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Home > News > Columnists > Dilip D'Souza

Patriotism Before A Fall

May 23, 2003

"The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. Allyou have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce thepeacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

-- Hermann Goering, before being sentenced to death at Nuremberg.

When you're thinking about patriotism, Nazi Germany is both a blessing anda curse. A blessing, because it raises so many questions to do withnationhood and patriotism. A curse, because it poses those questions in a particularly sharp, even perverse, light. For Nazi Germany was an extremeexample of the way a nation can go horribly wrong. (Not that other extreme examples -- Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Stalin's Soviet Union, Amin's Uganda -- went any less horribly wrong).

Yet on both counts, Nazi Germany continues to fascinate. Perhaps for thisreason above all: how did an apparently worthwhile aim -- Hitler tookoffice promising to restore German pride ruined by the first War -- turn into the dance of death and destruction Hitler both unleashed on othercountries and brought to his own? How did an apparently democratic process -- Hitler came to power via the vote -- produce such a twisted negation ofeverything we cherish about democracy and nationhood?

Does the answer, the perversion, lie in Hitler? In his party? In theirideology and tactics? Or does it lie in that worthwhile aim itself?

All of the above, I suspect. But in this article, I want to concentrate onjust one, on that apparently patriotic goal: pride in your country.

Nothing wrong with pride. Would that we might all feel it, in ourselves,for our friends and fellow human beings, for the communities we live in. I feel thrilled, and proud, when the person dearest to me in the world wins agold medal for her performance in a course. When someone from my collegedevises something so simple and innovative that within hours,
thousands andsoon millions people the world over are using it. Leander Paes brings homea bronze medal from Atlanta and I feel proud: a man from my country,playing a game I play and adore, has achieved something only a handful of
people around the world have.

Aside: why shouldn't all human achievement -- whether Indian or Venezuelan-- touch me? After all, all human depravity -- from Rwanda to Auschwitz --nauseates me. Why feel pride solely in Indian achievement? End of aside.

But look at pride in some other ways.

The other day, I passed one of those interminable shopping extravaganzas atBandra's Reclamation Grounds (in northwestern Mumbai). Signs everywhere proclaim that this is the"Pride of India: a complete consumer exhibition!" Immediately outside thebig tent filled with the "Pride of India" -- televisions, washing machinesand such like, I suppose -- you will find large stones and unclearedrubble, heaps of garbage in which dogs and kids rummage for food, abandoned water pipes that house whole families, streams of snarled trafficnegotiating a road being relaid. And rising above it all, clouds of dustthat give me a hacking cough. Let me assure you: for this corner of thecity, this is no more than the usual. It's been like this for years.

What is the "Pride of India" supposed to mean here? That my country canproduce washing machines just as slick as other countries do? That thestones and lunching-on-garbage-kids don't really exist in my country? That, as pithy correspondents often suggest to me, I should not "focus on the -ves of India but on the +ves"?

Am I supposed to turn off the sorrow the scene outside induces in me, thefrustration that these two Indias live side-by-side and we think that's OK? Must I feel only the wonder that comes of looking at sleek electronicitems? Is that India's pride?

No, that's just pretence. Pretence does not amount to pride.

Yet there are times when I am indeed filled with awe, respect and pride atthings that happen in India. Like the Bilgaon micro-hydel project I wroteabout. Like doctors I know who take ordinary health care to perennially overlookedIndians. Like the work ofSanjoy Ghose, who lived the battle against injustice, corruption and official neglect, andthen died for it.

When I see such Indians strive to better others' lives, and the betteringhappens as I watch, that makes my Indian spirit soar in ways that all theconsumer gadgets in the world, or missiles rolling down Rajpath on January26, simply cannot. I don't much care if that makes me less of a patriot insomeone's eyes: it's how I feel. Others are welcome to find their pride and patriotism elsewhere.

And because it's how I feel, I look for and celebrate those efforts in myIndia. To me, one Sanjoy Ghose turns this into a better country for Indiansthan all the missiles on Rajpath. People like him honour my country withtheir work. That's the only way pride in India makes any sense to me.

In a way, it's right there that Hitler perverted an idea, a nation. His restored German pride rested on quite different foundations. He chosehatred and terror, murder and pillage. Build a war machine; attack yourneighbours and reduce them to rubble; identify, demonize and slaughtermillions, most being fellow citizens; make out that an accident of race and birth is cause for patriotism and pride: these were classic ingredients notof a new German glory, but of what happened to Nazi Germany instead.

Destruction, defeat and disgrace.

My feeling is, foundations like those will inevitably produce destruction,defeat and disgrace. In fact, my feeling is that the search for pride andglory itself warps easily into destruction: because hatred and war are easier than building a country. The Goering brand of patriots -- always the loudest kind -- know that better than anyone.

But the lesson here is broader than just a perversion of patriotism. It isin how cynical and shallow was the Nazi leaders' own belief in thepatriotism they demanded from their citizens. Goering's words at Nurembergspeak of just that. He knew the immense value of calls to patriotism whenyou want to rally a people, silence questions and affirm your grip onpower. "It works the same in any country," he observed -- at once aninsight remarkable for its clarity and a comment on how little the rhetoricabout German glory and pride really meant to him.

Yet looking back, what else could anyone have expected? When you put a country in the hands of a collection of criminals and murderers, you getwhat criminals and murderers are skilled at: destruction. Of course theywon't describe it that way. Of course they will wrap it, as Hitler andStalin did, in patriotism. Nevertheless, it remains destruction.

Yes, Nazi Germany is an extreme example. But then you don't findlighthouses where the seashore's pebbles start turning to rocks: no, theyflash their warnings from spots that are an extreme threat to passingships.

So with Hitler's regime. It warns us about the dangers of too readilyaccepting talk of glory and patriotism. It serves as a reminder of theabsolute minimum we can do about such talk: be sceptical. It is the lessonthat it's best to be extremely suspicious of those who denounce others as traitors, who claim patriotism for themselves. Such claims are too oftencover for undermining their country, one way or another.

To me, it also is a reminder to treasure what really makes my country, or any other: ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Not just duringKargil, but every day. Not just on our borders, but throughout this land. Not because they claim patriotism -- they never do -- but because they live it.

You can send your replies directly to me at

Dilip D'Souza

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Number of User Comments: 68

Sub: Bravo!

Dilip Bravo! Your writing is an inspiration to many and I count myself as one of your loyal supporters. Its distressing to read some of ...

Posted by Shantanu

Sub: Dilip = Unpatriotic

How much more unpatriotic can anyone get? Mr. Dilip Dsouza is anti-national, and he doesn't know it! Which Indian isn't proud of India's missiles and ...

Posted by Akash

Sub: Patriotism

A very timely warning especially in the surcharged political atmosphere. I certainly feel that nationhood and Indian achievements make me proud and your kind of ...

Posted by Vispi Jokhi

Sub: Patriotism Before a fall

I read both Varsha and Dilip. Just like what Varsha said, not many people who have commented on her article got the message, same goes ...

Posted by narendra

Sub: Patriotism is not a bad thing Dilip

Patriotism is not bad. I love my country, i feel it is the best. I feel that my country is better than rest. What is ...

Posted by Ramki



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