Letting your own flag fly

Patriotism is an aimless effort that does little to solve the nation’s problems

Recently, I walked past a gathering of hundreds of motorcyclists with American flags in Washington, D.C. and muttered, in a moment of thoughtlessness, “luckily these flags are here, or I would have forgotten which country I was in.” It would be safe to assume most people would not make such a statement, because in addition to being petty and potentially dangerous, it could be seen as unpatriotic.

What was striking was the fact that the collection of hundreds of flags lined up with hundreds of people basking in their appreciation wasn’t for any holiday in particular. Patriotism in the United States is widespread, unchecked and heavily shown. In a broad, present-day context, however, patriotism seems a strange if not arbitrary concept.

Consider how many “God Bless America” stickers you see on citizens’ cars, how many houses fly the Stars and Stripes in any town or how many times “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung at a sporting event in any one week. It seems that American culture encourages all citizens not just to appreciate but love their country: there are subtle reminders everywhere to do so.

Though no country is free of grievances, there are plenty of appalling statistics and historical problems that would suggest at least taking national pride with a grain of salt. After all, the traits that comprise American identity are far from uniformly good. Obesity rates, the stumbling economy and extremely negative foreign opinions are all examples of how the United States is not a perfect nation, yet patriotism is present in nearly every nook and cranny of the country. In fact, many dissident opinions in response to American troubles and dilemmas are grounded in patriotic reasoning with phrases like “this is not the country I know,” “I won’t let America go to the dogs” and a general emphasis on “progress” – in other words, forgetting mistakes and moving on. What’s more, even when patriotism is mocked, it seems to be ironically celebrated, exemplified by the many cultural references and Internet memes about “‘Muricah.”

Of course, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with being patriotic, and it certainly isn’t an exclusively American ideal. One could see the danger in patriotism being used to marginalize certain groups or prompting extreme nationalism causing international crises, but the United States is not on such levels. The main problem is that acting _un_patriotic is offensive and contradictory to the American value system.

The logic of patriotism, excluding the cases of pride in immigrants for their new nations, is that although one does not choose when or where one is born, it is immoral to choose not to have pride in the nation in which it occurred. But one does not earn one’s national history. History is not a personal mistake if bad and it is not a personal accomplishment if good. Why then, is pride in national history so desired in our culture? Such pride does not remedy the aforementioned problems of obesity, economy or international image.

And yet, for whatever reason, extreme patriotism continues to be prevalent. Although such prevalence may be embedded in both culture and circumstance, at the end of the day, “national pride” has little to do with personal qualities. Patriotism aims to defend a state, not a way of life. Further still, in a world in which many assert that globalization is breaking down borders, an extreme pride in one’s own national identity does little to solve pressing national and international issues. Just remember that the next time you see a motorcycle club.

Walter Keady is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.

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