You Say Patriotism Like It’s A Bad Thing

11 03 2008

I don’t understand all the fuss and furore over this. Look at America, look at a country where, no matter whether people agree with the current government, they’re still proud of their country and loyal to its values. Perhaps a pledge of allegiance to the Queen is flawed, and a pledge to the flag itself, or to the nation, would be better. Yet take a look at the American pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.

The key phrase in that, to me, is “to the Republic for which it stands”. When I had to pledge allegiance to the United States as part of my admission ceremony to the New York bar I didn’t feel this conflicted with my values at all, despite not being American.

For me all such pledges are really pledges to the values represented by a symbol, be it the flag, the constitution or the Queen. Whether you agree with a monarchy or not (and I do not, I’m in favour of a republic) the Queen is currently the symbol of Britain.

Those complaining about this are quite happy using currency or stamps with the Queen’s head on them. This, to me, is an acceptance of the fact that, whether they like it or not, she is our figurehead, the physical embodiment of “Britain”. When pledging allegiance to her, then, we would, in truth, be pledging allegiance to our nation.

Having experienced the pride Americans have in their country, and let me tell you that’s quite a shock to us reserved Brits, I wish we had more of that here. We treat our servicemen and women with such disdain, yet those across the Atlantic, despite strong opposition to the war, seem to me to support their brave fighting men and women.

Although this is purely speculation, I do think that that has a lot to do with how they feel about their country, and the patriotism and pride they have. The troops represent their country, for better or worse, and to disrespect them would be akin to disrespecting the nation for which they fight. We could learn a lesson from that on this side of the pond.

Giving it some serious thought I wonder if the reason us Brits find all that flag-waving and chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” so annoying is because we don’t share the same level of pride on our country. Certainly I know many Brits don’t feel as proud of our great nation as we should. Many Americans love it more than we do! That’s a terrible shame.

Whether we restore this through pledges of allegiance or just simply playing the national anthem more often, we must restore some sense of national pride. Is it a coincidence that many people feel a great swell in their national pride during sporting events, events where the national anthem is played? Why not apply this to more mundane things like the cinema, school assemblies, or other events (concerts, club football etc)?

Play the national anthem before the movie, or as kids file into the hall for an assembly, or before kick-off at the big match. If memory serves, American sports always have some sort of anthem, be it the national anthem or America The Beautiful. If we don’t like “God Save The Queen” why not “Jerusalem”, “Rule, Britannia!” or “Land of Hope And Glory” instead? We have so many classic patriotic songs and yet no patriotism.

Many (if not all) of my readers are North American, most being American, so I’d really like to hear how you guys feel about patriotism, national anthems, pledges of allegiance and so forth. The Canadians, I believe, have a very different approach, yet are a fiercely patriotic bunch so if there are any Canucks reading this, I’d love to hear from you guys too, does American patriotism grate you guys too and how do you instill national pride?



6 responses

11 03 2008
reasonable robinson

The ideas of ken Wilber can be helpful here. Ususally patriotism is conflated with jingoism, hierarchy and authority which in turn leads to people having to take a ‘position’ on the matter – either/or. The fact is there are lots of positive things in patriotism. Narrow patriotism is clearly a bad thing and can lead to bad actions (genocide et al) Broad patriotism on the other hand can include expression of respect, care for a community and values. It can also imply a concern for service and duty, attitudes which have got lost in the post-modernist wash of ‘I can do what I like when I want and sod the consequences’

Having to overtly ‘state’ your patriotic values might not be the necessary thing. It was used in the states to ‘glue’ people to an ideal that transcended their native roots. The fact that we have dabbled with ill-concieved mulri-culturalism is probably the reason for this knee-jerk reaction. True Brits know who they are…perhaps its just the new comers and those that respect other trans national entities more than the place they live that should declare their allegiances

12 03 2008
Mr President

The strange thing is that I would be considered, by some to be a “newcomer”. Although born here, my parents were not, and came over in the 70s. Granted, my parents now both have British passports now, and I’ve always considered myself a “true Brit”, but some might not.

For me it’s not so much the newcomer status as those that still have ties to, as you put it, “trans-national entities” that transcend their ties to Britain. Too many of the current immigrant influx don’t consider themselves British, aren’t willing to take steps to adapt their culture.

My parents always raised me to consider myself British, in fact the first language in my household was always English. I never even learnt what some might call “my own” language. For me “my own” language is English, because that is what I am, English. And bloody proud of it.

When I fill out those forms where they ask ethnicity I tend to instinctively move towards “British” before realising that I have to tick “Indian” (trust me, I feel about as Indian as Yorkshire Pudding). Ask me what I am and I’ll tell anyone I’m English. I don’t mention ethnicity.

Although my parents do speak other languages, at home, their English is fluent, and it’s what they use in public. At no time has anyone in my family expected Britain to adapt to us, it is our duty, as the immigrant family, to adapt to the country we’re in. My parents raised us as young Brits, because that’s what we are. Too many, sadly, don’t do the same.

Ironically enough, though, the US has a form of “multi-culturalism”, there are Hispanic communities living alongside orientals (I’m told by Americans that that’s offensive, and they call them “asians” but I don’t see how it’s offensive). Blacks and Indians (of both kinds, native and from the subcontinent) live side by side. Yet ask them and they always say they’re “American”. There’s a real sense of unity, of community.

The key to their success at it, I think, lies in what you say, that those who come to live there pledge their allegiances to their new home, and they also make them revoke any other allegiances. They’re free to have their religion and culture but they’re American. Why can’t we do that?

Personally I see no harm in all Brits doing it, and I believe what’s being propoposed is that kids will say it during Citizenship Ceremonies (at schools), along with new immigrants. The idea, I think, is that today’s youth feels less “British”, which I think is true. Whilst adults like you and I might feel like “True Brits” I think that concept is alien to the kids today. Hence rising youth crime and the ASBO culture.

Equally I like the idea of a national holiday. We don’t take St George’s Day at all seriously in England, and it’s pathetic that we actually tend to look at St Paddy’s and St David’s Day etc more than we do our own bloody patron saint. The yanks have Independence Day, we should have a day, where we celebrate being British. Damnit we ruled the world’s greatest empire for a time! What’s not to celebrate and be proud of?

Our problem, I think, is that the kids today don’t have that “broad patriotism” you define, that concept of community, and values, and doing something for the people around us. Recognising that what we do has consequences, that we owe a duty to others. The way we treat servicemen and women, in particular, is a disgrace, and something that needs addressing, as well as how we treat the elderly. It’s awful.

Obviously everyone wants to avoid “narrow patriotism” but I don’t think that’s what’s being proposed. It’s just having pride in what we have, as a nation, a country we can and should be proud of. We have a pedigree and heritage that the Americans can only dream of, and in fact I know many Americans who wish their country had the history ours does.

I suddenly feel like singing “Rule, Britannia!”

12 03 2008

Pres, I read your post yesterday but, I needed to let it sink in.
I think that the problem with the proposed pledge is the Queen.
“Perhaps a pledge of allegiance to the Queen is flawed,”
In order for the Queen to be a “symbol” for the nation, you would have to successfully dehumanize her. I don’t “get” the Royal Family, doesn’t make sense to me that you have people as symbols-I don’t get that or mooshy peas.
We put athletes and pop stars on postage stamps, that is more of a situation where we are honoring someone, yes? If we were told to pledge allegiance to even the most popular of President’s, there would be riots in the streets, atonal music, dogs howling etc. But, the Pledge of Allegiance, “Star Spangled Banner”-those are things that bring us together. We may disagree on political issues but we are in this together. Many’s the time I have got a little lump in my throat when singing the Anthem with thousands at a ball game. I always enjoyed saying the Pledge at school, same type of thing. I’m sure you are aware that, in the pledge, the words “under God” have come under attack, effectively taking the Pledge out of our schools.
Patriotism is a constant, I would say. But, the outward expression(s) of Patriotism ebb and flow. Right now, I would say that it is at a low ebb. Directly after 9/11 there was a lot of “flag waving” going on and some of it was in poor taste. A kind of reactionary type of thing that has died down now.
One thing that I hear a lot is; “You know, the rest of the world hates us”. This is a notion that has been pounded into the national psyche post 9/11 and it seems to have taken root. But, like I say, I think that true Patriotism is fairly constant and remains regardless of the climate. It’s there even when we aren’t shouting about it from the roof tops. It’s there even if we don’t recite the Pledge at school in the morning and it would be there even if we didn’t take the time to sing the Anthem before a ball game. But, these thing are good-nice little reminders that there is at least one common cause that is bigger than all of our collective differences.

13 03 2008
Mr President

I thought this topic would be of particular interest to you and was looking forward to your comment. I was thinking to myself as I booted up my computer how unusual it was that you hadn’t commented.

Certainly I agree with you, much of the problems relate to the Queen, and the fact the pledge is to her. Personally I’m not a huge fan of the Royal Family, they’re a tradition but one that I’m not sure has huge value anymore. Yet, if she does have a role it is purely as a symbol.

This is where I think the Queen can be distinguished from Presidents, and where I think a pledge to her differs to a pledge to them. American Presidents effectively combine the roles of Queen (symbolic figurehead) and Prime Minister (Political Leader) but definitely veer towards the latter more. They are hugely political figures, members of political parties, with political agendas, and are elected officials.

Naturally making any President, even JFK or FDR, the symbol for a pledge of allegiance would likely be a source of great disagreement, but I think that would have more to do with partisanship. Republicans, for example, would resent either of those two being chosen as they were Democrats. Reagan, the most likely Republican choice, would probably be shot down by Democrats proposing the above two instead.

Our Monarch, however, is completely a-political, she is as much a symbol as the flag, and with about as much political clout. Her powers are very much ceremonial and are, in truth, exercised by the Prime Minister under Royal Prerogative. If we can’t use her as a symbol for “Britain” then there’s really no point having her. It’s what she does.

As for postage stamps, I ought to point something out. EVERY British postal stamp has the Queen’s head on it. Even the commemorative ones that have other famous people (athletes etc, although I don’t recall too many pop star ones) have a little emblem of her head in the corner. The same profile view of the Queen’s head is on all coins of the realm, and a front-on picture is on every single note of legal tender.

You see, the Queen as a symbol is far more pervasive in this nation than the President is in the US. Although your notes have former Presidents, they’re all different ones, which makes it more of an “honouring” thing. Equally it’s never an incumbent one, which only further enhances that point. When the Queen dies all our current notes and coins would be replaced by new coins and notes bearing the new monarch’s face, because they are now the symbolic figurehead.

Even our national anthem, God Save The Queen, features her name (well, not her ACTUAL name, but you know what I mean). We use her as the collective symbol of Britishness every day, far more than we use the flag (your national anthem features your flag). I believe US politicians have to pledge allegiance to the constitution? Well UK Politicians have to pledge allegiance, every year, to the Queen. If it’s good enough for them, the people supposedly representing us, then why not us?

Having said all that, I pretty much admitted at the beginning that I’d be fine with a pledge to the flag, not the Queen, or just one of general allegiance, but much of the furore seems to be about having any sort of pledge at all. I support having one for the reasons you say, it brings you together. Understandably many do not want to be unified under the banner of the Queen, and fair enough, but why not the flag?

I think the real problem has nothing to do with the presence of the Queen but the huge death of patriotism in this country. Like you say, the outward expression of patriotisim in the US is very much at a low ebb, but the patriotism is still there. I’m just not sure the same can be said of Britain right now. After the July 7th attacks in this country there was a short-lived burst where I thought we might be rediscovering what it was to be British but it didn’t last more than a few days.

Even then, although we did unite, it wasn’t as “British people” but rather simply as “a country”. I know that may seem like an unimportant distinction to but to me it’s the crux of the argument; we may feel like a country, but we don’t feel “British”. Our entire sense of national identity is missing, so any pride we do have in our country lacks a common vision or meaning. The common goal is crucial.

We likewise seem to be going through a “You know, the rest of the world hates us” phase at the moment. Our media, like yours, seems to be using the Iraq war not only to attack the government, but to make people feel ashamed to be British (or in your case, American).

Your last paragraph just makes me sad, really. I fear that we don’t have that patriotism that you do, that constant thing that’s there, even if you’re not constantly flag-waving and singing about it. We don’t have that idea of a common cause that’s bigger than us, and it’s why I really like the idea of having a national holiday (like you guys have July 4th) to celebrate Britishness, and of a pledge, so we feel, just occasionally, like part of something bigger. We really need to find that somehow.

28 03 2008
Textual’s Take On Terminal Five « Textual Relations

[…] Let’s forget that arguably the greatest engineer to ever live was British. Or that the Viaduc de Millau Bridge, the world’s tallest suspension bridge, was designed by a British architect. Yet no, clearly we suck at these things. Worse yet, most of these criticisms about British engineering feats or design come from British people! […]

18 05 2008
Sean Wilson

Interesting post. I’m glad I happened across it. I have a different outlook on the subject of patriotism (especially here in the USA) than many, but generally speaking, I don’t think a pledge of allegiance is at all a bad thing.

A lot of Americans don’t really have a clue about royalty and monarchies and see it in some respects as an inherently bad thing. The simple truth is that almost any form of government can work, and democracy has its own share of bad points–such as a tyranny of the masses and a built-in tolerance for and propagation of injustices. Too many people don’t seem to understand history and politics and equate certain ideas, ideals and principals as belonging exclusively to one particular form of government.

It is actually hard to think of a form of government that is inherently bad because of its nature, despite popular knee-jerk reaction to the contrary. It is how it is implemented and by whom that determines whether it is good or bad. Honestly, a dictatorship could be better than anything we have in America at the moment–if the dictator was, say, a Libertarian or someone with a kind heart? A dictator who dictated freedom and liberty and equality for all…what would be worse than a democracy where people actually have no representation and money buys politicians who are corrupt and you have an electoral college that doesn’t have to vote how the people they were chosen to represent say they should?

An efficient government does not necessarily equate to a good government. Here in America, injustice is growing as fast as our deficit and illegal immigrant populations. America already has a larger incarcerated population (kept in for-profit prisons) than many of the world’s countries.

Now, I am a veteran who served my country. As did my father, and my grandfather…and on back to the founding of this country. My great uncle six places removed was one of the officers that signed a pledge reaffirming loyalty to America with General Washington at Valley Forge that harsh winter that preceded the turning point in the Revolutionary war. I’m 1/4 native American (Otoe and Chickasaw)–I can honestly say my family on my European and Native American sides both have been here since this nation’s founding and even before. And men in my family of every generation have fought for this country when called upon to.

And while I am proud of my country, I see a great many things wrong with it and feel as if it has lost its way.

Our politicians are giving away a nation we fought for, judges destroy families, politicians are corrupt and refuse to increase minimum wages to keep up with inflation and costs of living increases and rising fuel prices while voting themselves raises. We’ve been at war for almost seven years and our government refuses to secure our own borders…all so unethical business owners can continue to fatten their pockets by hiring illegal immigrants whom get taken advantage of. Our political and military leaders refuse to win wars and mismanage governance of countries in order to prolong conflict so those in the military-industrial complex can get wealthy–having shown the greatest ignorance of common sense, history, and strategic thinking.

Anyone with an education pretty much realizes that America is about one thing: money. You are expected to be a hard worker, contribute to the tax base and its growth, play your role in society and suffer injustices as the price that must be paid for efficiency and convenience. People live next door to people they don’t know, and only see them briefly as their garage doors open and close early in the morning and in the afternoon when returning from work. If you saw a person walking naked down the street, the first reaction of 99.99 percent of Americans would be to call the police to arrest the crazy person–and not concerns of compassion.

In fact, you would be arrested. For simply having nothing but that which you were born into this world with. Simply being human in America is a crime…which is ridiculous in a nation that wants to believe it is enlightened and stands for human rights and freedom and liberties. If you own land and don’t contribute to the economy, you are made a criminal, your land is confiscated and you are left impoverished, homeless and made a criminal yet again for vagrancy…which will land you in jail, the cost of which you must pay or continue being a criminal. There are 35 million Americans living in poverty, and yet our government continues in directions that are more oppressive, eroding our civil liberties at every chance, in the name of globalism and as practiced–a generally and widespread morally decrepit pursuit of capitalism.

What a lot of people outside the USA (and even within it, amazingly) don’t realize, is that there are scores of secessionist movements that have sprung up in the past two decades. There are secessionist movements on the ballots in many states. There are those starting to grow impatient with our government…you can find political discourse about the idea of booting the Union occupation out of the Confederacy again. You find small New England states talking about secession. Not long ago, the Lakota declared their intention to secede (since treaties are the highest law of the land) and take a 5 state region with them.

Sure, much of all of that gets ignored by both the mainstream media and citizens alike. However, the simple fact is that its all going to come to a head eventually. The governor of one state out in the Southwest (Utah) stated that if there’s another civil war in America, it will be fought over water–and that’s not fanciful at all. My home state of Oklahoma has called out the National Guard and sent troops to the border with Texas twice in its history over a border dispute involving the water of the Red River. Ranchers in Utah and Nevada are upset at the prospect of losing their livelihoods as water is taken from aquifers to provide water for the decadence of Las Vegas which really contributes nothing but consumes much.

What does all of that have to do with patriotism? Well, I have a feeling that within a few years, you’re going to see here in America that hairs are going to be split and people will be shocked to learn that it isn’t what they thought it meant. There are a lot of Americans who are in complete disagreement with our government over many issues, and many consider themselves patriots–after all, they fought for their country. Who is a patriot when a people are split and war comes along? Our ancestors wrestled with that question more than once. What is the answer?

Only the winners.

If George Washington and the founders of our nation had lost, they would have been hung as traitors. That’s all that separates a patriot sometimes from a criminal–a matter of which side you choose.

In the end, while I support the concept of introducing a pledge of allegiance in the UK and think it would only do good…ultimately, it won’t make much difference.

I consider myself a patriot. So do most of my friends. I would say the overwhelming majority of my friends are fellow veterans–both men and women. We all feel proud of our service. The majority are like me, and come from what I guess is really America’s ‘warrior class,’ those for whom service is a family tradition. We all feel patriotic, but the mistake that most make is that they think our patriotism is to a flag or to the government even. It is not. It is to an ideal, and to the principles upon which this nation was founded–and which it is now straying from.

Don’t let the flag-waving and apple pie fool you. America is certainly full of patriots, but there are a great many whom–like their ancestors–are more than willing to demonstrate that blind obedience is not what it means.

Sorry for the long ramble. It’s late and I’ve had too much coffee.

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