and Molotov in a discussion with Eisensteing about Ivan the Terrible.

  19. Eugene Costa, Every village must have it’s Idiot, it’s Atheist, and it’s Communist. Congratulations on being all three at once!

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