Patriotism is a matter of date

And is this not true of a Malay patriot called Tok Janggut? Today, he is a patriot. But back in his days he was a traitor who rebelled against the Sultan of Kelantan. Tok Janggut was arrested and put to death and his body hung upside down along the banks of the Kelantan River and left to rot.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

PM: Our citizens abroad are a patriotic lot

The Prime Minister is proud that Malaysians of various races abroad are patriotic.

“Although far from home, they remain loyal to the country and uphold its constitution and laws,” Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said at a teleconference with Malaysian students, professionals and heads of mission in seven foreign cities.

He spoke to them on Thursday in conjunction with Chinese New Year.

Najib said: “I hope this spirit (of patriotism) will be our bond, our bond of 1Malaysia, 1People, 1Nation and 1Direction.”

The Prime Minister reminded the students abroad to return home upon completing their studies and contribute towards the country’s development and prosperity.

“You can gain experience by working overseas (after the studies), but ultimately we hope you will be return to work in Malaysia.” — The Star


They say that patriotism is a matter of date. It all depends on when (the date) you are declared a patriot. You can be a patriot one day and a traitor the next, or vice versa.

This would ring true for many a patriot. And it all depends on how the image of this patriot is built through the ages. Myths and legends have a way of creeping into facts to distort history and make the truth murky. It also depends a lot on who won the day. History is always recorded by the victor, not the vanquished, so the winner decides who becomes the patriot and who the traitor.

Paul Revere is a patriot merely because the Americans won the ‘War of Independence’. Even the ‘War of Independence’ would not be known as the ‘War of Independence’ today if the British had won. It would have been called the ‘American Rebellion’.

During the War of Independence, the Americans called themselves ‘Patriots’. The British, however, called them ‘Rebels’. But since the Americans won and the Americans wrote the history books, then they shall forever be known as ‘Patriots’ and not ‘Rebels’.

Paul Revere is one of the more famous ‘Patriots’. He is credited with the famous ‘Midnight Ride’ from Boston to Lexington on 18 April 1775 where he was supposed to have ridden to warn the Americans that the British were coming. In 1940 a statue of Paul Revere was unveiled in Boston to commemorate this famous ride.

But Paul Revere did not ride alone. In fact, he did not even complete the ride. He was captured by the British and later released. Others who managed to avoid capture actually completed the ride, though they are not mentioned by history.

So how come Paul Revere is credited with this ‘Midnight Ride’ and the impression given is that he was the sole rider and actually completed the ride? This is because of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 40 years after Paul Revere’s death, which opens with:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year?

This poem was memorised by American schoolchildren all over America and eventually immortalised Paul Revere, culminating in that statue in Boston 122 years after his death.

Paul Revere started his military career as a Major of the Infantry and was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the Artillery. He was involved in the Penobscot Expedition, which ended in disaster and is said to be the worst American defeat in the war against the British.

Paul Revere was alleged to have demonstrated cowardice when he led a retreat and deserted the American forces, which were utterly destroyed by the British. Paul Revere’s rather undistinguished military career ended with the failed Penobscot Expedition.

After his return he was accused of having disobeyed the orders of one of his commanding officers and dismissed from the militia. Paul Revere was later cleared of the charges by a court martial.

Because of Longfellow’s poem, the Paul Revere myth lives on while the truth is forgotten. And what American schoolchildren remember is his famous ‘Midnight Ride’ and not the desertion and failure to obey orders and the court martial that followed (which exonerated him but does not change the facts of history).

The problem is Paul Revere was unruly and defiant and very quarrelsome to boot. He wanted to be the man in charge and not take orders from his superiors, with whom there was a lot of bad blood. So he refused to attack the British and instead retreated, giving the British their most successful victory of the entire campaign.

For all intents and purposes, the British were winning the war and America would have remained a British colony if not for one fact. And that one fact is the French declared war on England because they thought the British were bogged down in America and would not be able to defend their more lucrative colonies in other parts of the world.

The British decided that from an economic point of view the other colonies should be defended first (they were bringing in more money). So the British withdrew from America and sent their army and navy to fight the French elsewhere.

So it was not the American ‘Patriots’ who made the birth of America possible. It was the French. In fact, the French played a crucial role in the American War of Independence, as did the native-Americans who fought alongside the Americans against the British. Left to the Americans, it was disaster after disaster.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, was actually a very bad general. While the Americans referred to him as ‘General Washington’ the British refused to acknowledge him as a general and addressed him as ‘Mister Washington’.

The British refused to recognise Washington as a General because of his dismal track record on the battlefield.

So, as I am trying to demonstrate above, history laced with myths, legends and cleverly written poems have a way of creating ‘Patriots’. Those who are ‘Patriots’ today could actually have been traitors or bungling fools in their days.

And is this not true of a Malay patriot called Tok Janggut? Today, he is a patriot. But back in his days he was a traitor who rebelled against the Sultan of Kelantan. Tok Janggut was arrested and put to death and his body hung upside down along the banks of the Kelantan River and left to rot.

And what was Tok Janggut’s crime? He rebelled against the British and wanted independence for Kelantan. And for that the Sultan had him killed and refused to allow him a decent burial. In short, he had committed treason and was not a patriot.

And with that we end your history lesson for today –Traitor one day and Patriot the next, or vice versa.