RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Patriot Games…

I was wondering the other day about patriotism.  What is it? Should we have it? How do we – as Brits – compare to other nations.  It was all started by this news-story.  To precis it, residents of an American town are complaining about a Santa display hanging from a flag-pole in the town park.  One of the residents said that it was ‘un-patriotic’ NOT to the nations flag flying.

There is a huge difference between the UK and the USA when it comes to patriotism, and I even suggested over on Twitter that it was a bad thing to be patriotic in the UK.  This was hit by waves of people saying that it isn’t so, and that it is good to be patriotic, to have pride in our country, our history, our people and our flag.

And then I got thinking.  Way back in the day, in the late 90’s I was out in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia.  We, as a detachment, were piggy-backing the huge American presence out there and used the American’s facilities to assist us in our entertainment.  One evening we went to the ‘cinema’ to watch a film – this was essentially a large screen TV, and a video player, with some comfy chairs dotted around – and this one evening it was Austin Powers.  It was the first one, where for some reason, the star dances around in his underwear.  His underwear being a pair of Union Flag boxer-shorts.

We found this to be hilarious. All the Brits in there had enjoying the comedy of the scene.  But then, one of the Americans in the room stood up and went to stand in front of the TV. “You should be ashamed of yourselves” he said. “He’s taking making a fool of you and your flag. It shouldn’t be allowed. You shouldn’t be laughing, you should be angry at that idiot, defiling your flag.”

And we stopped. The American left in a huff, and we laughed, more at him and his outburst than what was on the screen. But I go to thinking about this yesterday again.

What is it about the people of the UK that we can find that sort of thing to be funny and yet the American to be offended by it?  Can you imagine British people complaining about a Santa on a flag-pole instead of the Union Flag?  I can’t see it happening.

The Americans are a very patriotic people. Overtly patriotic. The British though, I soon found out from the Twitter replies I received yesterday, are similarly patriotic, but not so overtly.  We are quietly and happily, proudly patriotic, but then we have a different thing to think about.  We have the mix that we have four countries as part of our nation.  The English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish all have claim to our individual identities as much as being British does.

It does seem that people are proud of this country, and when I asked them what they were proud of, the things that they mentioned we the symbols of Britain.  The Queen. Our history.  Our Armed Forces.  Constantly they mention that our Forces are the best in the world (and it’s something that appears often in Facebook comments on links to this blog).

And in answer to the question “Should we be patriotic? Does it matter?” I got one answer that struck a chord.  “It does matter in a general sense definitely. But you and I both know we do/did what we do/did out of professional pride and for our mates.”

You see, it took an ex-serviceman to hit the nail directly on the head.  I am patriotic. I do love my country. I can identify with being English AND British. I fly the flag of England and Britain. But it was not for a love of my country that I joined the RAF.  I took an oath of allegiance to the ‘Queen and all her heirs and successors’ but in the end it is not because of this that I stay in the military.

It’s for the other people that serve alongside me.  Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the few who will stand up for the national anthem (a practise that is dying out, I know).  It was not some love of all things English and British, that made me join up.  I doubt many people in the forces today would say that is the reason they joined.  They joined for many reasons; adventure, excitement, wanting to get an education that they missed when in school or a trade they can use in later life, desire to fulfil a childhood ambition, or just to travel and see the world…patriotism pretty certainly won’t be high on their list of reasons. And once they are in, the reason of patriotism will drop even further down the list.

You see there is a huge difference between servicemen and civilians. We are patriotic as much as civilians are. But we have different reasons for being so.  Civilians are proud of the symbols of their country, as are the servicemen, but  it’s not those symbols that drive us. We are proud of our services, but we are proud in a different way, and have different reasons for being so.

Because once you are in the forces the reason is that you don’t really fight for your country. Nor for the Queen. But instead, you fight for the other people you are serving with.  And it doesn’t really matter flag they are wearing (be it on their arm or their underwear).  As long as they are on your side. You will fight for them.

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5 thoughts on “Patriot Games…

  1. Thanks for that perspective, I’ve often thought how understated we are when it come to patriotism and how thats a good thing.

    I find overt displays of patriotism a little unsettling, just because we don’t fly flags from everywhere and have a sense of humour when it comes to patriotism doesn’t mean we are any less patriotic than the Americans for instance.

    Perhaps its a sign of a young country that they choose to express themselves in this way, and UK as a Country with a long history and strong local identities we’ve matured enough to have a laugh at ourselves.

    Good luck with all that you do, I enjoy you blogs immensely!

    • I read about ‘new patriotism’ while studying war media and democracy whilst at university. It is rather refreshing to read it’s definition being used by a serving members of Her Majesties Armed Forces.

  2. Kjell Hansen on said:

    Well said my friend! I too stand for the Anthem ( we have two; the Canadian National and the Royal Anthem) including removing my cap. Like yourself, I swore a solemn Oath to The Crown and to defend both my homeland (The UK) and this Dominion of Canada in which I now happily live. Patriotism is something that Canadians have but have never been good at displaying. Well, sometimes we do. For example during the 2010 Winter Olympics when we “Owned The Podium” and took the Gold, the roar from British Columbia could be heard above the busy city noises in Toronto; indeed as far out as Newfoundland /Labrador. It was so overwhelming we scared our American neighbours. YES! They’ve not seen their neighbours to the north whom they consider docile and unpatriotic, explode in a unified HOO_RAH the night we won gold after gold. Jon Montgomery proudly walking with another gold medal having a big slug of Canadian beer out of a jug somebody bought him, wrapped up in the Canadian flag, is about as patriotic as we can get. Spontaneous outbursts in the street of “O Canada” with thousands of voices joining in unnerved our neighbours. We totally rattled our US neighbours when our November 11 Remembrance Day twenty-five cent piece hit their cash registers; the Royal Canadian Mint decided on a special issue and put a red poppy on the front. Truly an act of patriotism and humility towards our Veterans, our neighbours thought they were ‘spy devices’. How silly. I’ve sent them to my British friends who are deeply moved at this act of patriotism. We also did an issue for people like my Mum; breast cancer survivors, by putting pink ribbons on the top face of the coin. When one of our Bravest comes home from Afghanistan, thousands line the “Highway of Heroes’ . We were the first to come up with this; a supreme act of patriotism which eventually extended into the city. The Crown Coroners office is just at the end of my street. It is a true act of quiet patriotism to see Canadians brave all types of weather to pay respects to the Fallen and Families alike. Even my big Irish Red Setter comes, wearing our Colours and finding himself on tely as an “expression of patriotism at a sober time”
    Earlier this evening I had a 2 hour ‘time out’ with a very old friend who remembers me from high school before I left Canada to return to the UK to serve in Ulster. We both agreed that we are afforded an enormous degree of stability because of who we are and what we believe in. I agree. Completely. When Mumsie and I went to meet HRH on Her recent visit to Toronto, I met my schoolmate; another patriot who showed up on a day when there was any one of a number of other things to do in Toronto.
    One of my British acquaintances who is avowed to unseat the Monarchy and makes a point of showing herself up by screaming unspeakable epithets at HRH Elizabeth II was doing a lousy job of having a civilized talk with me about The Crown. “If I swore a solemn oath to HM and all therein, both here in Canada (when I took Citizenship) and in the UK (when I took the Uniform) how do I release myself from these Oaths without committing treason? Her answer was something about noblesse oblige ; I failed to see how this would release me from my oaths. Besides; I have no desire to be released from something I believe in very strongly. Strong enough to put my life on the line for. I wonder about those who stay seated or caps on during the Anthem; would the have the patriotism and courage to defend our flag and all we believe in? Or would they let it slip through their hands, selling it out for the proverbial ‘mess of pottage?”
    In closing; during the hot summer I witnessed something that enraged me – a very silly thing to do. Some lout was riding around on his bicycle with the old Canadian Red Ensign (the flag previous to our now well-known red maple leaf with two red bars on either side) on a fishing pole being dragged on the ground such that it was ripped, ragged and filthy. When I think of the souls that were given up to defend that noble flag, I went ‘postal’ with rage. But our ever present Police saw it too, arrested the dolt and sent him packing off to where he belonged for desecrating the Ensign. Yes, there is justice.

  3. Amen brother…

    Bloody hell, now I’m being nice to Crab!

    Don’t tell anyone! Please! 😉

  4. Joe Schwartz on said:

    You mention that Great Britan consists of four countries, and name them. I think the reason U.S. citizens express their patriotism though thier flag (I am one) is that we have no single contries of origin. We all have some pride in the countrys our ancester’s originated from, but we did not occupy this continent as a people like you have. As another commented, you have a long history…we only have 200 years of history, our flag and what it stands for.

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