Loving Your Country and Hating Your Government

by Jacob G. Hornberger, October 1995
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. (www.fff.org)

       Several months ago, President Clinton condemned Americans who exposed and criticized wrongdoing by the U.S. government. The president said: “There’s nothing patriotic about hating your government or pretending you can hate your government but love your country.”
       Let us examine the implications of the president’s claim. In the 1930s and throughout World War II, there were a small group of German citizens who sacrificed their lives resisting the Nazi regime. They believed that the true patriot was the person who lived his life according to a certain set of moral principles. When one’s own government violated those principles, it was the duty of the patriot, these Germans believed, to resist.
       Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, on the other hand, believed that the real patriot is the citizen who supports his government, especially in times of crisis and war. The traitors, in their eyes, were the Germans who opposed the Nazi government, especially after the war had begun.
       The story of the small number of Germans who resisted the Nazi regime is told in a recent book, An Honourable Defeat (1994) by Anton Gill. Gill points out that by the end of the war, most of the German resisters had been identified by the Gestapo and murdered:

“That this is the story of a defeat none will doubt. Some will dispute that it was an honourable one. It is certainly not the story of a failure. Against terrible odds and in appalling circumstances a small group of people kept the spirit of German integrity alive, and with it the elusive spirit of humanity. We should all be grateful to them for that.”

       What would President Clinton say about these resisters? Undoubtedly, he would call them troublemaking traitors to the Nazi regime. After all, the president would ask, how could these people claim to love their country and, at the same time, claim to hate the Nazi government? The real patriot, the president would say, was the German citizen who loved his country and, therefore, his government. As President Clinton would have said to the German resisters, “There’s nothing patriotic about hating your government or pretending you can hate your government but love your country.”
       What about the British colonists living in American in 1776? They certainly had no love for their government. When we celebrate the Fourth of July, it is easy to forget the real implications of what happened during the fight for independence. It is important to remember that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, John Hancock, and the like were not American citizens when they signed the Declaration of Independence. They were as British as you and I are Americans. And they hated the philosophy and policies of King George—taxation, economic regulation, immigration controls, trade restrictions, and so forth.
       The colonists were violent men. They did everything they could to kill the soldiers who fought on the side of their own government. On the other hand, British soldiers did all they could to bring death to their fellow citizens. As we celebrate the Fourth of July each year with our fireworks and picnics, we tend to forget that real people with real families were deliberately killed on both sides of the conflict.
       Were the colonists patriots? Certainly the British government did not think so. Nathan Hale (who regretted that he had but one life to give for his country) was hanged because he was a traitor to his government. If the rebellion had failed, there is no doubt that the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have all been put to death by their own government officials—for treason.
       What would be President Clinton’s position with respect to the War for Independence? On the surface, he would, of course, sing the praises of America’s Founding Fathers and American Independence Day. But this would only mask a deep-seated resentment against the colonists. What gave them the right to take up arms against their own government? They had no right to resist tyranny by force. They should have continued to plead and lobby for political representation in the Parliament. President Clinton would have said to Thomas Jefferson: “There’s nothing patriotic about hating your government or pretending you can hate your government but love your country.”
       A hundred and fifty years ago, a small band of Mexican citizens took up arms against its own government. Despite popular misconceptions, not all of the rebels at the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto were Americans. Many of them were Mexican citizens, including the famed Jim Bowie who became a Mexican citizen in 1830 and even married the daughter of a government official. He later died along with Davy Crockett defending the Alamo. Why did they engage in violent acts against their own government officials? Because they hated the regulations and laws that the Mexican president, Santa Ana, was imposing on them.
       Were the rebels patriots or traitors? Their position was that patriotism meant devotion to ideas like liberty and property. They believed that the real patriot, the person who loves freedom, resists his own government when his government becomes destructive of fundamental rights. Of course, Santa Ana took the position that these Mexicans were, instead, traitors to their government and their country.
       Unfortunately, President Clinton would share Santa Ana’s perspective. Mexican citizens, he would say, must support their government officials, even when the latter were taxing and regulating them. It was wrong, President Clinton would claim, for the rebellious Mexicans to consider themselves patriots. After all, “There’s nothing patriotic about hating your government or pretending you can hate your government but love your country.”
       Actually, the president’s mind-set is the same as that held by tyrants throughout history. In the mind of the ruler, the government and the country are one and the same. The citizen who has the temerity to expose and criticize wrongdoing by his own government is, ipso facto, a traitor to his country. The citizen who supports his government’s conduct, no matter how evil or destructive—and who doesn’t ask uncomfortable questions—is a real “loyalist.”
       Consider the deaths at Ruby Ridge and Waco. At Ruby Ridge, U.S. government officials persuaded Randy Weaver to commit a crime—selling them a shotgun that was one-fourth inch too short. After a U.S. marshal was killed in a subsequent shoot-out at the Weaver home, the FBI put out the following order: Do not demand a surrender; do not try to arrest; we do not want a jury trial here; instead, take them out; kill them all; shoot them until they are dead; teach them that no one kills a federal official, not even in self-defense; but make it look good by ensuring that the victims were armed. So, after having shot Weaver’s 14-year-old son in the back, the feds shot Weaver’s wife Vicki in the head. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in killing Weaver and were humiliated by the jury at Weaver’s trial.
       Was that the end of it? Oh, no. The FBI then engaged in a cover-up of this Latin American-style death squad’s conduct. FBI officials falsified and destroyed documents, perjured themselves, conspired to obstruct justice, and refused to obey orders from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In their minds, the FBI is an independent, national, patriotic police force (like the Gestapo and the KGB) that can punish citizens with impunity, without the time and trouble of a trial, and without having to answer to anyone.
       Has any federal official been brought to trial for murder, perjury, conspiracy, or obstruction of justice? Of course not. The feds have tried to buy justice by paying Weaver and his children $3.1 million. The money, of course, came from American taxpayers, not those who committed the crimes. What happens if a taxpayer refuses to pay his taxes by claiming that the taxpayer did not commit the crimes? They kill him and call it “resisting arrest.” All of this is what Justice Department employees term “justice.”
       Of course, the federal attitude towards what happened at Waco is exactly the same. Federal officials secured a search warrant from a federal judge under a perjured affidavit. They decided against a low-profile search of the premises and against apprehending the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh, outside the compound. They needed a bigger “splash” for upcoming budget hearings.
       So, the feds planned a high-profile raid that they termed “Showtime.” But “Showtime” did not quite work out as planned, for several federal officials lost their lives in the raid. And the deaths of those officials ultimately sealed the fate of the Branch Davidians. No one can ever accuse U.S. government officials of playing “softball.” Kill a federal official, and you won’t have to worry about a trial or anything else.
       The recent movie Braveheart shows that political attitudes toward defiant citizenry have not changed much over the centuries. The attitude of King Edward and his minions toward the Scottish people many centuries ago was quite similar to that of President Clinton and his underlings toward American dissidents. King Edward had Scottish people raped, tortured, and hanged for failing to pay proper deference to His Royalty; and His Highness never had even one ounce of remorse.
       Is President Clinton’s and the Democrats’ attitude toward American dissidents any different? It is true that FBI and BATF officials did not rape Vicki Weaver before they killed her, and that they did not rape the Branch Davidian women before they gassed and burned them. And we should give credit where credit is due. But is there any remorse whatsoever over the political killings of innocent people?
       In the recent congressional hearings on Waco, the Democrats, led by Congressman Charles Schumer, made a grand spectacle of being concerned about child abuse in the Branch Davidian compound. The implication was this: “Our concern for the Branch Davidian children is evidenced by our concern about possible child abuse in the compound.”
       What nonsense. The truth is that the Democrats did not care one bit for the Branch Davidian children or for any other individual who was gassed and burned alive in the compound. How do we know this? Because, again, there is not one bit of remorse for the loss of life at Waco. The Democratic attitude is instead the same as that held by the FBI and the BATF: These were white-trash, weird people, and so it is no big deal that they and their children died.
       Moreover, the Democrats feel that since David Koresh might have been engaged in child abuse, then federal officials had the right to kill him without a trial (despite the fact that he is innocent until proven guilty)—and, in the process, to kill the other hundred people who were not even accused of child abuse (including the dead children).
       And the Republicans? They are similar to the nobles in Braveheart. The nobles would pontificate on the virtues of freedom and the importance of principle. But as soon as the King offered them money and lands, the nobles would betray all of their ideals. Is this not the case with Republicans? Republicans are notorious for talking the libertarian talk—now even calling themselves libertarians—but they are totally unable to walk the libertarian walk. Offer them votes or campaign contributions or a congressional chairmanship, and they sell their souls very easily.
       Unfortunately, during the recent hearings on Waco, the Republicans were so concerned with upholding their law-and-order image that they treated the FBI and BATF with kid gloves. The Republicans think that if they expose police murders, conspiracies, perjuries, and cover-ups, this might hamper law enforcement in the future. Thus, Republicans did not even try to secure the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute the FBI and BATF death-squad activity. More important, the Republicans failed to gain any reasonable assurance that the death squads would not be used again under “appropriate” circumstances.
       What was so uplifting about Braveheart was that small band of Scottish men, led by William Wallace, loved their country and hated their government. Like many who came before and after them, they refused to compromise their principles.
       President Clinton was wrong when he said: “There’s nothing patriotic about hating your government or pretending you can hate your government but love your country.” Throughout history, there have been courageous and honorable individuals—patriots—who have loved their country and hated their government. And, unfortunately, throughout history, there have also been weak and cowardly people—traitors—who have loved and supported the tyranny of their own government.
       It is to the patriots, not the traitors, that we owe Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, trial by jury, due process of law, private property, and so many other aspects of human freedom. It is the patriots, not the traitors, who have remained steadfast for principles of right, even when it meant incurring the wrath and retribution of their own government officials. And it will be the patriots, not the traitors, who ultimately triumph in America and rid our government of the pestilence that pervades it. So then, once again, American patriots will love their country and not hate their government.