by Pete Mazzacaro
I couldn’t help thinking an awful lot about patriotism this past weekend. Yes, it was the 4th of July, when we celebrate the nation’s birthday with parades and explosions. It was also a weekend that saw us celebrate a national win by our women’s soccer team, a sport for which patriotic displays featuring people dressed in eagle costumes and flag waving is a major part of the team support process.
The celebration following the women’s World Cup win was as star -spangled as anything I have ever seen, culminating in senior team member Abby Wambach, arms outstretched, holding an American Flag behind her like a Superman cape.
I don’t know how it is in other countries, but in the United States patriotism always seems to be treated with skepticism and cynicism. Patriotism is simple-minded to some. To others it is the same as jingoism, a fanatical devotion to country without question.
Regardless of political stripe, patriotism and its practice always raises question. For liberals, flag waving is often an uneasy exercise, one that condones the past sins of the nation, from persistent racial inequality to the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. For conservatives, it’s a litmus test in which one’s character is measured by the size of flag lapel pins.
The flag in its display and its treatment is perhaps one of the most controversial components of patriotism in this country. For some it is a symbol so sacred that any mistreatment of it is a crime. Hardly a month goes by without news of a confrontation somewhere over a ceremonial burning of the flag between those who would burn it symbolically and those who would risk injury pulling it from the flames.
Flags are so much more than symbols for some. One need look no further than the recent philosophical debates that have sprung up surrounding the display of the Confederate battle flag. For many, its retirement to the pages of history is long overdue. For others, even those who are conflicted about its meaning, it is a symbol of Southern identity, even though it is nothing more than a red fabric rectangle with a blue and white cross and stars.
So what does it mean to be patriotic? Can we fly the stars and stripes without irony? And without it being perceived as a symbol of imperious swagger? Is it OK to just display a flag and say, “Hey, I like the USA?” I think the answer is in that women’s World Cup victory.
In so many ways, the pro-country display following the women’s remarkable World Cup victory over Japan, was patriotic display at its best. When we celebrate that victory, we’re celebrating a win by our fellow citizens. We’re celebrating the accomplishments of our community. Sports just happen to be an easy thing over which we can, as a community and country, agree.
I see patriotism that way. For better and for worse, as a member of the community that is the United States, you are both responsible for its shortcomings and for its best moments. You don’t have to insist it’s the best country in the world. And you shouldn’t shy away from any display of the flag as excessive. The United States is ours, in all of its victories and failures. And that is more than enough to display a flag and be proud.