Eugene V. Debs's views on war—particularly World War I—and its relation to patriotism are encapsulated in a speech he gave on 18 June 1918, for which he was sent to prison. In this speech, Debs argues that patriotism is a hollow concept with which the rich compel the poor to...
Eugene V. Debs's views on war—particularly World War I—and its relation to patriotism are encapsulated in a speech he gave on 18 June 1918, for which he was sent to prison. In this speech, Debs argues that patriotism is a hollow concept with which the rich compel the poor to fight. After all, it is the rich who declare war and the poor who have to fight at the frontlines. He quotes Samuel Johnson's remark that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." However, he says, the rich are not genuinely patriotic. They merely make an ostentatious exhibition of their national pride and seek to blame others for failing to share it:
These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates.
Debs points out that many wealthy Americans are eager to marry into the European aristocracy. He asks whether American millionaires would ever be patriotic or democratic enough to marry their daughters to America workers and concludes:
Oh, no! They scour the markets of Europe for vampires who are titled and nothing else. And they swap their millions for the titles, so that matrimony with them becomes literally a matter of money.
Debs says that the rich have always used patriotism as a method of deceiving working people into thinking that it is their duty to sacrifice their lives to defend the interests of the rich. Working people have generally done this, because they genuinely love their country, but the plutocrats who send them into battle have no such sentiments, do not risk anything themselves, and are entirely cynical in their motives.