The Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Is this really Sarah Palin?

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.     Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) 

I am not sure whether I am ready to write this post because I am still mulling it over, but tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and the topic is current now. So I throw it out for your consideration, and perhaps you can help clarify the issues.

First the back story. We have just seen the international coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, and the hysterical flag waving, anthem singing, and royal visits that went along with it. Regardless of ideas about the monarchy, such public display of mass enthusiasm makes me uneasy.  The same is true of images of crowds in square at the Vatican, or images of pilgrims in Mecca.

Then there was the EURO soccer tournament. There was considerable discussion in the press here in Hamilton Ontario because of the prominent display of Spanish and Italian flags on Canada Day. The coincidental timing of the final game and our national holiday seems to have brought out real antipathy to the idea of ethnic communities identifying themselves with the countries they left behind… even generations ago… rather than the country where they now live and prosper. To put it in a nutshell… and there were more than a few nuts involved… the message was this. If you are so keen to wave a Spanish or Italian flag on Canada Day, or any other day, go back to Italy or Spain, back to your bankrupt, poorly managed countries that are on the brink of bankruptcy and therefore endangering the economic recovery and prosperity of not only Europe but the whole world! The counter argument was, of course, that those driving by honking in their flag decorated vehicles were merely showing allegiance to a sports team. No one was buying it.

Last Friday I visited a local retirement community as they prepared for their annual “Canada Day barbecue”. The staff all wore red and white. There were flags stuck in flower beds and taped to walkers, pinned to the canvas tent awnings, everywhere you looked in the lobby! Meanwhile the bemused seniors, deprived of the sense and order of their usual lunch routine, milled around aimlessly looking angry and confused. A singer/guitarist was singing really bad American pop songs in the background. Is this any way to celebrate our national heritage either?

But this superfluous and ostentatious display is nothing in comparison to what occurs on Independence Day in the USA. As a tourist in the US, whatever the season, one cannot help but notice the flags everywhere.

Every commercial establishment, in every window or on every porch as you drive through residential communities, on bikinis or  t shirts stretched over sagging bellies, on silly hats, on billboards proclaiming markdowns and closeouts. There are even a few flagpoles on federal, state, and municipal buildings! How can a symbol mean anything at all if it is used for anything and everything? Suppose someone living in the US preferred not to display the flag, not to wave it at every opportunity. Would that devalue them as citizens in the eyes of the community? How much peer pressure is invoked? How free are the free to participate or not, according their temperament, inclination, or aesthetic preferences?

The Summer Olympics will be held in London in August. Yes, more flags! With the medals tallied by country, and much gloating and grumbling. Tears at the opening and closing ceremonies and medal presentations. Imagine the Olympics as an elite athletic competition devoid of flags and nationalistic jingo. Would it be any less interesting, any less exciting to watch?

I have been reading about NATIONALISM and PATRIOTISM, two very different concepts, often confused in everyday speech. This is the one of the best articles I found on the topic.

So, what do you think? Do the events I describe reflect nationalism, or patriotism, or neither, or both?

Do the flag wavers even think about the meaning of what they are doing? And what is the value or meaning of a flag it they don’t?

What, if anything, does this say about us as individuals, as communities, as a modern society?

It really does “take the cake.”

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