It was a good Fourth of July.
As usual, folks came over to our house and we threw some stuff on the barbeque and blew some other stuff up in the street in front of our house. On other nights, our neighbors that sort of thing (not the grilling, the explosions); tonight, they hung out on their front porches with their children and grandchildren and enjoyed the show.
So was this patriotic? Someone quoted someone’s line about “celebrating America by blowing up a small piece of it.”
If I were patriotic, I hope I’d be the kind of patriot Julia is.
You may be one of those ancestors yourself.
Anyway, if you’re here, somewhere in your blood is the blood of someone with a lot of guts.
Julia’s essay is smart and compassionate, the best kind of tough-minded liberalism. (That, by the way, is the phrase that Dean or Kerry or whomever should begin endlessly parroting to the press: “tough-minded liberalism” is the soundbite rejoinder to “compassionate conservatism”). It shows that being patriotic isn’t dumb, and it isn’t right-wing; it’s American, in the best sense of the word.
Or so I assume, although to tell the truth I have no feeling for what the “best sense” of the word American is. Julia’s essay is patriotic, and a well-written essay about patriotism means no more to me personally than a well-written essay about breathing water.
I’m not going to argue that patriots are stupid. I think patriotism is a lot like religion, y’know? Some awfully smart people are religious, and so I don’t go around claiming that religion is for the stupid. But I fundamentally don’t get it. Whatever thing some people have which makes them worship and love a benevolent sky-god they haven’t even seen, I lack it.
Similarly, whatever it is that makes people love their country, or proud to be American – I don’t have it.
It’s a mystery to me. How can anyone love a country? It’s a thing, an organization of people. You might as well profess love for the National Association of Vending Machine Distributors.
Of course, I can see loving the things a country represents. You know, liberty, freedom, that sort of thing. But the US doesn’t have a monopoly on these things. As far as I can tell, the citizens of other industrialized democracies are pretty much as free as we are. Sure, we could nit-pik over the details, but on the whole the residents of Canada and Demark aren’t exactly bent under the yoke of tyranny.
On September 11th, when I first heard about the attacks, I didn’t believe it. (Collapsed? How could the World Trade Center have collapsed? I used to spend my lunch breaks on top of the WTC. My parents have an office in the WTC. How could it have collapsed?) After that, I just wanted to make sure my parents and other folks I knew were safe (they were, knock wood).
Once the reality sank in, I was sad for the people that died. But I wasn’t sad for America. And I was no sadder for the folks who died in the WTC than I have felt for other innocent people murdered around the world. A dead American is sad, but no sadder than a dead African, a dead Arab, a dead Israeli.
Then the flags popped up, like daisies suddenly everywhere. (At my workplace, a pretty building that is rented out for weddings and concerts, a large flag was placed to the side of the stage. It is discreetly tucked out of sight for weddings in which the brides’ color scheme contrasts with the red, white, blue). Patriotism became representative of a certain ideology, and that ideology is right-wing. Some left-wingers argued, eloquently, that patriotism is found on both sides of the political center.
Whatever. It may be found on the left and the right, but it’s not found in me. America is a country. It’s where I was born. I love American food, but if I had been born in Greece I’d love Greek food instead. I think some Americans have done some things awfully well: I love certain American musicals and American comic strips. American feminism is great, and so is the American anti-racist movement.
On the other hand, I often hate American foreign policy, our voting system is awful, and our Democracy is dominated by money above all. And all these problems are to a great extent locked in place by our Constitution. There’s a lot that’s wonderful in our history (read Howard Zinn), but also a lot that’s shameful, and you know what? I can’t take pride or shame in any of it, because I wasn’t around then, and I’m not the author of the good or the bad things those folks did.
What’s good about the USA is that it gives a lot of people (although not all) who live here a chance to work and live and eat and laugh and hang with friends and get political and fuck and cook and write and draw and dance and watch TV and play music and marry and argue and raise children and vote and go to movies and swim and pray and joke and get together for a holiday once in a while, in which we throw some food on the grill and step outside to watch the pretty fireworks.
That’s what life is about. That’s what matters. What some people who died long before I was born named the patch of dirt I live on while I do those things doesn’t matter much.
I admit, I’m lucky/privileged/spoiled to have been born in a country (and into a class) in which I’m able to do all that (and better yet, take all that for granted). But the US is hardly unique. I’m pretty sure that even in an evil, enemy country like France, folks dance and laugh and hang out with their friends, too.
I don’t love my country. If Evil France somehow took us over in a bloodless coup tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind, so long as our same basic individual rights continued. (In fact, I’d be better off after the coup, since I’d presumably have access to medical care I need).
Don’t get me wrong – I’d naturally be concerned about and object to France’s imperialism, since imperialism is in my view a bad thing. But that there was no longer a country called “United States” wouldn’t bother me at all. Freedom has value. Laughing and hanging out with friends has value. What we call the patch of dirt we laugh on is irrelevant.
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