flags, nations, people, football (4th of July)

July 4th, 2006 by amy

In Put away the flags Howard Zinn writes:

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

I have thought, when I see “God Bless America” bumper-stickers, that America is fortunate in so many ways, that we have so much, in fact, that we should ask (if one believes in such things) for God’s blessings for other less fortunate countries as well (especially those countries for which we might be in some way involved in their misfortune). I’ve also thought: “there’s a sneezing joke in there somewhere” too, so take whatever I might say on this topic with a grain of salt.

A friend and I once had an interesting conversation about our respective national anthems. He was a bit surprised when I noted that the idea of attachment to the flag (and now that I consider it, something to do with violence or war) is probably largely unconscious but encouraged in the US since the American national anthem is about a flag during and after battle (with maybe the most stirring musical part occurring with lyrics about: ‘the rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air’).

I have a tendency to castigate myself personally on behalf of my country (reinforced at one point by lots of: “I hate the US and think Americans are scary, bible-thumping, jingoistic morons. Uhhh, not you, of course…” talk from people from other countries I was hanging out with at the time). And my instinct is still to think that while celebrating the things for which Americans might be proud that we should also remember the things for which we should, as a nation, be ashamed or outraged (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Guantanamo, Katrina, etc).

Zinn goes on to note:

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Another friend, while very much opposed to any kind of racism (except ‘those pommy bastards’), noted that the recent reading of statements against racism at the World Cup games is a bit odd when the whole notion of the games are nation against nation, ethnicity against ethnicity.

That article linked above has a great quote from South African civil rights activist Tokyo Sexwale:

Which football fan of sound mind would want to separate Eto’o and Beckham, Rooney and Drogba or Franz Beckenbauer and Pele?”

Though it is sports-talk, I love the succinctness of this notion that racism and nationalism ultimately fall away when considering that in humans which is wonderful, unique and awe-inspiring. I also love the quote because I thought for a while I’d painted myself in a corner in between Zinn and football and had no idea how to end the entry.

3 Responses to “flags, nations, people, football (4th of July)”

  1. barbie-dull Says:

    Very nice entry, Amy.

    I pledge allegiance to the human race, I think that’s what makes sense.

  2. chaals Says:

    There are two notions of sports – one is about striving against people who are somehow different, and the other is about people striving to do their best, and the way to measure it is against others who are also striving. The two ideas tend to get mixed in uneven quantities though.

    I’m also proud of some things Australia is and has done, and ashamed of and appalled by others.

    I rarely pledge allegiance at all. Mostly it’s a case of discovery. Love of a person is partially an act of will, partially something that just happens. Countries are more like families in that respect – they are very much something that happened, and something that won’t go away anyway.

    I don’t like everything I have done, either. But I am stuck with me. I try to be better. I try to make the world better, too.

    I am not convinced that there are many people whose allegiance to a flag or country is their reason for killing anyone. It’s the lack of allegiance to humanity that lets them do that, and then religion, nation, colour, or any other kind of difference can be offered as a transparently inadequate justification.

    Accepting other people’s allegiances as a reason for bad behaviour is still bad. Which is why fair play is so important. The Irish use it as others use “good job”. I think it’s a great expression.

    Fair play, Amy. Fair play Barbie-dull, too.

  3. amy Says:

    Thanks Charles.

    On a related topic, I found an interesting blog entry on the psychology of patriotism on Mixing Memory.

Leave a Reply