Sunday, July 03, 2011


I'm not good at patriotism -- at least I don't think I am.

Partly it's the word; somehow I just don't warm to the -ism of the fathers. I mean, I liked my father, but I sure didn't idolize him. He was just a guy, doing his best. I don't turn instinctively to fathers for enlightenment.

Partly it's the equation of "patriotism" with "nationalism." I really love the land in the country I was born in. But I'm more a "Song of Peace" (set to Sibelius' Finlandia in the United Methodist hymn) sort of person:

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Here, I'll say it: I just can't get my mind around the notion that we're so exceptional.

Oh yes, maybe we were once. Reading 19th and early 20th century European history, as I'm doing a lot these days, I'm reminded we sloughed off the divine right of kings as a governing philosophy well in advance of a lot of people. At the turn of the last century, only one hundred years ago, in much of the developed world, kings still mattered. What a thought! I've written recently about how Eric Foner's book on Lincoln and slavery helped me understand what a radical innovation the idea of constitutional, democratic government under law once seemed. This country was founded in blood and theft, but it was once also new, exciting, innovative, maybe even exceptional.

Thanks to Ian Reifowitz at History Network News, I recently became aware that President Obama has a written children's book exploring patriotism: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. Reifowitz compares this volume to America: A Patriotic Primer published in 2002 by Lynne Cheney. (Yes -- that's the Dick's wife. She's also a conservative activist in her own right and a former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Reifowitz drew this conclusion:

Ultimately, Cheney wants to strengthen the bond between Americans and their country as an institution. Obama wants to do this as well, but he also seeks to strengthen the ties that bind Americans to one another. One emphasizes national greatness, the other national unity. This distinction reflects the essential difference between the conservative and liberal understanding of Americanness.

No surprise: I'm a liberal. What I like about this country is how many different people have, fractiously and imperfectly, struggled to make it better. Over time, we've advanced toward a more equal and more caring society that better balances individual fulfillment and collective well-being. The history of this country is mostly an "it gets better" story, at least so far.

Outside of that history of democratic struggle, I don't see much but an inflated military, mutilated mined hills, poisoned water, and too many strip malls and Walmarts. But heroic people have made that long struggle. I have to remember that.

The painting in the photo, "The Price of War," is hanging in a window on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Read artist Ruben Morancy's explanation here.

1 comment:

tina said...

Thank you for the picture of the painting. US soldiers are the only US victims of war (so are their loved ones). US citizens are fortunate to know of the aftermath of war only what their soldiers know of it, and it is definitely the reason why US administrations keep on launching wars. Phoenician/Canaanean kings used to sacrifice one of their sons before launching a war. Just imagine if it was a prerequisite for US Presidents to sacrifice/kill one of their children before attacking another country.

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