Believing in a flawless country is not balanced or realistic | Whale’s Tales

My country can do no wrong.

That leaves me flat.

Don’t mistake me. I love my country. I was born and raised here. In Auburn’s Mountainview Cemetery my mother, father and oldest brother are buried. All whom I know and love are right here.

But unlike those über patriots, quick to blast one as a “commie” or as a socialist for criticizing this nation to even the mildest degree, I cannot accept that our record within or without is spotless. Believing in a flawless country is not balanced or realistic, and anyone who insists on it risks remaining childlike in their thinking. It doesn’t square with history.

In short, I do not believe in love of country with blinders on. “Love” that demands we abandon reason is not love.

On the plus side of the good-bad ledger, the U.S. has done many praiseworthy things. It has preserved and protected more than it has destroyed in many more nations and over entire continents.

The U.S. has also prevented more damage than it has caused. By protecting many nations under its wing, America has deterred empire-builders and staved off much larger wars, like those that darkened the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries.

Our model for freedom of speech and religion as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and its amendments is a beacon all over the world, except where totalitarian regimes hold power.

On the other hand, the U.S. has provoked civil wars and coups and has destroyed countries in the Middle East and Latin America. Our wickedness in Hawaii on behalf of the owners of the giant sugar plantations in the late 19th century stains our record.

When I look at the photographs that show mountains of buffalo carcasses rotting on the plains, the aftermath of the federal government’s effort to deprive Native Americans of their food supply and herd them onto reservations, I see a sacramental violation. I cannot imagine what the Sioux and Pawnee felt when they saw it happening.

Whether we like them or not, those are facts of our history.

The problem is that some of the America exceptionalists have been at work recently, papering over the unpleasant things this nation has also done. The rising refrain is, “That never happened, or if it did, it wasn’t as bad as written.”

Hey, these people say, there may even have been a benefit to Black people who learned “useful skills” from their involuntary servitude that they could then put to use to whomever they were next sold.

That there was a benefit to children who burnt away their fingers pulling hot metal from the forges in the era of child exploitation so that others did not have to. As the poet Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn wrote long ago:

“The golf links lie so near the mill

That almost every day,

The laboring children can look out

And see the men at play.”

This country is ours to look after, to love and to cherish. Think of it like child-raising: If we love your kids in a healthy way, we acknowledge when they do wrong, we know their flaws and weaknesses and deal with them.

We have all seen parents who insist their precious darlings can do no wrong. Words go in and out of fashion, but the word “obnoxious” is still apt.

Robert Whale can be reached at