The morning bell brought the playground swirl to a halt and sent all us children running to line up by class.
Two lines marked out each class in descending order by grade, girls in their pleated, blue tunics and white blouses to the right and boys in proper shirts and slacks to the left. A morning prayer officially began our day at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School in Kansas City.
With hands held over our hearts we all turned to face the flag. The tall pole holding it marked the boundary between the paved portion of the large playground and a dirt field reserved for rougher games.
In unison again we repeated, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Grade by grade then we filed from the playground in silence, our day had begun.
This daily ritual reinforced a deep in our bones adherence to the proffered notions of God and country. To criticize either church or state seemed almost beyond comprehension. This could and did for some, lead to an uncritical, ahistorical attitude best epitomized by the widely misquoted slogan attributed to an early American naval hero, Stephen Decatur, “My country, right or wrong!”
It seems that most hierarchical structures prefer memberships that don’t question too closely decisions made for them. Over the generations many folk have been quite content to live out their lives without challenging commonly held myths. Soldiers from many lands have gone to war accepting the trumped up, manufactured, patriotism-stirring rants of political leaders who really were motivated by more crass concerns like control of territory or trade.
The first line of the US Marine Corps anthem “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli; We fight our country’s battles” reflects the glorification of ignoble chapters of US history. Foundational stories of resistance to tyranny can be seen from very different perspectives given a critical eye. Remember the story of the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773? The tale we accepted saw patriots resisting the imposition of an unfair tax. “No taxation without representation,” rallied Mohawk-costumed protestors who threw 342 chests of tea from three East India Company ships into Boston Harbour.
Was the real story the tax on tea or the fact that the East India Company had just won the right to ship their tea directly to British colonies? The Tea Act of May 1773 effectively “cut the price of tea in half and was therefore a boon to colonial consumers” according to William Bernstein author of A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World. However the savings to consumers eliminated the profits of New England smugglers and middlemen.
“Colonial special-interest groups deployed protectionist cant against the welfare of the many and against the big companies, improbably tarred as agents of a foreign culture.”
Patriotism or profit, what was the real motivation?
From the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbour to the Gulf of Tokin incident to the infamous Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, people’s honest patriotism has at times been manipulated to achieve the aims of the leaders of the day. An honest patriotism demands looking critically at the challenges of the day no matter how hard that might be.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, July 5 – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 6: 1-6.
Monday, July 6th – 1030th annual sitting of the Tynwald, the Isle of Man’s and the world’s oldest continually sitting parliament.
Tuesday, July 7 – Asalha Puja commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon.
Thursday, July 9 – Martyrdom of the Bab, Ali Mohammed, by Persian powers in 1850 is remembered by Baha’i.