Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Patriotism

When I was in third grade, I was riding in the back seat of my mom’s car. We stopped at a red light and I looked up. I beheld an American flag: not billowing in the breeze as much as I thought appropriate, yet still demanding respect. I placed my right hand solemnly over my heart and said the pledge of allegiance as many times as I could while my mom waited for the light to turn green. I mumbled under my breath quickly and went through five or six repetitions. It wasn’t a display of exuberance; I was merely doing what duty required.

Every force must be met with an equal and opposite force. Well, I suppose this isn’t completely true when it comes to matters of childhood indoctrination, because I don’t hate the United States. I’m glad I live here. I do think I could be equally happy in the UK, but not as happy in Somalia. Of course I’d be happiest in Hawaii, which is basically part of the US of A. Anyway, the point is that I don’t hate the US, but I don’t love it either. It’s just a country, with lots of good qualities and lots of bad qualities. The US is not my husband. It’s not my daughter. It’s not even the dog I had before the animal-loving part of my heart turned into stone. It’s a country: too vast and complicated and multi-faceted for words like love.

To me, if I said I loved my country, I would be simplifying things too much. Do I love that people here can start businesses relatively easily? Yes. Do I love our public education system? No. Do I love my freedom to vote and walk around wearing basically whatever I want? Yes (and I choose sleeves and knee-length skirts). Do I love subsidies for corn, soybeans, and oil? No. Do I love Costco? Yes. Do I also love Carrefour? You betcha.

Maybe something in the patriotism part of my brain is broken. But when I sit by the Air Force Memorial watching fireworks erupt next to the Washington Monument, looking around at the massive crowd decked out in red, white, and blue, I start thinking that France and Singapore and even Argentina probably have a similar ratio of good to bad things. (Okay, I’ve eaten Argentinean food before and I take that one back. Replace it with New Zeland.) There is nothing wrong with celebrating America’s good qualities, but does America have to be THE BEST? If China beats us in various economic measures and gymnastics, aren’t we secure enough in our own good fortune (and our belief that karma will someday be problematic for those cheaters) to not worry about it? And is it necessary to use the same terms to describe this country that I reserve for family and pets that were tragically sent to the pound twenty years ago? Is it okay to just like America?

I understand why some people love America. If I came here from the USSR pre-glasnost my love for America would probably come in at a close second to my love for my family. And while I may not understand why people who know so little about other countries love America so much, it doesn’t bother me that they do.  (I will say, though, that hyper patriotism does seem a little insensitive after living in a place like Romania where most would gladly leave their lives there just to have a shot at a good one here. And I believe that unless you don’t have access to the internet you should never admit you’re not sure where Iraq and Iran are on a map – but that’s not patriotism anyway, right?)

Anyway, what got me thinking about this subject was Japan’s win in soccer. A large portion of their country was just devastated by an earthquake, and tsunami, and a nuclear disaster of unprecedented proportions. It was a devastating blow to their country. Looking at pictures of celebrations in Japan after their win over the US, I can’t help but be happy about their win. Go Japan.