“Shut up, Mr. Burton! You were not brought upon this world to ‘get it’!”
The character “David Lo Pan” of John Carpenter’s 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China uttered one of the most memorable lines of the movie; it was this quote which brought me back to the keyboard as I mulled over what meaning September 11th holds in current discussions.
As I sat on the porch this morning with my caffeine and pondered the American flags decorating various houses in the neighborhood, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the drastic change in attitude towards patriotism and associated symbols over the last 17 years.
Following the attacks of 2001, flags where everywhere, and there was a sense of national unity that hadn’t been experienced in my lifetime. There was absolutely no question of whether to stand or not, and for a short while, the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were known and sung proudly by most. Now, there seems to be an incessant barrage of outrage or justification for the various forms of protest – something I have reluctantly written about here as well as here, a year later:
“Will we ever reach that level of national cohesiveness again?”
“As much as I would love the idea that we collectively get our crap together and realize that there is much more out there which necessitates cooperation rather than petulance, this is unlikely until a clear and significant threat manifests itself in a sudden and obvious manner.”
“This is what bugs me about this whole controversy – we are looking for an external source of salvation.”
“Without faith in either [public engagement and interest in national security], there would be little to any benefit in any effort to draw the citizenry into a more active role in shaping tomorrow’s nation.”
My introspection on this issue is nothing new. While stationed at Ft. Campbell from 1999-2001, I frequented a Flying J near Clarksville – a good book and an all-you-can eat buffet was how I killed the occasional Sunday.
Wanda, one of the waitresses who usually chatted with me came up to my table shortly after 9/11:
“Mike, you don’t have an American flag on yer Jeep…”
Me: “No, Wanda, I don’t.”
“Well, Mike, you need you have an American flag on yer Jeep…”
“…Gotta show yer patriotism.”
Me (firmly, and with surly friendliness): “Wanda. [Polite smile] You see that red sticker on the windshield that says ‘Ft. Campbell’? [Polite smile] That is ALL the display of patriotism I need to show, because all of this… [wave of the arm at all of the Mandatory Corporate Patriot decorations festooned about] …ALL of this will be forgotten in about six to seven months, but that sticker will still be there.”
How did we get from there to here?
I honestly couldn’t tell you, and perhaps Lo Pan’s admonishment that “you are not put upon this world to get it” makes the question a bit easier to mull over – if not adds a bit of humor to a frustrating dilemma.
I’m not implying that patriotism needs to be both blind and mandatory in any sense. State-enforced patriotism has been the theme for some of the worst – and truly – oppressive regimes in human history. Nor am I saying that I completely agree with Heinlein’s approach to citizenship from his book, Starship Troopers – a form of compulsory Federal Service which bestows the ability to vote upon veterans only. (I emphasize “completely” only for my suspicion that any such policy would be somehow corrupted by the same bureaucracy it serves.)
What I am implying is something which has been a recurring theme within this blog:
“Hard questions today make for less painful truths tomorrow.”
What is desperately needed right about now are some very hard looks at how things have evolved over the last 17 years, when it comes to what the future holds for the unity of these States.
Written in 1976 by Sir John Glubb, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival proved to be an interesting read and relevant to some of the issues we see today:
Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensification of internal political hatreds. One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country.
True to the normal course followed by nations in decline, internal differences are not reconciled in an attempt to save the nation. On the contrary, internal rivalries become more acute, as the nation becomes weaker.
While I have problems with some of the points made by Glubb, there is undeniable truth in one:
We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.
Again, the answers to my questions are not going to be the same for everyone – we have only the person in the mirror to truly regard as the person to praise or blame… and where we go from this moment is entirely up to us…