Thursday, July 4, 2019


I wrote down the following thoughts last week, on the Fourth of July. I did not post the piece because I thought there was an outside chance that they could get a wider readership on the op-ed pages of the New York Times--a newspaper that will not publish anything that has appeared elsewhere, whether online or in print. Now that the required three days have elapsed with no response from the Times, I post the thoughts here instead...

I woke this morning with a strange and unfamiliar feeling, something almost like... patriotism!

It's the Fourth of July. I have been an American for nearly fifty years (I became a citizen in 1972) and have always felt, if anything, still more English than American. Patriotism is something I have never trusted, sometimes even despised. Having been born between those two great wars and lived through the second of them, I suppose I must have felt it as a child; but growing up, learning about the spirit of nationalism that led to those wars and, particularly I think, being moved by the WWI poems by the likes of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, I came to realize how destructive an emotion it could be. And not even a genuine emotion, really, more a misguided state of mind.

I held on to that skepticism for many years--and through many (smaller, still more futile) wars. The pledge of allegiance, hand over heart, and the worship of the flag have always seemed absurd to me, frankly a little bit repulsive. I have never learned the words to the American national anthem, and have forgotten those to God Save the Queen.

And then, this morning, on the Fourth of July, I woke with this surprising realization that I actually love this country. Reflecting on that new and rather uncomfortable sensation, I think I understand why it might have come upon me. It has to do with vulnerability. We are in real and imminent danger of losing what it was this country stood for until now. I begin to realize that what America was about, for me, was the conviction that, given tenacity, dedication and a sense of common purpose, tomorrow would always be better than today.

It's hard, if not impossible to love a person who is brash, loud, and unquestioningly self-confident. Who does not somehow need the love you have to offer. It's vulnerability that makes a person lovable, that leaves room for your love to make a difference. And America today is showing her vulnerability more than ever in the past. Her values are in tatters. She is emotionally torn apart, at odds with herself, a mess. For years now she has been subjected to rape and plunder by the rich and powerful. She is in danger of losing that proud, can-do attitude for which she has always, in the past, been known. She risks sacrificing her fierce spirit of independence to the whims of tyranny.

Which is all perhaps why I woke this morning feeling more American than I have ever done. Could this be... patriotism?

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