Monday, May 4, 2015

Patriotism, Good and Bad

I am researching the brief career of Joseph Trumpeldor for a book I am writing. No, the book is not at all about Trumpeldor. He does not even appear in the book. But he touched the life of my heroine, Marah Fallowfield, and he influenced her views on communism, socialism and communal sharing of resources. She met Trumpeldor when she was thirteen years old on a collective farm in  Migdal,  Palestine, and by the time she was a prisoner of the Japanese in Weihsien, Shandong Province, China thirty years later, her mind was already made up.

Joseph Trumpeldor spent some time as a prisoner of the Japanese, too,  just like Marah Fallowfield. It was during the Russo-Japanese War  Trumpeldor was on the Russian side at Port Arthur. He lost his left arm in that war, and he was taken prisoner. Interestingly, he had good things to say about the Japanese after that experience. The Japanese were very tolerant and allowed each prisoner to practice his own faith. Trumpledor printed a newspaper in captivity and plotted with other prisoners to start a Zionist collective farm in Palestine.  Coming from Russia, Trumpeldor was impressed by the kindness of the Japanese.

Anyway, in time Joseph Trumpeldor settled in Migdal as a Zionist, where, according to reliable sources, he was a hard worker and a dedicated fighter, but kind of annoying in the way that all zealots are.

A short except from,7340,L-3135845,00.html
"Trumpledor, the Zionist military legend, held vivid conversations with the local members. To the men, he lectured in the evenings, while he insulted the women when he said they were not as willing as they should be to live on very little. About his Spartan diligence they said that with his single arm he was a better worker than three two armed laborers."
Like all idealists, Joseph Trumpeldor had his good qualities and his not so good qualities. It is hard to ignore his dedication and his bravery, but at the same time, he probably was responsible for the failure of the collective farm at Migdal because he rode people too hard and did not take account of the limitations of human nature.

In time, his historic moment would come in another settlement, where he died defending the place. When mortally wounded, he uttered the famous words that every Israeli school child is taught: "It is good to die for our country."

It sounds a little insipid, but Trumpeldor was a scholar, and he was probably trying to think of a quick Hebrew translation to the old Roman standard, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, while he held his one hand over his guts to keep them for spilling out.  There is no doubt that Trumpeldor was brave!

But what do people make of him today?
This image comed from

I did an internet search and found this meme. Looking at the fat, bewigged Samuel Johnson who was no doubt a very politically astute man and comparing him to the lean and earnest, as well as soon to be dead in battle, Joseph Trumpeldor, my heartstrings tug on me to go for Trumpeldor. He was no scoundrel, and his motive was not greed.

I think the meme represents a simplistic divide that we currently have in all of Western civilization. Either patriotism is stupid or evil or ... or we have to conscript men and send them to their certain death in order to defend all that is holy. (Or we can just use our poor as cannon fodder by promising them jobs and benefits, free medical care and college educations at public expense.)

But there is another way that no one is talking about.  That way is the way of Jean Laffite, the famous privateer who saved America. War can be privatized.

Joseph Trumpledor was not a scoundrel. He was an idealist fighting for a homeland that did not yet exist. He was a man without a country, just like Jean Laffite, and he was willing to die for a place where he would really belong.

But Trumpeldor did have a blind spot: he did not understand that private ownership was one of the best motivators. Instead of lecturing to the women on his collective farms that they lived too lavishly, he should have challenged them to make as much money as they could for the sake of their own families. Jean Laffite understood that, and he offered every sailor on his ship a percentage of the prize to do with as he saw fit!

Private enterprise is the right way to achieve goals, even patriotic goals.

Is every patriot a scoundrel as Johnson suggested? I don't think so. Patriotism is merely love of country. It is not so different from other forms of love. Some men will tell a woman that they love her and then run out on her when it is convenient. But others are true to their love, just as Jean Laffite was true to America.


  1. Trumpeldor kind of reminds me of Che Guevara in one aspect, due to his belief in working hard and living on little. Guevara truly believed in living simply, and apparently got in arguments with his wife, who was upset he would not get her a car like the other Communist leaders in Cuba. It turns out the leaders in Communism never lived according to it, and they always had luxuries. Che was eventually exiled from Cuba because he kept insisting the Soviet Union share their resources with other third world communist nations, and the powers that be did not like that. Che is completely different than Trumpledor in most ways perhaps, but he also believed in living simply and on little. The man would work in the fields ten hours a day, and then come home to read and write. He would berate others for not wanting to live such an extreme lifestyle because even in Communist countries like Cuba people did not want to work on a commune. Most communes do not work.

    1. Hi, Julia. I don't know much about Che Guevera, except that he is still idolized by communist sympathizers today. I suppose it must be a common thing among certain idealistic leaders that they demand much of themselves and also the same of others. But I think the best leaders are the ones who may sleep on the ground like Hannibal, but also understand how to motivate men who are not like themselves at all, men who may be just hired mercenaries working and fighting for pay in the form of silver and gold. A true leader uses the best qualities in each of his underlings without trying to shame them for not being exactly like himself.

    2. Che is idolized to some degree, but he actually fell out of favor in Cuba because he wanted the Soviet Union to share their resources, and they did not want to. Fidel Castro cared more about currying favor with the Soviets than playing by some idealistic conceptions of communism, so he was sent packing. That was killed in Boliva because Fidel and others were happy to pretend they all got along, as long as he was not upsetting the powers that be in country.

    3. I wasn't really thinking about people in Cuba idolizing him today. I think there are young, left-wing Americans who may not know much about him but who consider him their hero.

    4. Yeah people in western countries idolize Che, but people who know the history will know it was not the case in Cuba. Of course the Communist want to present a united front and pretend they all got along, but the truth is Fidel Castro was no communist in the beginning, and probably went along with a lot of the propaganda to get ahead in life. That was the theory my professor had, anyway. He was quite capitalistic and going to school to become a lawyer in his youth, but then became communist because it gave him a chance to be a leader. Then he got what he wanted, to be a leader. He has had a pretty cushy life, and enjoy luxuries like a pool in Cuba. I have heard the regular people in Cuba do not really enjoy living under an embargo, and having an underground Internet. Che was kind of a messed up person. I was only thinking about how he loved to criticize everyone, but himself. He thought no one worked hard enough.

    5. Hi, Julia. Well, I'm surely no fan of Castro, so I am not surprised if he was not a complete idealist. But I think there is a big danger in following the reasoning of your professor that every time somebody does something we don't like that makes him "not a real communist." I mean, was Stalin a "real communist"? Did the fact that he committed genocide make him less of communist? Or if he dined only on tins of sardines, is that the measure of his being a true communist? I am less bothered by how much luxury Castro enjoyed in his personal life than by what he did to the economy of Cuba and to the individual freedom of Cubans. Only these things, in my book, are evidence of being a communist leader or not. Most people living under communist regimes do not enjoy the conditions brought on them by their leaders, but that does not make the regimes less communist as regimes go. By the way, going to school to become a lawyer is actually pretty normal for would-be communists. The law is a tool in the hands of progressives in most Western countries, and people wanting to move in a socialist direction often choose the law. I had to quit the law partly because I could see I was not going to be able to make any headway in changing things for the better, since judges and lawmakers are mostly statists. They do not call themselves communist, but they are not advocates of a free market or any other kind of freedom.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. In Cuba at that time only a family with the means to do so could send their children to college.

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. Most communist leaders come from middle class backgrounds. For instance, my great uncle Juliusz Katz-Suchy, who was a high ranking member of the Polish Communist Party, as a young man went to Krakow to study law while serving as a member of the underground communist party, before they came to power. He was arrested for his activities and suffered much hardship, yet when he rose to power, years later, he pursued luxuries for his family. All these traits that you described in Castro sound familiar to me. They are not inconsistent with being a communist.

      . You can read more about my family's experiences with communism here:

      If you want to read something by outsiders about Katz-Suchy, you can also read this: