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Soft-headed Nationalism


The whole object of travel is not

to set foot on foreign land;

it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

                                                              –  G.K. Chesterton


In 1969 (when I was 23) I applied for admittance to the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  They accepted me. But I did not attend.

I’ll explain why.

I had been attending a business college (in Lima, Ohio); consequently my draft status was 2-A.  The other students who were entering METHESCO in the fall had (in the spring) graduated from a regular university … and their draft status was 2-S.  The 2-S status carried through the summer; but the 2-A did not.

The admissions office told me – “It’s not a problem.  We’ll get you a lawyer; you can declare yourself a Conscientious Objector” (to get you through the summer)

So when I got back home to Lima …(the theological school was in Delaware, Ohio) I went down to the local draft board office and asked to see the requirements for becoming a Conscientious Objector.  They pulled out a large binder and found me the pertinent section … and I read it. I learned there – that a C.O. must object to all war on moral grounds. I did not find the definition (a fairly short paragraph) – difficult to understand.  And – it was clear (to me) that it did not apply to me. I knew (for example) – that if I had been a Pole when Hitler’s army marched into Poland … that I would have fought them. I am a peaceful person (and I am in general opposed to war) but my pacifist principles have limits.  As soon as I read the draft board’s definition of a C.O. – I knew that it did not apply to me.

I stood at a fork in the Road of Life.  And (of course) I did not know in any detail or completeness – what my life would be like if I were to take one fork or the other.  But my general impression was – that it would be more worthwhile for me to go to theological school – that I would learn more and grow more than I would if I were to spend the next four years in the Navy.  But – I couldn’t do it. I did not like being drafted; but I was unwilling to misrepresent myself (to lie) to get out of serving in the military.

I spent those next four years in the US Navy.  And I learned some things; and I think I was pretty lucky in the Navy.

I did not come out of the military (this was during the VietNam War) – dead or maimed or scarred (as many did)

My contribution to the world may well have been greater if I had chosen the other fork; but I had to choose … and I did.  And I do not regret that choice.

The reason I’m telling you this – is because I do not want anyone to think that I do not love my country.  I do. I’m grateful to have been born here, and I’m glad to live here.

(I did live in Canada for a while … 1986-1995 … and I still have Landed Immigrant status in British Columbia; and, overall, I would say that life is better there.  But, you know – people vote with their feet. Such decisions are complex. Currently I live in central Oregon)

Usually – when I write a blog, I do not feel any need to defend myself.  But in this case, I felt I should.

This particular essay is closely connected with Blog 2 – ‘The Costliness of our Materialism’ (posted 13 January, 2018).  Today’s entry is meant to be an exploration of our irrational nationalism and where it comes from.

Here’s what it looks like to me.

It seems to me that the way we are nationalistic is the result of our high school “training”.  —

Football games, basketball games, cheerleaders, pep rallies, fight songs and school alma maters.

It’s as though we are deliberately training our children: to root for our team, for our school.  We teach them to define “we” as “our school” or any team from our school. That these deserve our loyalty and support.  And any other school – they’re the enemy.  If we win the game, then that proves that we’re better than they are.  And if we lose … (well – let’s not go there)

For those who go to college – the sports games, the pep rallies, the cheerleaders … it’s all just the same as it was in high school, only on a larger scale.  Then – this “progresses” on to professional sports and the Olympic Games. And it also (this mindless loyalty) gets transferred to our style of nationalism – (Right or wrong – my country)

That we should think that this ‘program’ would be harmless – strikes me as a bit naive … and irresponsible.

It’s as though we have not yet figured out that our actions sometimes have sideways effects.  Not all consequences are intended. But if we do a thing, we are still accountable for all the effects of that choice … whether or not those consequences are the ones we were hoping for.

Even so, it seems well agreed upon – that once we’ve attended the requisite number of games and pep rallies, our training is regarded as adequate and complete.

This is our version of “Patriot” training.

This program would not be so damaging if it were applied along with curricula which were more humane and realistic …ones which would equip us to appreciate and live harmoniously with other groups and cultures.  But since it’s the only program in use, we’re teaching our children to be soft-headed, alienated, and irrational.

Human beings are already irrational enough.  We needn’t go out of our way to cultivate it.

The film “Dances with Wolves” has a go at this problem.  The main character (Costner’s character) converts to the Indian culture.  He muses (after the Crow raid) about how immediate and personal this struggle was.

There’s a (very important) little scene where the army sergeant confronts him and (with great disgust and revulsion) calls him a ‘traitor’.

His (the sergeant’s) mindset is exactly the one which we are (apparently) aiming at – in our (universally employed) program of pep rally training.

It’s not often that I will purchase a magazine; but an exception is the Newsweek magazine (of Aug 23 & 30,  2010) The bulk of this magazine is devoted to an objective look at ‘What are the best countries in the world?’

They chose five categories of national wellbeing – education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and political environment – and compiled metrics within these categories across 100 nations.  This took several months. But it seems to be a genuine attempt to compare nations in a rational and useful way … so that we might learn how to make use of other countries’ programs to improve our own.

There are nine articles exploring this question – ‘What are the best countries?’ –  (written by nine different authors)

It’s wonderful !

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    (Jeff Daniels – on America)



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