Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Patriotism Considered

I'm not a fan of patriotism. It makes me uneasy.

This is sentiment you are best advised to keep to yourself, most of the time, most places, because patriotism these days, and for most people, is regarded as a virtue second to none. But I find patriotism to be a dangerous sentiment. During the playing of the national anthem at public events,  I stand and take off my cap, out of respect to military servicemen, mostly, and in celebration of joining with like-minded people in a large public gathering.  But I do not sing, and the flag does nothing whatsoever to moisten my eyes.

At the time, this was regarded as unpatriotic.....
I arrived at my uneasiness regarding patriotism, I suppose, as a result of living my formative years through the 1960s and 70s, the Vietnam and Watergate years, where it became evident that blind support of the policies of one's nation caused too many people to ignore its problems.  When I was a late teenager and young adult, there was a common bumpersticker that said "America, Love it or Leave It."

To which my silent response was always "Fuck you, buddy."  If you truly loved your country, it seemed to me, the adage should be "America: if you Love it, Change it for the Better." The people who unconsciously waved the flag at every opportunity always struck me as simply too lazy to really think hard or see clearly. In the satiric novel Cat's Cradle, author Kurt Vonnegut defined a grandfalloon as a false "karass"—a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. His example: any nation, any where, any time. To this day, that seems to me an excellent way to look at blind patriotism. It is an automatic emotion that can too easily be manipulated.

.....while this was the epitome of patriotism. 
I see it as a short step from blind patriotism to blind nationalism, and it was rabid nationalism, after all, that allowed the National Socialist party to rise in Germany in the 1930s. Following your nation's leaders wherever they go is a potentially dangerous enterprise. It's no surprise that it's a form of blind patriotism/nationalism that political parties are using today to try to garner support. So many people wave the flag without thinking about it, that the candidate who manages to identify himself as the patriotic candidate will almost always win.

Civic devotion, it seems to me, should be aimed at the higher values that are hopefully part of the nation's mission statement, or aimed at individuals within that nation and their rights to pursue those values. There is nothing whatsoever holy about the imaginary lines that create national boundaries, or about the flag used to symbolize that artificial territory, for that matter. A true patriot would celebrate a foreigner coming to America to join us in freedom; they would not want to build walls to keep folks out.

A gathering of John Wayne and other "patriots" in 1969. 
So I have some sympathy for actors, musicians, athletes and other prominent people who take a stand on national stages to point out when national hypocrisy raises its head. In 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith upon winning the 4 x 100 relay event in the Olympics bowed their heads and raised fists covered with black gloves to protest the treatment of black people in America. Their reward was to be stripped of their medals and publicly humiliated—for a while. History now suggests their move was a heroic one, and both men are now rightly respected as folk heroes.

This week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick says he will not stand during the national anthem this season, out of protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I honestly don't know what his motivation here is, but before ridiculing him we'd be well advised to realize this protest carries significant professional risk for Colin, and we'd also be well advised to remember John Carlos and dozens of others for whom true patriotism was not about waving the flag, but about expressing their public shame of it when the nation was behaving shamefully.

The Woodstock festival, I'd submit, was a far more patriotic
demonstration of democracy than any Donald Trump rally. 
John Wayne made dozens of movies in which he played military heroes. But John Wayne also supported McCarthyism, and seems to have ratted out colleagues in order to advance his career. History shows that John Wayne was no patriot at all. The judgment of history is much different for people like Arthur Miller, whose play The Crucible lampooned McCarthyism; or Edward R Murrow, who always saw McCarthy for what he was and had the courage to say so.

I will continue to rise for the national anthem, but the warmth of my feelings will be for the fellowship of the people around me, for the memory of those who have served to preserve my ability to enjoy that fellowship. It will be out of respect for human values, not dedication to a nation or flag.