Pitfalls of Patriotism
Met this interestingly clad fellow while riding a local public bus the other day. He seemed kind and obliged instantly when I asked to take a few photos of him in between two bus stops.
For some reason, I didn’t think of asking about his outfit and if he was going to a masquerade or some kind of military convention where a “re-enactment” of World War II was the main draw. For all I knew, he might just have been a little unhinged and was just being appropriately dressed and prepared for a looming invasion.
When people here hear that I was born in the USA, I’ll often get the question of whether I feel like a Swede or an American. The standard answer is that while on an emotional level I’m definitely Swedish, I tend to think more like an American. That is, I almost always have a positive outlook on life’s possibilities and see more opportunities than obstacles. My mindset is to assume that nothing is impossible. “I can do that!” is my motto rather than “Cobbler, stick to thy last. I really see this as a strength, something I’m proud of and hope to pass on to our daughter, Elle. It’s not necessarily a distinguishing quality that only Americans have a monopoly on. But most Americans I’ve ever met, in varying degrees and often on a very superficial level, have nonetheless a similarly open and outgoing attitude.
I’m sure some Americans I chat with over coffee at the Cow in Venice have a hard time seeing me as “a fellow American” because I’ve not lived stateside for more than two decades. That I, as a resident of Europe, could not possibly grasp current events here and the zeitgeist that stretches beyond the talk shows and celebrityverse. I argue that nothing could be more incorrect. In fact, I’m pretty much on top of most of the public discourse and spend several hours a week reading articles and exposés on a wide range of domestic topics. And though my daily news sources’ political sympathies tend to lean towards liberal values (duh), I still get a reasonably objective perspective on key events. Admittedly, there are quite a few societal quirks and curiosities that have emerged since I last moved from the US back in 1995. Some of which I really don’t get.
Back to the army guy.
What to me seems like strange and potentially dangerous form of patriotism and something that I don’t understand at all is why every other house here has a sizable, swaying American flag mounted on a porch or facade. It’s a fixture and not just brought out occasionally to commemorate a national holiday or celebrate an event.
One possible, albeit weird explanation for permanently touting a flag is to clearly show that the residents in the house or building are genuine patriots. Which kinda makes everyone else who isn’t decorating their house with a “Stars & Stripes” seem unpatriotic, no?
A more reasonable explanation is that someone in the family of a flag-bearing house has participated in one of the many wars the United States has been involved in over the last half-century. Maybe the war on the drugs, the war on terror, or, more recently, the war on fake news.
Last but not least and perhaps the strongest reason for pimping your house with an American flag is to make sure that in the event of an invasion on US soil, the enemy will have no doubt where to find “true red-blooded Americans” to fight with.
Joni Mitchell once said in an interview that’s stayed with me since hearing it sometime in the 1980s, that the greatest challenge humans have is getting rid of all the boundaries we’ve created. Both geographical and political. She thought boundaries are fragmenting us as a species and we are way too keen on protecting our “tribe” instead of blurring out borders and building bridges between our ridiculously insignificant differences.
I totally agree with Ms. Mitchell.
Patriotism is a slippery slope that easily metamorphizes into nationalism which inevitably, however sneakily, leads to fascism.