[6 March 2002]
“I have always been against the pacifists during the quarrel, and against the Jingoes at its close.”
Southerners love Mom, collards, NASCAR, NCAA basketball, high school football, and the American flag. Their love of The Country is professed on bumper stickers, clothing, and even plastered on the sides of buildings. It didn’t take September 11th, 2001 to bring out said display. Most small Southern towns have at least four “pride” parades a year. An American flag precedes each group of parade participants. Boy Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Shriners, Girl Scouts, ROTC, high school marching bands—all contain a color guard. We parade goers stand on sidewalks, waving our flags, wearing American flag lapel pins. When they play the National Anthem at Darlington Speedway, we hold our hands over our hearts and tear-up.
Yet we Southerners dwell in a conquered land. It’s considered politically incorrect to bring up the Civil War in terms other than the fight to end slavery, so, leaving causation behind, consider that the southern US was devastated, decimated rather, by war less than 150 years ago. Entire Southern cities were burned and any pretense of economic viability destroyed and the remnants of this war still exist in the South in 2002.
Yet we still proudly display the American flag. We display it not as a subjugated or defeated people, but as a citizenry bound by a common cause; a federation of states defined by its belief in democracy. The collective memory book of this nation contains many bitter artifacts. The War of 1812, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor . . . it’s a long list. The events of September 11 added a significant chapter to the darkest pages of our country’s history. But we, as a nation, continue to rise above internal and external conflict and remain whole. We refuse to be torn apart, to abandon our basic premise: the principles of freedom and democracy. In our appreciation for individual freedoms Southerners are no different from anyone else in this country. We celebrate this appreciation, demonstrate it, by flying the Stars and Stripes. Maybe it’s corny, this display of patriotism. Maybe it’s even “redneck”. But it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Flipping channels on a recent night, I heard a reporter remark on the US behavior at the Olympics, describing it as “excess Americanism”. During the Olympics, Bill Maher, on Larry King Live, gnashed his pundit teeth over the “tacky display” of the tattered US flag from the World Trade Center that was carried into the opening ceremony. He thought it prideful and disdained a comparison of the US terrorist attacks of September 11 to the daily violence in the West Bank and Middle Eastern countries. He remarked, rather tongue-in-cheek, that tattered flag displays could proliferate in the Olympic ceremonies in future years. Participants from many countries, he said, have relics of past violent atrocities and sufferings.
While I found myself agreeing with Maher as he spoke, I changed my mind upon further reflection. Maher can be quite persuasive at times and I often side with his viewpoint. But not this time. Are we to disregard the patriotic fervor that, for many months, covered our country like a warm blanket? Is our tragedy lessened by the perception some members of the international community seem to have that we were “only” attacked on September 11th, and therefore we cannot know the pain of daily death counts from repeated attacks? Americans are not slaughtered in the streets every day by terrorists from other countries. Does that mean that our pain is not comparable and should be short-lived? Are we doomed to a game of international one-upmanship because another country’s tragedies are perceived to be greater than ours?
Perhaps we need to set up a sliding scale—some type of formula for figuring when it is politically correct to display symbols of America pride. We could determine how to set the scale by calculating the percentage of population decimated multiplied by the number of terrorist attacks said population suffers per year and divide that number by the gross national product. Points could be accumulated by each nation. The points awarded could be called Jingo Credits. (Jingoism, according to William Safire, is characterized by shrill, aggressive super patriotism, i.e., chauvinism.)
Determining the Jingo Credits to be awarded would be tricky because a historical date of demarcation must be constructed. December 7th, 1941 would serve well. By encompassing an era that includes both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the recognition of the nation state Israel, we could set up a decent time line.
Ah, but attacks from internal terrorists as well as external must be considered. How many credits for Homegrown Terrorists (the just plain old garden variety disenchanted living in the mountains stockpiling guns to preserve their Second Amendment rights kind)? Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City. The southern church bombings of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Kennedy’s assassination . . . attempts on the lives of Reagan and Ford . . . the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King . . . lynchings . . . the 1968 Detroit riots . . . the LA riot . . . And don’t forget our other internal terrorists: the violent anti-abortion groups, the ELF radicals who are burning down houses and new construction on the west coast. Shall we include the urban gangs terrorizing citizens in LA and other US cities?
Face it, we’ve been trying to find Eric Rudolph in the mountains of North Carolina for ten years. FBI agents are still up there, keeping company with bounty hunters. That’s got to be worth something on the Jingo Scale. Perhaps we could ask the Olympic Figure Skating judges to assign a point value to each atrocity. Then, when the US and other countries amassed enough Jingo Credits, they would be allowed to unfurl their flags. We could then paint our faces in red, white, and blue, and profess our national pride. This New Politically-Correct-Because-It’s-Used-Only-at-the-Proper-Time Jingoism could use, as its theme song, the 1876 refrain (back in the days when Disraeli and Queen Victoria feared Russian territorial expansion at the expense of Turkey):
We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo, if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men,
We’ve got the money too!
Followers of New Jingoism, characterized by the old standards of strident super-patriotism, Could speak very loudly and carry really big sticks. And they would know when to put away their flags and retreat into silence as another country amassed enough credits to win the honor of Displaying Excess National Pride. Maybe that would bring us all back in line. Meanwhile, down here in the South, I’ll keep my flag flying.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/macewan020306/