There’s a radio guy in my area who went on a rant one time on what he sees as a patriotic law: that you must take off your hat during the national anthem. “Take your damn hat off!” he exclaimed. I was thinking, what if you don’t have a hat? Is it disrespectful to the flag, to the anthem, to the country if you don’t have a hat to take off?

It’s just kind of silly. You can work hard, pay your taxes, raise bright and well behaved children, and contribute to charity, all that good stuff. But god help you if you don’t stand and remove your hat (“Hats Will Be Provided”).

But…okay. I always stand for these things, though more in patience than in reverence. I see it as a symbolic thing, a relatively harmless ritual. Go along to get along, I guess, especially on unimportant things. Plus, going the other way, I’m an accepting kind of guy. If some people in the audience or one of the performers chooses to not stand or take off their hats, that’s okay, too.

But it does make a lot of people angry, doesn’t it?

So I feel a need to think this through. Am I a patriot? Or am I just another parasite, feeding off the bravery and hard work of others, taking full advantage of my country and feeling no desire to show it any respect?

And what is a country, anyway? I’m a Canadian. What is Canada? Is it the land? The political structure? The culture? The history?

I think it’s a bit of all these things; each one shapes the others. But then there are all these other questions.

What about the current conflict between President Trump and the NFL players? Even Canadians are arguing about it. Do we need to take up sides on every god damn thing? Does any of this even matter? Why the hell is the anthem played at sporting events, anyway? Is patriotism a form of religious worship? Don’t we live in a secular society (I should hope)? Why can’t people get the hell off of each other’s lawns?

Let me talk about my country a bit. Canada is cool (groovy, baby), for the most part. I’d guess that at least 60% of the people have their hearts in the right place (they agree with my moral precepts). It’s saddled with a reasonably democratic political structure. It’s a rich country. You can walk around feeling completely safe. I mean, maybe I’m delusional, but I don’t feel physically threatened, and I don’t feel restrained in my speech except in terms of politeness (and that’s just me). And Canada looks great, although we mostly ignore that…you get used to it.

But what if all the wonderful things about Canada were not true? What if we didn’t have beautiful lands to admire, or rich resources to exploit, or a peaceful society to inhabit, or freedom to speak our minds? What if we lived in “…one of them loser countries,” as Moe Szyslak would say?

There’s an old saying, not anywhere near 100% true, but it makes a point: If you want to live in a great community, you probably will.

So I’m not into this, “My country, right or wrong!” deal. I guess I would be okay with patriotism if defined as wanting to be proud of your country, and defending and promoting admirable ideals and actions. Honest rather than crooked. Generous and charitable, not selfish and mean. Open and strong, not closed and weak. Humble as opposed to insecure and arrogant. Courteous instead of insulting.

But again, can you be a patriot if your country is none of those things, or if your country does not even aspire to any admirable qualities (as you think of them)? Clearly you can. Nazi Germany certainly seemed patriotic, but you could hardly blame the Jews if they had not stood for “Die Fahne hoch.” The citizens of North Korea seem to toe the patriotic line, though I daresay that’s patriotism in self-defense.

Self-defense…you know, I’m not big on military culture. But if my homeland was threatened, well, I live here. You gotta defend yourself, love of country or not. If Canada is threatened, if the Canada I admire is threatened, from within or without, I have to stand up for it. So, sure, why not stand up for the anthem and the flag. But if I was a Cambodian citizen under Pol Pot, I’d stand up, sure, but we all know I’d be faking it.

Getting back to my favourite subject, I think I’m a reasonably decent guy. But I can’t say I do a hell of a lot to improve society, unless you count shooting my mouth off in electronic writings. Just another indifferent citizen, working, paying taxes, voting, growing old, falling apart, taking advantage of the social safety net in one way or another. My personal hygiene is pretty good. What more do you want, Canada?

Respect? I’m usually courteous to others (I’m more likely to be contentious in print than in person…which is interesting. You could interpret that as cowardice; I like to think of it as respectful. Meaning that if I think you’re an idiot or beyond reason, I just ignore you. Being contentious signifies that I think you are worthy of argument).

Running out of gas, here. Let me finish up.

I have this memory. I’m not sure if it’s real. But I vaguely recall going to some event as a boy and getting up to stand for the anthem. Some guy behind me yanked off my cap and cuffed me on the back of my head. It was some old guy (any adult was an old guy to me at that time) who proceeded to give me a short lecture on love of country and respect for the flag and the sacrifices of others and all that stuff.

I guess I learned my lesson, though it probably wasn’t the one being taught. I learned that people who want to dictate the terms of respect are basically bullies and cowards. Respect should be earned, but those who demand it only get contempt.

Gary Fletcher – October 16, 2017

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