by guest blogger Alma Alexander
So I just read one too many stories about the histrionic American pseudo-evangelistic jingoism that passes for patriotism these days. In this instance, a story about a girl who attested her (constitutional) right to participate or not in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The story I read left a lot of the details out. It said the girl had been “mistreated” for “failing to stand”, or declining to stand, for the pledge of allegiance and apparently it was this mistreatment that led her to seek the attention of the school nurse.
Who mistreated her? Why? And how did this result in her needing medical attention?
The nurse then demanded to know why the victim of this mistreatment hadn’t stood for the pledge. The little girl said that she had a right not to participate, at which point the nurse flew into a high dudgeon… and refused to treat whatever the damage was that it had been considered necessary to send the child to her for in the first
It gets worse. This:
“‘The student reports that she left the nurse’s office in tears and went to the administrative offices to call her mother … A secretary then led the student to an office, but at that time the same nurse appeared again, saying, ‘She isn’t calling a parent until I have a long conversation with her!'”
I beg your pardon? Even a felon arrested for murder is entitled to a phone call. An eighth-grader was refused – even potentially refused – the right to call her own mother before the nurse had a ‘long conversation’ with her?
American hypocrisy about patriotism and what it really means is becoming egregious. In America, patriotism is coming to mean frothing at the mouth about American exceptionalism at every turn, denouncing anyone who isn’t ‘measuring up’ to the zealots’ standards, flying flags the size of a king-sized bed above car dealerships which proudly peddle Toyotas or Subarus.
The things that are going on inside the country right now – the things that a true patriot would be appalled by – the senseless gun deaths, the militarization of our police, the endless useless foreign wars begun by lies and perpetuated by some an effort to make everyone else out there toe some kind of utopian American line (‘we bring democracy to the world’ is the excuse. But there are frequently underlying reasons which are never addressed in the open.
Here’s the thing, America. You didn’t invent democracy. The very word comes from ancient Greece which was a country before you were a gleam in your Founding Fathers’ eyes. It is not your job to impose a given political system on the rest of the world, no matter how much you yourself are enamored of it. And here’s another thing – take a look in your own back yard – (America hasn’t had a true democracy in years) – all that – all that a true patriot would be truly concerned about – all that doesn’t matter, truly, so long as you can wrap yourself in the flag and pretend you’re better than everyone else.
Germany had a national anthem which contained the words “Deutschland Uber Alles” – and when it acted on that phrase, the world went to war about it. When America imposes its will on other nations – at the business end of a gun if everything else fails – it is operating under a very similar principle.
It’s like this.
If you think it’s okay for a nurse to refuse to treat a child because she didn’t think that child measured up to her ridiculous sense of ‘patriotism”, it’s also okay for someone in the middle east to start screaming about holy war if somebody says a cross word about something they believe in. If one is okay, so is the other.
What is going on in America today is just blatantly hypocritical, this adulation of “USA! USA!” as though no other nation ever had a flag, or a love of country. Let me tell you something – Russians call their country Mother Russia, they love it fiercely, and yet somehow they manage to do so without a Russian flag above every used car dealer.
Patriotism isn’t empty phrases, or wrapping yourself in that flag. Patriotism is treating your country’s children when they need medical attention and you are the medical professional in charge. If you were a Christian nurse with strong religious and patriotic dogmas in place and your country was at war – would you really be justified in refusing treatment to a wounded child who happened to be Jewish or Buddhist or (god forbid) Muslim? What would Christ say about that, even if you take it upon yourself to unilaterally repudiate the Geneva Convention?
America diminishes itself – both in its own purview and in the eyes of the world – with every action like this nurse has taken. Patriotism isn’t the same as religious zeal and evangelical Christianist conservative cant. Patriotism isn’t histrionically screaming about the inviolate Second Amendment every time grieving mothers stand at the gravesides of children mowed down by bullets in the streets, in shopping malls, in cinemas, in schools. Patriotism isn’t building a wall between the USA and Mexico. Patriotism isn’t shutting down the Government of your country every time you don’t get your way in Congress.
Patriotism is much harder than this. Patriotism means doing hard things, it means knowing and loving your country and its history, yes, but not to the point of making that history an obstacle to its future – or, worse, retelling that past so that it is more palatable to you. History is what happened, and no amount of whitewashing so that you feel better about it is going to change a word of it.
Yes, the American South kept slaves. No, those human beings in chains were not “better off” in that era, nor were they happy about those chains, nor about the ability of those in charge of them to use them like cattle. But it happened. The repercussions of that are dragging their muddy tails through America’s today and its tomorrow, but we can’t clean up after it until we accept that we are seeing it there and stop pretending that the monster isn’t even in the room with us.
Patriotism is facing up to our mistakes, and trying to move forward from them in a direction that doesn’t leave everyone mired in that mud forever. But this is not easy. It’s much harder than screaming at little girls at how unpatriotic they are, or than getting into a froth about a “War on Christmas” and on white America, or than simply showing up to wave a tiny paper flag in a crowd while some politician-du-jour spouts platitudes that waft like pretty soap bubbles above your head. Patriotism involves a passionate love of your country, and your people.
This does not then translate into calling that love, as it manifests in other people and other nations, by other and more offensive names, or proclaiming that Americans who love their country are “patriots” while everyone else who has the gall to say they love their own country is a “dangerous nationalist” or a “terrorist” and therefore a fair target. How dare those ignorant savages not love America above their own land?
Patriotism is, at its best, a noble thing. But it’s being perverted into something shadowed and furtive; it’s being weaponised (if you aren’t with us you’re against us); it’s being poisoned by the fake evangelists for whom it’s just easier to spout the cliches than it is to act upon a true patriotic impulse.
If you want to know, one of those would have entailed that nurse’s keeping her mouth shut in the face of events during that fracas in a middle school somewhere in middle America. Her patriotic duty was to educate and to ‘doctor’ her nation’s children. Not to indoctrinate them.
Alma Alexander is an American novelist and short story writer