Yesterday, I posted this on facebook:
“There are never sufficient words to thank those who have paid the price, and their families, to keep us free from bondage. My gratitude to all who ever wore the colors, past and present.”
A couple of my friends (and I do consider them friends) who live in countries other than mine made some comments which prompted an uncharacteristic stirring of my little gray cells – usually they’re quite content to veg out on TNG reruns, energized by my wife’s creampuffs.
Since I happen to have thought of Picard and Company, let me throw out one of my favorite quotes, from Star Trek: Insurrection – “Some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involved the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one. I’d hoped that we had learned from our mistakes, but it seems some of us haven’t.”
It’s no secret that many people – especially in countries where the horrors of war have reduced their homes and families to rubble and ashes – tend to look at flag-waving with fear, associating it with blind nationalism and conquering hordes, and history is replete with examples. With due respect to them, I maintain there are light-years between patriotism and nationalism, and that it is possible to embrace the one and abhor the other.
In his “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell said, “By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people [emphasis added]. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. ”
Especially in the aftermath of 9/11, an outpouring of national sentiment could be forgiven; after all, our nation had suffered a horrific, direct attack by a hostile external force. Yes, there were pockets of idiocy to be found, but the vast majority of our populace saw the enemy for what it was – not a nation, a people, a race or a faith to be subjugated, but rather a small and deadly coalition of radicals who were opposed to the fundamental principles of freedom and equality upon which our nation was founded.
This iconic image captured the heart of the nation in the days following that terrible moment, and served to send a message to those who would hurt and make afraid; not a message of conquest or domination, but rather of stalwart determination: You may hurt us, but we will heal, and we will be stronger; and we will not rest until we find you.
Every nation has its wars, and every war has its soldiers; some volunteer, but most are drafted. The vast majority of those who fight and die in national conflicts have little idea what they are really fighting for, but they put the uniform on and fight just the same. For their sacrifice and their willingness to serve, we honor them, and that honor has very little to do with patriotism, and nothing to do with nationalism; it has only to do with respect for their stalwart bravery, and the ongoing sacrifices made by the families of those who never came home.
I wave the flag on Memorial Day to honor those who gave up their tomorrows that I and my children might enjoy ours. That’s what Memorial Day means to me, and I am not ashamed.
The Old Wolf has spoken.