Saturday, July 06, 2013

Patriotism and jingoism. Post-Fourth rumination

Even as a kid, I hated crowds at religious and political events, primarily because I couldn't deal with a mob that all believed in the same.  Their collective single-minded dedication was always a tad frightening and alarming.  It was like knowing that the firecracker has been lit and that there could be an explosion at any second.  People, it seemed like, could be manipulated in those circumstances to say and do bizarre things.  Tamil readers of this blog might remember writer/satiristi/filmmaker Cho's Mohamed Bin Thuglak and his commentary on how people can be easily manipulated to engage in anti-social activities.

It is the same dynamic that also makes me want to keep a safe distance from jingoistic fellow-citizens.  Flag-waving is not for me.  People chanting "USA!USA!" in a frenzy makes me as uncomfortable as I would be if I were in the middle of a charismatic religious revival event.  I imagine it would be the same case at a rave too, which the straitjacketed me has never been to.

After the second plane crashed into the tower that fateful September morning, I was so distraught over the event that I didn't leave home for two days and spent most of the time in front of the television screen trying to make sense of it all.  It was ghastly. I was way too depressed.  I went to a neighborhood gathering to share my grief and emotions.  But, within a couple of minutes, I got freaked out by the jingoism.  Why can't people love their country or politics without getting all jingoistic?

The Fourth of July has come and gone.  People who know me know how much I love these United States.  Sometimes, people in India even fault me for having abandoned India and a lot of things Indian, and for having made myself so much at home in the US. Yet, I don't wear the flag on my shirt sleeve, neither literally not metaphorically.  It feels creepy.  It is creepy to watch politicians with the US flag on their shirts and suits, as if anyone who does not is an inferior American and without any love for the country.

Why all this rant, you ask?

Because, I read the following poem (ht). And that too only a few minutes after breakfast and coffee!
Fourth of July
by Howard Nemerov
Because I am drunk, this Independence Night,
I watch the fireworks from far away,
from a high hill, across the moony green
Of lakes and other hills to the town harbor,
Where stately illuminations are flung aloft,
One light shattering in a hundred lights
Minute by minute. The reason I am crying,
Aside from only being country drunk,
That is, may be that I have just remembered
The sparklers, rockets, roman candles and
so on, we used to be allowed to buy
When I was a boy, and set off by ourselves
At some peril to life and property.
Our freedom to abuse our freedom thus
Has since, I understand, been remedied
By legislation. Now the authorities
Arrange a perfectly safe public display
To be watched at a distance; and now also
The contribution of all the taxpayers
Together makes a more spectacular
Result than any could achieve alone
(A few pale pinwheels, or a firecracker
Fused at the dog's tail). It is, indeed, splendid:
Showers of roses in the sky, fountains
Of emeralds, and those profusely scattered zircons
Falling and falling, flowering as they fall
And followed distantly by a noise of thunder.
My eyes are half-afloat in happy tears.
God bless our Nation on a night like this,
And bless the careful and secure officials
Who celebrate our independence now.
It is not that I am a cranky old man. I have always been this way.  I was born this way--well, without the grey hair!

3 comments:

Ramesh said...

Here's a prescription for curing your malady. Come with me and I'll take you on the tour

- Go to the Kop at Anfield and sing You'll never walk alone along with 30,000 others
- Join the promenaders on the Last Night of the Proms and sing along to Rule Britannia
- Do a pilgrimage to Mecca
- Ditto Vaishno Devi
- Bit late for the Kumbh mela; else would have recommended that
- Join 50,000 to listen to Didi yelling at the top of her voice at the Maidan (you'll be paid Rs 5 plus cup of tea for participation)

You'll be permanently cured and will pin a flag on your lapel (correction ; tie it to the end of the T shirt) forever :)

Zach Jones said...

I agree with the author of a recent Slate article that noted the changing meaning of the song "God Bless America" and its usage by the Right as a propaganda tool. Article found here: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/culturebox/2013/07/_god_bless_america_and_republicans_how_the_song_became_an_anthem_of_conservatives.html

This sort of jingoism has been at the core of American patriotism since the days of Washington. Think of the Tories and Loyalists that wanted to steer clear of the American revolution all together. From war dissenters to draft dodgers, there has always been something anti-American about abstaining or seeking pacifism as an alternative to war.

In Coos Bay (yes, you knew I would bring it up!) at the turn of the twentieth century, they would make radical Industrial Workers of the World supporters kiss the American flag as a remedy for their sins against the country. It strikes me as disturbing that a display of affection such as the kiss would be the method used by jingoists: as if making love to the flag was the most patriotic method of establishing oneself as a true citizen.

Maybe it is best that we hunker down and avoid being forced to kiss the flag! I think a third Red Scare might be right on our door step.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh,are you trying to kill me with those suggestions?
And, btw, five rupees and tea to listen to Didi seems awfully, awfully low. Make it 500, and I might be tempted ;)

Zach, glad to see you here. Yes, read that piece at Slate.
As a bearded, peace-preferring, alien-looking, college-teaching, American who is not jingoistic, I suppose I am a prime candidate for being very un-American. Paging Senator McCarthy!!! ;) I better start draping myself in a flag right away. Reminds me of that wonderful poem by e.e. cummings:
http://sriramkhe.blogspot.com/2008/09/next-to-of-course-god-america-i.html

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