Thoughts on Fourth of July 2013

It is once again the Fourth of July, a big deal in America, and thoughts turn to patriotism and what it means to be patriotic and how that patriotism is and should be displayed.

Whenever I think of patriotism and displays of national pride I think of my experiences during the summer of 2006, when I was living in Germany during the World Cup which was being hosted by Germany.  The German team was also doing really well and the whole country was swept up in ‘Fussballfieber’ or soccer fever.  What was also extremely interesting was the display of German flags and the colors of the German flag.  Anything that could have colors on it was suddenly bedecked in Black, Red, and Gold — shirts, pants, hats, umbrellas, walls, faces were painted, etc.  It was crazy.  And as I spoke with Germans about it some were very surprised.  Never before had Germans allowed themselves to feel so much national pride.  Never before had they dared to fly a national flag from their apartment window, or their car, or wherever they could find space.  What seems to be normal and natural for an American, placing the flag everywhere you look, was foreign to Germany as a country, being so haunted as they are by their nationalistic history (the word Nazi comes from the German pronunciation of the word Nationalist).   I believe this World Cup did great things for Germany, showing them that there is nothing wrong with being proud of your country, or of showing that pride publicly.

I was also struck by the attitude that Germans have toward their flag, especially as I was in Germany during the Fourth of July.  It was a little odd, being an American in a foreign country on one of the most important American holidays that was completely disregarded by Germans (it is not a holiday for them, just another day of the week).  Especially since many Germans were taking German flags and wrapping them around their waists as skirts, or around their necks as capes and wearing them around town.  That is something you would never see in America, as even the US Flag code states, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”, and it made me think about America’s relationship with its flag.

Why is it that when someone has a deep-seated rage against America, their first thought is to burn an American flag? (For a good laugh, here is a British comedian talking about his views on burning American flags) When was the last time you heard of someone burning a German flag in protest?  Or UK?  Or any other country?  It doesn’t happen.  Because other countries do not have the same relationship with their flags as Americans do.  Think about it:  What is the national anthem of the United States?  The Star-spangled Banner.  Yup, an ode to the flag.  How does the Pledge of Allegiance start?  “I pledge allegiance to the flag …”  We do not pledge allegiance to the President, or to Congress or anything else. We pledge allegiance to the flag.  Yeah, “and to the Republic for which it stands”, but still it is the flag that is the central symbol.

I really do not know what that really means to us as a nation, but I find it fascinating that we have this obsession with the flag that seems to drive our patriotism.  I would consider myself patriotic, though I am certainly not the person to stand up and shout about it, I am not the type of person to wave the flag, or even, honestly, enjoy singing along with US patriotic songs.  I will admit, I was that guy singing the words to “God Save the Queen” while everyone else was singing “My Country ’tis of Thee“, mostly, though, just to be contrary.  But, I do love this country, and I love it more because I have had experience living an extended time in a foreign country.  I would have no problems living in Germany, it is by no means the worst country on earth, nor is it even, in my opinion, inferior to the United States. There are things Germany does better than the US, but there were certainly things that I greatly missed while living abroad, and I am and always will be thankful that I was born a US citizen.

Which brings me to some other thoughts I have had today.  When I woke up this morning, I saw that a friend had posted the following as his status on Facebook, “What’s the worst thing about this country? What makes you love it anyway?”   There have been some interesting comments on that post, and I will share here what I wrote:

The worst thing currently is our inability to hold any debate or civil discussion on any real subject in this country without it devolving into partisan politics and a refusal to compromise.

The best thing is the fact that this nation developed because we are willing to accept and welcome everyone who comes, bringing with them bits of their own culture and heritage to share and make a part of the greater concept we call America.

I do believe that we have a great country because of our great diversity, but too often lately it seems that diversity has become divisiveness.  Our greatest strength has been the ability of different groups to come together, each bringing their ideas to the table and discussing them and compromising to come up with a solution that all could at least agree on, even if nobody got everything they wanted.   That is the way a government should work.  No one is going to get everything they want, especially in a country this large, there is no way we can convince everyone that a certain thing needs to happen, there will always be someone who disagrees.  And that is okay, it is in our disagreement that other ideas are put forward and we are able to learn new things or at least see things from another perspective.  hopefully that also helps us e-evaluate our own positions.

But when I look at what is happening in Government, I do not see any of this happening. I see people who refuse to even consider the possibility that someone else may have something to contribute, and who are doing anything they can to stop ‘the other guys’ from getting any little bit of what they want.  And this is happening in both of the major parties, and probably the minor ones, too, but they do not get much press coverage.  And that saddens me.  I truly believe that our diversity is and can be our greatest asset, but it is also our greatest weakness.  I hope for a government that can learn from each other, than can have discussion and debate and come to a consensus based on what they feel is right or what they feel is best for their constituents, rather than what some party leaders say is best for the party.  But, then I have never been one to vote for a particular political party, rather I vote for the candidate I believe will do the best job.

It is always wonderful to have a day when one can sit back and reflect (among the feasts and fireworks and festivities) about why we have this holiday and what we can and ought to be doing to keep this a great country.  I am proud to be an American, but that does not mean that I agree with everything that is done by the American government.  But, I realize that this is a nation founded on the idea of the average citizen rising to the challenge of taking part in the political process and getting involved to make their opinions heard and to affect change.  I am now making a personal resolution to get more involved.  To study the issues more fully and to form opinions and then to contact those who represent me in government to make sure they are representing me properly.

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