Aphorisms Unplugged: My Country Right or Wrong

This Book is Banned My Country Right or Wrong aphorism

M
y country right or wrong
is a saying frequently invoked as a testament of vigilant, aggressive, and unquestioning patriotism. But, the complete quote refers to something very different. If the expression wasn’t intended to promote an all-or-nothing form of patriotism, what does it actually mean?

Sometimes that well-worn adage doesn’t really mean what our literal-minded, text-focused, Google-driven world thinks it means. One reason this happens is that, quite simply, language evolves.

To further complicate matters, as with books, all too often the context of these popular wisdoms has been forgotten. Though these aphorisms may still contain some good advice, their original message is typically richer and more profound than our contemporary interpretation.

This Book is Banned proffers a few proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom that have been unplugged,” as it were. We’ve rebooted, gone back-to-basics, and re-discovered their intended message. For example:

My country right or wrong.

This expression was especially prevalent during the volatile years surrounding the Vietnam war, asserted in response to the arguments of those protesting that war. But, if the expression wasn’t intended to promote an all-or-nothing variety of patriotism, what does “my country right or wrong” mean?

Carl Schurz, a German-born senator and Civil War general, is typically credited with coining the phrase in 1872. The trouble is, we’re misusing Schurz’s famous saying. Yes, he did indeed declare “my country right or wrong.” But Schurz’s entire remark, made on the Senate floor, was:

my country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.

And the applause that followed was deafening.

Schurz’s entire sentiment clearly reflects a more nuanced and participatory vision of patriotism than the abbreviated version employed these days, one more in line with the form of government the founding fathers laid out. Interestingly, Schurz’s declaration was in response to a challenge of his patriotism, levied by the Senator from Wisconsin with the same blunt, one-dimensional phrase so often used today.[1]
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Notes:

[1] Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations, 1989. #1641. https://www.bartleby.com/73/1641.html

Photo by Anthony Shane on Unsplash        https://unsplash.com/s/photos/american-flag

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Check out more unplugged proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom here.

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