by Jay Johansen | Dec 26, 2005
In the last few years we've seen a number of incidents where people found it necessary to suppress expressions of patriotism to avoid offending foreigners. Muskingum College in Ohio told students they could not display American flags on campus. Florida Gulf Coast University told its librarians that they must remove the "I'm proud to be an American" stickers many were wearing. ABC News ordered its reporters to stop wearing American flag lapel pins and red, white, and blue ribbons. I'm sure you've heard similar stories.
I can't help but wonder: Are foreigners really offended by American expressions of patriotism, or is it just American liberals? As I thought about this, two movies I saw a few years back came to mind..(1)
One was called Cool Running. It was about a team from Jamaica that competes in the Olympics. The movie was all about this group of men trying to win respect for their country from the international community.
I don't know what most Americans who saw this movie thought about it. Personally, even though I have absolutely no ties to Jamaica, and indeed have never even been to Jamaica, I found the movie inspiring. These men loved their country and took it as their mission to promote their country.
The other was a James Bond movie, Moonraker. All around I thought it was a pretty lame movie, but that's another story. It included a car chase scene where the villians manage to run Bond's car off a cliff. Of course Bond isn't killed. He jumps out of the car, and it turns out that he's wearing a parachute. He opens the parachute, and we see that the canopy is a giant British flag.
The entire audience burst into applause. I saw this movie in a theater near Dayton, Ohio. It's unlikely that there were any British citizens or immigrants in the audience; surely there couldn't have been more than a few.(2) Why would a group of Americans applaud an expression of British patriotism?
The answer is simple: Most normal human beings recognize patriotism as something heart-warming and inspiring, even if it is patriotism for a country other than their own. And why not? Seeing a person who shows love for someone or something other than himself is almost always positive. We all ooh and aah when we see a mother tenderly caring for her baby, or a couple who are obviously very much in love. I am impressed by a mother who demonstrates love for her baby even when the baby is not mine. Indeed, I am impressed when someone shows real love even if the object of that love is a complete stranger to me.
So I wonder: Does the average foreigner feel the same way I do? Or do they really find expressions of American patriotism offensive, simply because they are not Americans? If they do, then what about other forms of love? Are they offended when a woman shows love for her husband, simply because this man is not their husband? Are they offended when someone shows love for his mother, simply because this woman is not their mother? Are foreigners really this selfish and narrow-minded, or is it just that American liberals assume that all foreigners are selfish and narrow-minded? Or perhaps it is that American liberals not only hate America but are also too selfish and narrow-minded to be able to tolerate others loving America.
I certainly hope that most Candadians love Canada, most Frenchmen love France, etc. I will gladly cheer you on when you proudly sing your national anthem, wave your flag, and boast about the contributions your country has made to civilization. I am an American. Please grant me the same privilege to love my country. Or rather, do or don't, as you please, because I really don't care what you think. I love my country whether you are willing to give me permission or not.
© 2005 by Jay Johansen