This frightening week started with Trump’s announcement of a new National Day of Patriotic Devotion, which immediately attracted scorn and disgust on both sides of the political spectrum for its fascistic vernation of the cult of the nation and expectations of ‘total allegiance’.
It got me thinking about Patriotism, a feeling I would swear I’ve never felt. I associate the word primarily with the First World War poetry we studied in school. Thanks to somewhat repetitive coursework of my English and History GCSEs, the concept of loving one’s country will be forever ingrained in my mind with Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est, written sometime between the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918.
A hundred years ago this month, in January 1917, Wilfred Owen left his training camp in the UK in high spirits and headed for the gas, the mud, and the rotting bodies on the front line in France. He was dead less than two years later.
That’s what I think of, when I hear Trump talk about Patriotism. In a twisted way, I think that’s probably what the Republicans are thinking of too.
But perhaps, as an act of resistance, we should use this new day of Patriotism to imagine the kind of country we would feel proud of. What kind of country we want to live in.
This is the beginning of my list.
I would feel proud and devoted to a country where everyone’s economic needs are met through a generous basic income, so there is no reason to fear strangers or be envious of others.
Where each child is given a rich education and each adult has the ability to continue to learn, throughout their life, through access to cost-free college.
Where those who want to work can, but work is not considered to be the purpose or measure of a life.
A country that celebrates, respects, and fully supports the arts, humanities, and sciences.
Where those who are religious are able to worship without fear of repression, but are equally not able to use religion as an excuse to oppress others.
A country where medical care is freely available and equally accessible to all women and men, including mental healthcare, and where the elderly and disabled live in comfort and with dignity.
I would be proud of a state that is proactive in protecting the rights of the weak, and proactive in uncovering and dismantling its own racism, classism, and misogyny.
Of a justice system that seeks to reform those found guilty of crime and helps victims heal, rather than extracting revenge through death or the cruelty of inhumane prison sentences.
I would be proud of a country that has open borders and welcomes anyone who needs protection and who is willing to help build this country with us.
Yes, this is idealistic. But that’s the whole point. I couldn’t feel patriotism for a country that did anything less than all this, and more.
This week I happened to be reading A.S. Byatt’s novel The Children’s Book. After taking several hundred pages to follow and explore the childhoods and twisting early adulthoods of a cohort of young people through the last decade of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, Byatt takes only one short chapter to capture the arbitrariness and shock of their deaths between 1914 and 1918. As in her novel Still Life, Byatt portrays the brutality and finality of death through its very mundaneness; the reader’s shock is that you have been following the rich possibilities of these people’s lives through so many pages, only to see them suddenly and completely cut off.
Before that, however, The Children’s Book portrays the promise and utopia of the turn of the last century; of the Fabians, the Anarchists, the Suffragettes and the Free Love Movement. It reminds us that not only are other worlds possible, they have always been there, there have always been people fighting for them. There is nothing to be ashamed of, in planning our own utopia. We aren’t the first to fight for a better world; but before we demand it, we have to imagine it.