Two Questions

I have two questions, one tongue in cheek and the other a serious question. I might actually regret putting the two together in one post, but here it goes.

First Question
Most (all?) US currency has “In God We Trust” written on the bill or coin. Let us suppose that proof is found that God doesn’t exist. What will happen to the US economy? Will the currency lose its value? Will the $100 bill be worth anything? Will it cease to be legal tender?

Second Question
The origins of this question lie in some discussions on blogs. I was asked once what I would do if I had to choose between my Muslim and American identity? The discussion ended when some decided that I wasn’t an American.

The question of loyalty is interesting and difficult, despite the obnoxiousness of some who ask that question. So let me ask what is more important to you? God or country? Family or country? Self or country? What is our loyalty to the state? Or what should it be?

Let’s look at this from another angle. During the Iraq war, a number of bloggers said something to the effect that they opposed the Iraq war but supported the troops. What exactly does that mean? What are the limits of such support? And when and why should we not support the troops of our country?

Does supporting the troops mean hoping that they win? When should we hope that they win? When would you be indifferent to their win or loss? And what conditions would make you hope your country loses the war? Or do you believe in “my country right or wrong”?

I am asking this question in the most general context and not in the specific case of the Iraq war. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the limits or otherwise of loyalty, patriotism and nationalism.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. If a person I loved was doing something wrong, I would speak up to tell them so and take what actions I could to help them come around right. If the country I love is doing something wrong, I feel that I ought to do the same thing: speak up and say that it’s wrong.

  2. “Will the currency lose its value? Will the $100 bill be worth anything? Will it cease to be legal tender?”

    No. Yes. No.

    “God or country?”

    Being an atheist, country.

    “Family or country?”

    Depends. If they were selling nuclear secrets, or the like, probably country.

    “Self or country?”

    Depends. Would I, were I young enough, feel a need to volunteer for every war? No. But maybe a war such as WWII.

    “What is our loyalty to the state?”


    “Or what should it be?”

    Less complicated.

    “What exactly does that mean?”

    Typically that one opposes the war, thinking it shouldn’t be waged, but that one wishes to see the troops come to the least possible harm, and doesn’t in the least hold their essentially involuntary participation in the war against them personally in the slightest.

    “What are the limits of such support?” Pretty much none, unless you mean supporting them in committing war crimes.

    “And when and why should we not support the troops of our country?”

    If they’ve personally committed war crimes.

    “Does supporting the troops mean hoping that they win?” Probably.

    “When should we hope that they win?”

    Pretty much as a rule.

    “When would you be indifferent to their win or loss?”


    “And what conditions would make you hope your country loses the war?”

    If I thought our government had become one like unto the Nazis or Stalinist, Maoist.

    “Or do you believe in “my country right or wrong”?

    That’s a famous misquotation of what Stephen Decatur said. I’ve written about this about a year and a half ago.

    It’s just a toast.

    There’s also this version:
    “My country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be put right.”

    spoken by Carl Schurz, during an address he gave at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference in Chicago, October 17, 1899.


  3. I don’t identify with everything that’s associated with being a Muslim and the same applies to my being American.

    My loyalties are to people and what I consider ideals or principles. I am patriotic in that I believe in the spirit of the American Constitution and that is why I oppose the kind of nationalism that seeks to impose American hegemony on the rest of the world.

  4. Question One:

    A $100 bill has little intrinsic value. It cannot nourish, clothe or feed a person. Its value is based on belief. As long as a majority of the people using the bill as a means of valuation believe that it has value, it has value. If this majority believes it has value because of the existance of God, then it would lose its value. If otherwise, Ben is still your friend.

    Question Two:

    At its best, a nation state institutionalizes the ideals and virtures of its citizenry at a large scale. In such a situation, a patriot espousing support for his country affirms the ideals and virtues to which he subscribes. So, one’s loyalty to country depends upon the degree to which country is a reflection of self.

    When one states that they are against a war yet support their country’s combatants, he speaks in a kind of code, an introspective code. The person encoded a message that reads, “My loyalty is in danger of decreasing, but I am not yet sure it will decrease.” The potential drop in loyalty is percipitated by a mismatch between the person’s ideals and the action of the institution ideally meant to embody said ideals. Scale often introduces the uncertainty reviewed by the second independent clause in the quotation. The application of an ideal in a person’s life may not be the same on the national or global scale; so, a concerned citizen may not be able to readily identify the correspondence. Furthermore, the message informs the listener that the potential decrease is not sufficient to make the speaker disloyal or even nuetral with regard to his country.

  5. Most (all?) US currency has “In God We Trust” written on the bill or coin. Let us suppose that proof is found that God doesn’t exist.

    Out of interest,I think this was actually part of an incredibly saccharine film with David Attenborough who was being defended by a lawyer in court, as he actually believed that he was Santa Claus; the phrase on US currency was worked in to the winning argument for the defence. 100% pure cheese, not to mention consumerist rubbish. I think it was called “Miracle on 42nd Street”. Very popular with women for some reason.

    What will happen to the US economy? Will the currency lose its value? Will the $100 bill be worth anything? Will it cease to be legal tender?

    Nothing much really, since money is merely the objectified form of property relations rather than anything of intrinsic value itself; one could perhaps see this as another form of hyperinflation, when a currency is rendered valueless and what would need to be carried would be an organised and gradual currency swap with the new bills not having the offending saying. But I sense you ask mostly in jest.

    I was asked once what I would do if I had to choose between my Muslim and American identity? The discussion ended when some decided that I wasn’t an American.

    I think these kind of questions are really odious not to mention almost always asked in bad faith. In my opinion any approach, outside conditions of a civil war type scenario (and even then contingent upon other factors) display an intolerant mentality and the use of an ‘Othering’process to stigmatise or screen various ascriptive groups. In nations that subscribe to civic nationalism (as opposed to ethnationalist or religious-nationalist ones) the very act of applying these loyalty tests (frequently on a repetitive and regular basis) militates against the values of this model of nationalism. What is the value of citizenship if belonging to a particular religious, ethnic or social group necessitates the demonstration of some extra show of loyalty or devotion? Questioning people’s nationalism like this, in an a priori fashion without finding out more about their political beleifs devalues the very status of their (and our) citizenship. Like most commonalities in the public sphere, abusing it, leads to serious problems for everyone in the sphere itself.

    It is also somewhat of a ‘bad faith’ question, since it seems to dangle some promise of integration if the desired answer is given – the problem is that since in many cases since it is fear of the wrong answer being given that leads to such questions being asked in the first place, this fear is rarely satisfied merely by verbal assurances to the contrary and tends to insist on repeated and constant assurances. Which sort of defeats the promise of any inclusion/integration. The underlying assumption seems to be that these two components of one’s identity need to be mutually exclusionary, I can’t help get the feeling that people who ask this kind of question seem to think that having an American identity is somehow opposed to having a Muslim one – I don’t see how this is necessarily the case. Obviously some forms of Muslim self-identification in the more extreme parts of the spectrum would reject any national identity – there was a brouhaha here as some young Muslim South Asians burned the Union Jack in Regents’ Park last week; but this kind of anti-nationalist religious feeling applies to the nationalisms of Muslim states as well. More uncomfortably there maybe an unspoken assumption that somehow the American identity is a non-Muslim or Christian one; this is obviously true in a de facto historical sense but that is different from a prescriptive political value, which is sometimes confused. I don’t see why such tests need to be applied wrt identity since different elements make up a composite whole; those who insist on some sort of Solomonic division seem kind of fanatical to me.

    I am not a complete pluralist though, there can be conflicting loyalties but this lies more in the nature of loyalties between two states and nationalisms rather than different parts of anyone’s identities. Here I do think, in an era of territorial nation-states, it is hard for anybody to serve two masters particularly in wartime or in times of potential conflict. Frex, I would assume that there could be tensions between someone who would see themselves both as a Pakistani and as an American; one thing that frequently irritates me about NRI bombniks is this factor. I remember knwoing an American NRI, who was also a naval officer and who was very keen about India pursuing a more aggressive regional policy and security strategy under the BJP; he was very keen for India to move much closer to the US over the WoT and relations with Israel. To me this sounded like a bad idea for several reasons, it seemed particularly dangerous for NRIs in his position to be advocating, since as an emerging power it is not inconcievable that out national interest might clash with that of the US or any other state in the future and lead to some level of hostilities; in which case I would hate for any Indian minorities abroad to be exposed to any suspicions of double loyalties; as many Jewish minorities were in the past (for the most part) and which many Muslims, particularly Arabs face now. I asked this officer who seemed to be quite a hypernationalist on several counts who he would support if there was an outbreak of war between India and the US (unlikely I know, but quite possible in the future) and he just went quiet since it wasn’t really a question which could have a palatable answer (which made me feel a little bad for asking it). These are the kind of tensions which are inevitable for those who live outside their own ‘civilisational zones’ in any Huntintingtonian sort of scenario and who are effectively pressurised to conform to the demands of nationalism where they reside in all sorts of ways. How one responds in this case will obviously vary depending on the context and person; personally I would expect people to remain ‘loyal’ to the country of which they are a citizen and in cases of dual citizenship to choose one over the other. I certainly don’t expect people to fall into line simply on the basis of their religion or ethnicity etc. this is to my mind a chauvinistic mindset. In either case the personal, familial and psychological costs are likely to be quite high; which is why these sorts of confrontations should be avoided as far as possible and aggressive nationalist expansion eschewed; particularly for those who inhabit a trans-national network of existence. Unfortunately, politics in many Diasporic communities doesn’t seem to follow this kind of pattern.

    During the Iraq war, a number of bloggers said something to the effect that they opposed the Iraq war but supported the troops. What exactly does that mean?

    Mainly I think this is a way to deflect accusations of disloyalty or aiding the enemy during the outbreak of actual fighting. A case could be made that one supports the troops in carrying out their duties at a purely subjective and tactical level, while seeking to change the political strategy that deploys them in this war. Not exactly a compltely outlandish way of thinking, since most volunteer militaries in democracies effectively surrender their freedoms of when to fight and when not to, to the electorate at large in the hope and trust that they will only be sent to do so, when it is deemed necessary. Waging war though is a political decision, as such it should be possible to oppose the war, without being accused of defeatism or some form of treachery, which is the usual charge wheeled out to silence criticism; this is one reason why I favour some form of compulsory national service as this replicates the ideal of the Greek polis, where a willingness to fight and risk one’s life was linked to citizenship status and since it was distributed quite evenly within the body politic; people could argue against fighting stupid wars without frivolous charges of cowardice or disloyalty being levelled against them. Will Self made a good point within the debate in the UK, when he pointed out that professional soldiers fight to carry out policy decisions and like all other policy decisions mistakes can be made and debate is a necessary precursor, particularly in wars of choice, as opposed to responding to an invasion. As such the pro and con arguments should be able to aired freely without any intimidation; unfortunately I don’t think there is enough political maturity at the moment in most states to do this at our current stage of development.

    What are the limits of such support? And when and why should we not support the troops of our country?

    I guess one would need to define ‘support’ here exactly. I mean, I think it can be taken for granted that one doesn’t generally want one’s troops to be killed and various morale raising gestures can indicate support most of this tends to be confined to the symbolic level as a rule. It would probably be necssary to draw a distinction between supporting the troops as fellow citizens sent out to carry out a specific mandate from the state; and the decision to send them in the first place as well as the nature of the task alloted to them as well. Like Ambassadors and head of the executives, they do represent you at an individual as well as a collective level and many others will judge the nation on what they do and how they do it – just as one needs sometimes to distinguish the post of the President from the politician who from time to time holds it. Having said this, one needs to be realistic in how coercive force is dealt out by insitutions and state bodies. It is rarely a pretty or even moral enterprise, and no population on the receiving end of this is going to be very happy about it; an analogy can be the way the police is viewed by many communities which are on the other end of their policing. When the mechanism of control is turned inwards it rarely tends to be seen as benign as it is when it is turned outwards. Myself, I don’t expect any special measure of support from those who disagree on any military action we happen to have been sent on; I do get irritated when some people just see the entire military as engaged in atrocities against civilians, as this is simply a distortion of reality. However, I don’t expect unquestioning endorsement for participating in any military action, if there are real grounds for opposing it. Much of this comes down to what one considers the ‘national interest’; people’s definition and view of this is likely to differ greatly. If on a particular conflict, the national interest is deemed to be violated by military action, then I respect individuals’ right to oppose it and not feel happy about sending their troops out to say, suppress some sort of national self-determination movement elsehwere or repress a civilian populace with legititmate political demands. The problem is that national interest, like nationalism; can mean very different things to different people; some see it as broad as not taking part in any action that can be seen as anti-democratic, or intervenes in an internal civil war elsewhere; others define it much more more narrowly in terms of simply expanding the influence and power of the nation-state itself. These are legitimate debates and if one really believes that a particular war is immoral, will lead to much greater suffering, is politically and strategically counterproductive and was initiated under false pretences; then withdrawal or a change in the political deployment and use of the troops is not undermining them; it is fulfilling the trust they have placed within the polity in the first place.

    Or do you believe in “my country right or wrong”?

    No, which is not to say I wouldn’t still feel obligated to support my country in a time of crisis; I just wouldn’t fool myself that it would be right to do so.

  6. First of all, what does religion or God have to do with currency? I do have faith in “God”, but he does not give me money, he gives me faith. People around the world have their own faith, which is fine. We are entitled to it. That is why we experience all that is happening around us. Faith is something you are taught to learn. We all have our differences and we should respect that. Killing innocent people or killing to prove a point of your faith does not get you any closer to the “God” of your religion. Why does anyone want to destroy the perfectness of his creation. If “God” is the one they believe in, whatever religion, then his creation was also perfect. why destroy it? created.

    I am against war of all kinds…there has been too many bloodshed for power and religion. No concerns of the living is thought about before war starts. No one bothers to worry about the situations that they have in their own country. they should start inside their nation before they allow themselves to invade others for the reasons that we have nothing to do with. That is not defending our country. If there is no communication within the distraught nation. What good is it sending our troops if all that is happening now is shedding blood of our children. We do not teach them how to kill or destroy. I am sure the majority of soldiers sent there have mixed reations. we would assume what they are. I wish it would all end soon and we all get along…but i know it will not happen in this life time. v/r g
    Our faith should not keep us from living where you believe in your religion killing others of other religions does not prove any point at all. but yet it should’ve even have to have others kill or destroy you

  7. Question: “In God we trust” on the currency.
    Such slogens are symbolic only and have no effect on currency but provide a yardstick for measuring the character (or hypocrisy) of the authourities who usually do not act according to the slogan.

    Question about “Loyalty”
    I quote (1) words of a Prophet and (2) a saying of Arabs.
    (1) A Prophet said to his companions, “Always help your brothers / collegues, etc.” The companions asked, “How can we help those who are wrong.” The Prophet said, “By telling them their mistakes and guiding them to the right path.”
    (2) If my cousin fights with my brother, I am with my brother and, if an outsider fights with my cousin, I am with my cousin.

  8. I am generally of Conrad’s mind on this; there’s a bit of an ugly tradition in many countries, including mine (the USA) of turning on a certain group and demanding that they subsume their loyalty for the good of the state. As has been duly noted, this is something that was inflicted on Muslims, and in my opinion this was a great shame.

    I think of “patiotism” as “love of country,” which falls into a special category of love that brooks no jealousy. Yet there are those who say that thus-&-such a group “cannot be assimilated,” that they must choose between love of their country and love of some other thing, like Islam. I say that this is as absurd a conjecture as it sounds, and that the speaker says it with an invidious goal: to demand not loyalty to the nation , but loyalty from the nation.

    So this is why I object* to “In God we trust” on the money, or “under God” in the pledge of allegiance—despite the fact that I am a Christian. The object is to promote an invidious distinction based on identity, or loyalty of the state to God-worshippers. It’s not the same as a poll tax on atheists, but it’s still invidious.

    * Among other reasons. Theologically, I cannot believe God would intervene to defend the probity of the US dollar. The imputation is sacriledge.

  9. Thank you all for your comments. There’s a lot to think about in what you guys wrote.

    About the question on currency and God, I was just being facetious. It wasn’t a serious question.

    I should also clarify my statement: “The discussion ended when some decided that I wasn’t an American.”

    The reason for their decision was not my being a Muslim but rather my lack of US citizenship.

    I think divided loyalties are in the nature of things. We all have quite a few identities and loyalties. What we would do when some of those conflict would definitely depend on circumstances.

    I am reminded by this discussion of Muslims in Europe or America choosing one or the other of India and Pakistan. There have been lots of killings over religion (and other factors) there for a long time. But most Indian Muslims I have met are quite staunchly Indian. In fact, in the India-Pakistan wars, not only have there been Muslims in the Indian army, there have sometimes been brothers fighting on opposing sides. An example, I think, was Sahibzada Yaqub Khan who opted for Pakistan in 1947 while most of the rest of his family stayed behind in India. Both his brother and he were in the army and were deployed to Kashmir in the 1948 war.

  10. It is very important to know where alligences are especially in times of conflict like the time we currently are in. What is stronger, your Muslim or American identity? This is important because if ever feel that your Muslim identity conflicts with your American identity and you feel stronger towards your Muslim identity you might go and do things to harm America. So people who love America with all their heart and soul would have a right to be concerned about you.

  11. Oh, if you lack US citizenship then that’s not a problem. If it ever really gets bad we can deport you. I commend you for being honest about your identity while so many who actually have US citizenship don’t take their American identity seriously. I believe one should only become a US citizen if they can commit to America totality heart, mind and soul. If someone feels an alliegence to any other foreign entity they should either not become an American citizen or if they are an American citizen politely renounce their US citizenship. What you have done by not becoming an US citizen since you put your Muslim identity higher I highly respect. At least you are what you say you are while people of mixed loyality you can never know where they stand.

  12. When it comes to national loyalty it is important that conflicts don’t exist. Really when push comes to shove you can only be loyal to one country and that country should be the country of your citizenship.

  13. Gene: You are making a number of assumptions which I am not willing to grant you.

    1. I don’t think the US is at war with Islam or the Muslim world. Hence the question of loyalty or lack thereof of Muslims does not arise.
    2. You are assuming that I am not a US citizen because my Muslim identity is stronger. There is no reason for you to think so.
    3. While you are correct that when there is a direct conflict between two identities, one has to choose, I disagree that it is a simple question. All of us have multiple identities and we can’t assign simple priorities to them.
  14. Freedom at Midnight

    Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre was recommended to me by zackq and KO (who has his own thoughts here). It is a highly readable book with a great writing style. The major fault of the book…

  15. Freedom at Midnight

    Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre was recommended to me by zackq and KO (who has his own thoughts here). It is a highly readable book with a great writing style. The major fault of the book…

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