Patriotism, Mom, and the
May 15, 2003
War always seems to bring out a certain kind of
patriotism wed be better off without: the love it or leave
it variety. A lot of people assume that patriotism means
supporting any war your government chooses to get into or, in this
case, any war your president even wants to get into. Some people took it
even further, hoping for an even bigger war than President Bush had in
One reader wrote to me that if he
had his way, wed have nuked Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran,
and, for good measure, Paris. He also called the Iraq war the
best thing that has happened for world peace since Hiroshima!
This is, fortunately, an extreme
example. But it does illustrate a common deformity of patriotism
the way love for your own country can turn into hatred of other
Naturally, opponents of the war
found their patriotism questioned. Wanting peace was called
anti-American. It seems to me that equating loving America with
desiring war might be rather unpatriotic, but I wont insist on the
My own view is that people are
naturally patriotic. Its normal to love your homeland. You almost
cant help it, in the same way you almost cant help loving
I was recently rereading one of
my favorite books, The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis
discusses patriotism in his chapter on affection, the love of the familiar
just for being familiar. Affection is the humblest form of love: you feel it
for your dog, your old neighbor, your home, just because they are yours,
not because they are particularly excellent. You are apt to feel affection
without realizing it; it sneaks up on you over time and grows gradually.
You may become aware of it only with loss or separation.
You can love your country
without approving of its government. This is the hardest part for some
people to understand. Bill Clinton once told us, You cant love
your country and hate your government. You most certainly can.
Many perfectly patriotic Americans found Clinton himself loathsome,
disgusting, and shameful. It was because they loved their country that
they hated having him symbolize it to the world. Some people feel the
same way about President Bush.
Patriotism shouldnt be
confused with national pride. Loving your country is like loving your
mother. You neednt feel she is the greatest mother in the world in
order to love her; the fact that she is your mother is sufficient. And
insulting other peoples mothers wont earn you much of a
reputation for loving your own.
And you keep loving your father
even when you come to realize that maybe he cant beat up all the
other fathers in the neighborhood; or that even if he could, you might not
love him any better for that.
America is as preeminent in the
world today as Rome was in her day. This may be a matter of pride for
Americans, but it is no reason for patriotism. We would love our country
even if she were weak and insignificant on the world stage. We love her
for many things, but is her power really one of them? I hope not.
Thats why the recent
jeering at France for losing so many wars was so unbecoming. French
defeats might be a topic of comedy and good-natured raillery, but they are
hardly grounds for contempt, except in the minds of bullies. And too many
Americans have shown such minds lately. They were really admitting that
they wouldnt love their own country if shed had the
misfortune to lose wars.
Our slogan should be not
My country, right or wrong, but My country, win or
lose. Thats real loyalty. It was shown by the New Yorkers
who rooted for the Dodgers, their beloved Bums, through the
long years when the Yankees were always winning the World Series and
the Dodgers were taunted for losing. Remember Brooklyn? Is
Brooklyn still in the league?
When the Dodgers finally won
their first Series in 1955, their fans felt a joy inconceivable to those who
had always rooted for the Yanks. And even today, aging baseball lovers
admire the old Dodger fans.
Theres a lesson there for
all of us.