I don’t understand national pride; it’s the same as patriotism, sort of.  I especially don’t understand national pride in relation to the Olympics.  Each of these teams from different countries come together in a host country bent on bankrupting the ticket buying public, to compete against each other.  I’m supposed to cheer the Americans, obviously.  Why the Americans?  Because it wouldn’t do for me to cheer for the French.

I don’t understand why I am supposed to cheer on the athletes just because they are American.  I don’t know them.  How can I possibly feel any pride in their achievement?  The competitors are doing it for themselves, whether they say it in so many words or not.  I don’t mean to imply the athletes don’t deserve the praise.  They do.  Most have trained their entire lives for this once chance to say to everyone, “I’m best at my chosen sport today.”  And bully for them.  I pat them collectively  on the back.  I await the appearance of athletes faces on my breakfast cereal.  Certainly, they have done something that I never would have had the dedication to do.  I admire the determination of these atheletes.   To me, though, they appear to have a quite lopsided life, a little too heavy on work, and not enough on fun for my taste.

I don’t understand why I would be proud of Michael Phelps for getting a medal.  How does his winning a race make America a better place?  If he swims enough races will world hunger come to a halt?  If he wins enough medals, will we have world peace?  What if he medals (is that a verb?) in every event (yeah, not likely, but go with me here)?  Will that reverse climate change???

I know I don’t have a competitive bone in my body.  I don’t care to win.  I never wanted to be the best.  Never tried to be number one at anything, especially a sport.  I grew up with mostly girls and an inattentive dad.  My brothers never taught me to throw a ball.  My sisters did not teach me how to ride a bike.  What I learned, I taught myself.  Suffice to say I am no athlete, yet am I not just as worthy of praise as any of our medal winners?  Yet somehow I’m supposed to experience their joy as some sort of pride in my nationality.

Americans have no real nationality, do they?  I mean we’re just a jumble of the rest of the world.  We’re every one of us a mixture of races and nationalities, the only thing to draw us together is our “Americanism” which I would be hard pressed to describe.  While I was in the Navy and stood each morning as the flag was raised I experienced a chill up my spine every time I saluted it.  That is the closest thing to what national pride feels like; cold chill on your spine, a metaphysical shiver and a sense of belonging.

Patriotism I always felt came from ordinary people doing extraordinary things, like the US military bringing peace through war to countries that really weren’t involved in a war before we arrived.  Spending your twenties in the Asian deserts or spending them at a gym, are both extraordinary things to do.  Olympic atheletes are hardly ordinary people–I wouldn’t spend every waking hour training, eating nothing but yogurt and whole grains for four years.  That is not an ordinary person.  Neither would I spend 3 tours in Afghanistan (just because I was in the military doesn’t make me pro war).  That is not what ordinary people do.

As for my national pride, I bow to the military.  Now and in the past.  Not for what they do, but because they are willing to do it.  Though some were probably as naive as me, when I enlisted in the Navy in 1978.  Out involvement in Vietnam was recent memory and there were no wars on the near horizon.  I was not going to face anything more distressing than being away from loved ones for an extended period.  I had nothing to worry about.  I had no difficult orders to carry out, and couldn’t have if provided the opportunity. 

My idea of the Olympics is very different from the way it currently opperates.  I’d enter the top military groups of each country and have them compete.  If Russia wins the trampoline jumping, yay for them.  But if America loses on the solo synchronized swimmer there’s going to be hell to pay and we’ll be shipped en masse to Afghanistan.  Some real consequences, handled by people willing to take lives in their hands.  The country with the most medals is considered King Country for the next four years and all other countries pay tribute in gold and spices.  The country with no wins is relegated to being removed from their homeland for a desert island in the Burmuda Triangle.    

Maybe other people have multiple levels of national pride, and I just don’t see it wide enough. I do tend to over-simplify, but I think it’s compensation for other people trying very hard to make life complicated.

5 thoughts on “Patriotism

  1. This is great. I find the whole sports thing odd in many ways. Over here the most well known and admired people are sports stars – heroes. Whereas the quiet heroes who are doing things for others and not for their own muscles, are unsung.

  2. Spent the day at the Olympics!. People just happy to be there and say they were there. It is nice when GB wins a medal but i think the media are responsible for much of the one eyed jingoism assoicated with sport. An interesting test is to see what you think of when a great sporting moment occurs that resonates with you. I bet it is shared experiences, family and friends that are the prime drivers not this cobblers about “we have won a gold in the swimming therefore we are better than Iran etc etc”. Great post.

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