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Nationalism, superpatriotism, Americanism and Memorial Day

By Bruce Walker
web posted June 3, 2002

Since September 11th I have made a personal commitment to display the American flag in my yard and on my automobile, pointedly refusing to remove it when a "decent period of time" has elapsed. This obstinacy is hardly novel to those who know me well, but one such individual recently asked me if I was a "superpatriot."

This almost archaic term refers to those people who were so passionately committed to America and was often hissed in the same breath as that other epithet "anti-communist." Those "superpatriots" and "anti-communists" of the 1960s were automatically unthinking, insensitive neandrathals, whose Superpatriotism represented hubris begging for a comeuppance, which all too often liberals in America have been delighted to watch smack our nation across the face.

Superpatriotism is not the same as nationalism. The latter term refers to those individuals who support their nation because they perceive self-interest to always lie in national interest. The Great Russians of the Soviet empire were nationalists as were, of course, the Germans of the Third Reich. Mussolini also reached nationalism rather than patriotism. The term suggests commitment to a national leader or national party that personifies national interest.

While few liberals mind other nations being nationalist, patriotism in America is judged loathsome, because America - in the eyes of these liberals, who view all life as a zero sum game - view our freedom, prosperity, peace, and contentment as inevitable coming out of that finite global or cosmic pool or each of those virtues.

So, America is rich because Ethiopia and Bangladesh are poor. America has a working democracy because North Korea and Cuba do not. The selfish superpatriotism of America is sucking all the joy out of the rest of the world, and the weary dim mantra about "America having four percent of the world's population, and consuming twenty-five percent of the world's energy" or some equally childish condemnation of America's happy condition requires mocking patriotism as "superpatriotism" and another replay of our sins of success.

Barry Goldwater

The best, and perhaps most enraging, definition of Americanism was Barry Goldwater's famous lines "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." This good man, this noble legislator was immediately wounded by the venomous fangs of a dozen hidden vipers. "See? Goldwater is an extremist. He is a superpatriot."

Well, I guess I am too - if Goldwater's famous exposition was wrong. Over Memorial Day, we had the chance to think about some other extremists: Marines on Guadalcanal, SBD pilots off Midway, Army sergeants on Omaha Beach, Swoosie crews over Berlin, merchant sailors on slow boats cross the Atlantic in January...and lots of other "extremists in the defense of liberty."

These extremists might just as easily have been called "superpatriots" but what did this superpatriotism entail? All men fight for some specific land and some familiar culture. Were Americans sixty years ago fighting to defend their homeland? Not exactly.

These men had ancient homelands in Italy, Ireland, Poland, Russia, and Japan, but they were not fighting for the armies of these ancient homelands but against those armies. Italians from America fought the Italian armies of Fascism. Germans from America, like Eisenhower, fought German Armies across Europe. The Japanese-American division, albeit it fighting in Italy, was the most decorated unit in the Second World War.

The ethnic roots of these Americans were one place, but their moral and intellectual roots were quite another place. The home of their hearts and of their minds was in America - not America of vast mountain ranges, great plains, and riparian forests, but America the delight of individual consciences and America the siren of dreams built from sweat and nerve.

We Americans - almost all of us - have ancestors who surrendered to comfort of native dress, uniform religious beliefs, languages learned from infancy, and cherished symbols like the Crown of Saint Stephen or the Sistine Chapel to hunt down that most elusive blessings: liberty.

These men and women, who often lived as much for the promise which America could - and did - bring to their children and grandchildren, as those benefits they would personally enjoy during their own years in America, would wonder about what silly words like superpatriotism meant to the silly people who blathered on about loving America too much.

Surely they would marvel even more at how some spoiled fools - who have never seen pogroms, religious wars, and whole peoples glaring at each other across imaginary lines - could look at Americanism and see bigotry and danger. These parents would send their sons off to defend this magnificent principle of human existence, that all men are equal and free under the rule of law, and tell those sons to fight, and even to die, to keep this dream alive.

Memorial Day was a day to honor those boys - and how many who died were truly boys! - but it is also a time to honor those universal ideals of human dignity and the soil in which those grand notions have taken firm root. It is a time to fly Old Glory without an apology. Is it a time for superpatriotism? I have no idea what falsehood that Marxist neologism is intended to conjure, but if it is a time for unabashed Americanism? Yes!

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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