Patriotism: it's about people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2004, 12:00am

Though he does not profess to be a 'patriot', Peter Berry's letter headlined 'Noise makers' (February 17) expressed what most of us who are patriotic would have said, but more eloquently.

Throughout history, those in power have always used 'patriotism' to suit their own purposes. In Adolf Hitler's Germany, those who opposed Nazism were branded 'unpatriotic' and persecuted, even though they were in fact more genuinely patriotic than their oppressors and cared enough for the German people to risk their own lives.

The students and workers who died in and around Tiananmen Square were 'unpatriotic', even though they gave their lives for the rights of their countrymen. And now, the 500,000 who marched in Hong Kong on July 1 are 'unpatriotic' too.

But they are the people, and patriotism is all about the people, not about their rulers - or are our critics on this point still stuck in the feudalistic mentality of the Qing Dynasty? It may not be easy to define exactly what 'patriotism' is, but it is not that difficult to say what it is not.

Patriotism is not blind obedience to, or unquestioning support of, the government of our country. Loyalty to the government should not be confused with loyalty to the country or its people.

A government is entrusted (sometimes only by its own members) with the welfare of the people, and a true patriot would always put what is good and just for the people far above what is expedient for the government.

If a government manifestly puts its own expediency above the people, whether by suppressing vital information on infectious diseases (is it a 'state secret'?) or passing laws that seek to drastically curtail freedom of speech and association, true patriots will have no doubt whose side they are on.