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Monday, March 03, 2003
 
Patriotism, part one

On my way to a forum discussing "Patriotism - the last refuge of the scoundrel?", a few weeks ago, I was walking through the extensive campus of St Catherine’s College, Oxford when I saw something that disturbed me. It has taken me a few weeks’ thought to put it into context. I think I can now discuss it dispassionately.

The area I walked through had many student rooms: modern and with enormous windows. Because it was after dark, most of the rooms had their curtains drawn so it was impossible to see into them. There was one exception: a brightly-lit room with the curtains flung wide. On the back wall was a flag. Yes, you’ve guessed it: the Stars and Stripes.

This room and its statement stood out like a sore thumb. I found it anomalous at the time - one would have expected an American sufficiently engaged with the outside world to be more sensitive. Now I find it almost sinister.

In thinking about it, I have tried to understand the motivation of a student who would do a thing like that. (Perhaps he was British, with a great sense of irony...) Here are several more likely explanations:
1. I am homesick so I need something to remind me of home. (But if this is the explanation, why broadcast it to the World?)

2. I come from the greatest country in the World and I want everyone to know that. I am proud of my country; I am patriotic. (But, while in the UK, a country renowned for its subtlety and understatement, it should be obvious that such a sign would inevitably be seen as outre.)

3. As (2) above, but I think that all other countries stink.
Now, is there really any distinction between (2) and (3)? Is there any disputing that all three explanations are so “in your face” that they are likely to cause anything from wry amusement (these Americans are so uncivilised) to outright offence (................................... - write your own interpretation). Do these metaphorical lager louts ever stop to think about their actions abroad?

The use of flags is something I blogged about while in Australia (under Flag burning on 20 January. This is (part of) what I said:
I had always thought that people who have flagpoles in their gardens flying the national flag were either members of a far right political organisation (UK) or asserting their patriotism which might otherwise be in doubt (US), but I have yet to see a ‘private’ Australian flag, here. Perhaps it’s because the Aussies are ashamed of the inset Union Jack. Or have they, perhaps got the balance right? ‘My country, right or wrong’ is certainly not the universal feeling here. I wish that all nationalities would follow the Aussie lead in this respect.
The irony in this analysis is probably too generous to the Americans. People that I’ve talked to on Airstrip One and in Australia invariably make the same sort of comment: flagpoles in private gardens flying the national flag do not mark out the perpetrators as being from the most perceptive end of the awareness spectrum. And what about the flag in the student's room? What’s the point, silly Seppos?


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