How Millennial Nationalism Is Different, But Not Wrong

by Elsa Givan
If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path to action. And this nation will act. – President George W. Bush

Shortly after my seventh birthday, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. His decision to embark on a new “crusade” in the Middle East set forth a cycle of violence that continues to plague our foreign policy.

Even so, I was 7 and my greatest concern was not whether we should baselessly invade an oil-rich country. At the time, my hot-button issues were horses and teasing my little brother.

The Millennial generation was generally not conscious of the shift in post 9/11 US foreign policy. We were, after all, just kids. We realistically cannot be held accountable for decisions our government made before we hit puberty.

But, I am now 20 years old, and that lack of accountability for our generation is changing. As President Barack Obama enters his final two years in office and our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan allegedly winds down, we face another crossroads, similar to the one that followed 9/11.

The question of how Millennials will foster a future American foreign policy is more important than we may think. We have the power to change both internal and external perceptions in the US with the advent of new technology.

As Uncle Ben wisely put it in "Spiderman," “with great power comes great responsibility.” It is, therefore, up to us to decide what it will mean to be an American in the 21st century.

Social media allows us to broadcast our thoughts, beliefs and actions around the world at rapid speeds. We have access to Millennials in a myriad of countries, from those we’ve invaded to those we consider allies.

American foreign policy has the opportunity to be more consistent with our Founding Fathers' views – truly by the people, for the people –, but only if we make intelligent decisions about how to engage with others who do not identify with red, white and blue.

It is important to use social media and technology effectively rather than unproductively. All too often, we don’t read books to understand our government's history; we watch "Scandal" and "Homeland" instead.

We keep our thoughts on global injustice to 140 characters or less and then, we turn on "Zero Dark Thirty" and let the government tell us its version of events regarding the Bin Laden killing.

It makes sense; it’s easy, it requires little effort and it’s often more entertaining than choking down a book about human rights abuses.

But, this ease translates into laze and ultimately, we know less but have more power through access to technology. Anyone can access large groups of people over the Internet at a moment’s notice and rapidly disseminate information.

But, we aren’t as invested in doing our due diligence to get the facts straight and our attention spans are shorter. All of these factors work to the advantage of those who wish to stir up nationalist sentiments in order to justify violent policy decisions.

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their pals have certainly exploited these factors. They spent years espousing hyperbolic claims designed to exploit the nationalism in our hearts and get the green light on their desired policies.

It sure does sound sexy to make nationalist statements (not that Cheney or Rumsfeld are especially sexy), like the one that opened this article, from Bush himself.

It ignites something within us that we’ve been told since we could first talk and has been hammered home throughout our schooling. America is the best, we are the best, America is number one, we are number one

That notion is comforting and nice, but there’s something violent behind it. It implies that we must, through all means necessary, keep our number-one spots. It implies that we are more powerful, more deserving of a high qualities of life and frankly, more deserving of life period.

Yes, 9/11 was an egregious, horrifying event. That fact is uncontestable. But, our response to 9/11 has been egregious and has encompassed horrifying events. The entire American foreign policy doctrine has changed to “shoot first, ask questions later.”

It’s been 13 years, and we’re still doing a hell of a lot of shooting.

Are we proud of everything — truly everything — our government has done to civilians in other countries? Can we honestly stand behind that? Is that what it means to be an American? If there’s any inkling of doubt in your mind, then this message is for you:

Don’t be complacent. Don’t lose your sense of right and wrong because the President of the United States told you that innocent people you don’t know deserve to die.

Don’t accept that, because we are better than that. To me, being an American means defending civil liberties, defending freedom and giving people due process of the law.

The new nationalism should be one of pride in our right-doings, not our wrongdoings. We should be proud to be Americans, but not the Americans Bush convinced us we were.

We should be proud to be Americans who do not accept our government’s rampant wars and we should feel insulted that they tell us we need to rally around the flag in order to be true Americans.

Do your research before forming an opinion and remember, no matter how badass "Lone Survivor" was, it is not a reliable source of information about what happened in Afghanistan.

I am an American, born and raised, and I am incredibly proud of the positive things that this government has accomplished. But, we need more honesty, more accuracy and more self-reflective moments in which we grasp the reality of what we’re defending.

We need to be able to criticize the things that are going wrong and have gone wrong. We need to be realistic and accepting of past mistakes. Dissent is the most crucial part of democratic governance.

True patriots in this country must be willing to question and push and refuse to accept mediocrity in terms of ethical standards.

In order to establish a better future, we need to stop conflating valid criticism of government actions with anti-Americanism. To do so is ignorant, useless and frankly, propagates violence.

I refuse to allow people like Bush, and even Obama, to define my nationalism as something violent and reactionary. My nationalism means that I will spend my life fighting those interpretations. I truly believe that makes me just as much of an American patriot as anyone.