Robert Meeropol

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Edward Snowdon & Julius Rosenberg Discuss Patriotism

October 16, 2014

Tags: Edward Snowdon, Julius Rosenberg, Patriotism

Following up on last weeks’ blog about the difference between my father’s actions and those of Edward Snowdon, I just read “a sneak peak” at an interview The Nation’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and her husband, Stephen F. Cohen, conducted with Edward Snowdon in Moscow.

Here’s how Snowdon defined patriotism in that interview:

“[W]hat defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one elevates - or they act to benefit - the country, right? That’s distinct from acting to benefit the government, and that distinction, that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic, just because you back whoever is in power today. You’re not patriotic because you back their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people in your country, in your community, in your family, those around you.”

This reminded me of what I wrote about my parents’ beliefs in, An Execution in the Family.

“I grew up believing that the most patriotic acts are those taken to improve the quality of life for all our nation’s inhabitants. Abel Meeropol concluded his patriotic song “The House I Live In,” “but especially the people, that’s America to me.” Ethel and Julius Rosenberg identified with poor and oppressed people in the United States and around the world rather than a government that they believed served the will of a privileged few. Ethel and Julius believed that defeating fascism would help Americans and the world…. Based on this understanding of patriotism, I believe that my parents acted patriotically.”

These remarkably similar perspectives, the essence of which is that both Julius Rosenberg and Edward Snowdon believed they were acting in the best interests of the people of their country. Both felt that they were also benefiting the world’s inhabitants.

This got me thinking that placing patriotism within a national context has become obsolete. The world faces destruction on two fronts: either nuclear Armageddon or global warming could render much of our planet marginally habitable. So far we’ve succeeded in preventing the former, but the latter seems almost inevitable unless the entire world cooperates in a massive shift in direction. In both cases all the planet’s people are in the same boat. While either global catastrophe will disproportionately impact the poor, no one will escape its impact.

Under such circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult to benefit the people of one country without acting in cooperation with and aiding people everywhere. Conversely, nations that jockey for their own advantage will end up hurting the people of all countries, including their own.

Paradoxically, the idea of patriotism will have lost its core meaning of being loyal to a particular nation state, if in order to be patriotic you must help people all over the world. Another way of looking at it is that no single nation can be secure, unless people all over the world are.

Perhaps that means that the concept of patriotism has outlived its usefulness.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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