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.