Last evening on my drive home I was listening to MPR.  Reporter Dan Olson did a piece on a fomer St. Olaf professor who had recently passed away.  The remembrance of Reidar Dittmann included the relating of his time in Buchenwald as a prisoner of the Nazis.  Dittmann had been a part of the Norwegian resistance.  He noted that on the gate leading into Buchenwald was the motto:  Right or wrong, my country.  Profound when you think of the activities occuring in Buchenwald.  Later in the piece, an interview with Dittmann revealed that the origins of the phrase were actually American:  

"He explained that it was originally uttered by an American naval officer, Stephen Decatur, in the early 1800s. He lifted his glass to his fellow soldiers and he said, 'My country, may she always be right. But right or wrong, my country,' thereby issuing forth one of the most immoral statements ever made, one that we've struggled with in America ever after, where we put patriotism ahead of our own moral responsibility, said Dittmann."


The phrase may have been first uttered by an American, but this issue is hardly unique to America.  It is also not just about patriotism and personal moral responsibility.  It is about the difficulty in deconflicting personal values.  If you list out your values, there may be a reference to family or maybe even country or maybe a religious affiliation.  The loyalty or love you feel for a group or person can not only make doing the right thing difficult and painful, it can make the right thing sumpremely hard to define.  Patriotism, love and loyalty to family members or friends, even loyalty to an employer...these are all situations

  The immorality that Dittmann refers to in my mind is that the black and white statement "Right or wrong, my country" removes the responsibility of thinking critically about  




Read the whole article here:
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/01/05/reidar-dittmann-obit/