Put Away the Flags

As the Fourth of July approaches I face the annual quandary: do I go to our small-town parade to watch my friends and neighbors stroll down Main Street and enjoy the floats and the after-parade fair? Or, do I just stay home in avoidance of all the jingo-patriotism that inevitably comes with the parade?

The year that the war in Iraq started, the parade was so acrimonious that they drew up new rules just to silence the peaceniks and war-critics. I got in a Letter-to-the-Editor duel that went on for weeks. Things have been tense since then, though my guess is that Bush War has so few supporters now the argument is pretty much over.

But the underlying nationalism that causes most wars in the first place will still be there. Howard Zinn offers some sobering thoughts on the subject:

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

Zinn points out that while patriotic pride can be a reall asset in smaller countries, in huge, armed-to-the-teeth nations like America “what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.”

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

That’s a pledge I’m happy to make.

Michael Sky