Of patriots and scoundrels

Edited and adapted to Burmanize from the, “Of patriots and scoundrels” by Hazlan Zakaria from Malaysiakini

‘Playing at war, as kids often do, I was always the one dying under the flag – defending my country to the last, the doomed protector keeping a nation safe by selfless action.’

I was, admittedly, a product of mass-produced patriotism, so common in the
movie industries’ endless parade of itinerant war movies. Growing up, I was
touched by Hollywood. Or as some would sometimes say, touched in the head.
Like many children who became cannon fodder in wars past and present, my daily diet constituted movies and literary pieces like ‘The Dirty Dozen‘, ‘The
Alamo’, ‘The Four Stars of Hell’ and other war themed works.
I was at the time and presently still am, what I must term, a self-declared
And my patriotism runs truer the closer we get to August 31.
Inching closer to that hallowed date, when we honour and celebrate the
anniversary of our independence from the British Empire and on the Revolution day of the Japanese Fascist Imperialists (or Tatmadaw or Armed Forces day) our hearts and minds cannot help but stir with Patriosm, if not internal considerations of what it means to be a patriot.
More so when in the news of late, we have seen many grotesque protestations of patriotism, and claims of being a patriot, as well as finger pointing on who, or what, are the real traitors to the land, by those whose themselves are perhaps the worst of betrayers.
In pursuit of that meaning, perhaps we should look into the eaves of history
from one of those whose quotes on patriotism continue to be used, or misused, long after his time.
‘Last refuge of the scoundrel’
In 1775, British author Samuel Johnson made immortal the quote,
“patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. This, after he wrote
‘The Patriot’, his critique of what he termed as ‘false patriotism’ the year
Unsurprisingly, this made him altogether unpopular with those who consider
themselves patriots. But as his biographer James Boswell explained, he was not against patriotism in general.
Patriotism having become one of our topics, Johnson suddenly uttered, in
a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’.
But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and
countries, have made a cloak of self-interest,” related Boswell.
And therein lies the true target of his vehemence. Pretend-patriots who have
made patriotism a cloak to promote their own self interests.
Scoundrels who claim to be lovers of the land, but love only themselves, or
those so blinded by blinkers that they put self-aggrandising leaders up on a
pedestal, to the detriment of all others.
‘Not blind obedience’
I cannot stress enough that patriotism is not and cannot be blind obedience. It must be the considered loyalty given for the interest of the whole. As one
netizen posited, “blindly following the man in charge is not patriotic, it
is ignorant”.
Patriotism is also not about unthinkingly bowing to the leaders in charge, but
submitting to the land they have pledged to serve.
It is the land and its people that should hold true patriots in thrall, not
leaders, neither the corrupt nor even the genial.
And if those self-same military and ex-military leaders, sworn to serve the people, instead manipulate patriotism for their own gain, then it is they who are pretty much the scoundrels.
Indeed, as the tale behind the word ‘hero’ is of a patriot who serves the best
interests of the land and its people by getting rid of the tyrant, or
organisation or thing, that is harming the people.
This truth is self evident even in the origin of the word ‘patriot’ itself,
being from the Latin patriota, which translates into “fellow countryman”, the original connotation of patriot when it came into the English language circa the late 1500s.
A patriot does not ask “what contract is the country going to give to
me”, nor ask “what ministerial post will I be rewarded with”.
He or she should fight for one thing and one thing only; the good of the people and the land.
For true patriots, their duty is clear – to redress the wrongs of the ignorant
and scoundrels, not for personal gain, but out of love of our country and
loyalty to the people.

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