Today is my birthday, and tomorrow is our big national birthday.
The annual collision of these two events has always been interesting for me, and this year its interesting enough that I think I’m going to avoid mentioning that guy who is running for President, even though he continues to fascinate me with his calls for service and others’ questions about his patriotism.
I have to admit that it took me quite a few years to figure out that all the fireworks and barbeques and parades didn’t have anything to do with my birthday, and that most people probably just saw my parties as a warmup to the long holiday weekend. Not that they weren’t ragers, in a little kid sort of way, especially during the years we had a zip line going into the pool. Those were the days.
Once I figured out that the 4th of July was an actual independent holiday, I went through a period of resentment that I wasn’t really the center of the universe; this wasn’t helped by the fact that half of my presents were always of an explosive and short-lived nature. Frankly, I would have preferred Star Wars action figures, since I was constantly losing mine in the muddy depths of my own personal back yard Dagobah where I would endlessly re-enact that great crash which put Young Luke in the presence of the Jedi Master Yoda.
Hours of entertainment, it was. Hmf.
Anyhow, patriotism is defined “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty” by Random House (the first definition I found). My own patriotism was at least partly defined by Star Wars. This was no accident. After all, I grew up under Reagan, who called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and even named our (imaginary) space defense program “Star Wars.” I could totally picture Darth Vader hanging out in the Kremlin with Yuri Andropov or whoever was in charge back then. I pictured Andropov looking like that guy who got a taste of Vader’s choke hold of the Force.
There was really no question that Luke and “the Rebellion” were the good guys, even if Han Solo was a little bit shifty (and thwarted my dreams of hooking up with Princess Leia). But was Luke patriotic? Well, maybe not. He was a good kid, but got mixed up in a rather subversive crowd. The Empire, after all, was the country against which the Rebellion was rebelling, so that doesn’t fit in well with the Random House view. Sedition and treason and all that. Luke was kinda like Thomas Jefferson but more whiny.
As I grew older, the Rebels eventually won, climaxing with the great Ewok dance party after the Death Star blew up in the evening skies of Humboldt County. Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t they smoking something? I didn’t catch it at the time, but this was the first sign that the battle lines were not what I’d thought.
Fast forward a couple of decades to the release of the prequel trilogy in which we learn that, uh oh, Luke’s father was thought to be the Chosen One until he went over to the Dark Side and served the new Emperor. Even worse, the Empire used to be the Republic, and that republic sure looks familar. Ahem.
Of course, this is not a new story. Part of the genius of Star Wars (besides light sabers, which are brilliant) is that it taps into deep myths and stories about decline and redemption, and a miraculous Force of great power which can ideally be used in ways that lessen the need for physical violence. Yes, it was also used for throwing machines at people and grabbing weapons from across the room, but if I were writing a Star Wars blog, I would argue at length that that was just because the whole thing was out of whack and seeking a new equilibrium. Probably some other blog somewhere has already argued this point.
The messianic nature of the films can’t be ignored, although in this case the first apparent messiah went bad and became a secondary force of the empire (behind the Emperor himself), and so his son had to go into hiding in the desert until the time was right for him to lead the charge against his own country, his own father.
PATRiotism is based on a Latin root for father. Latin, of course, was the language of Rome, which was another fabulous republic which got too big and addicted to power. It also went over to the Dark Side right around the time that Jesus Skywalker showed up. Of course, it was a long slow process and by the time that Jesus was stirring up his edge of the empire, the Dark Side had been fully in control for a few decades.
But even before then, there was a pattern: the power of Rome started with the household. People learned obedience from their father, and it was obedience to the fatherland upon which patriotism was based. Jesus directly undermined this familial chain of command in Matt 10:34-36 (from which he was conveniently exempted due to the immaculate conception and all).
So where does that leave me? Am I patriotic? I’m not sure that I fit the definition above.
I’m full of “devoted love, support, and defense” of the principles underlying my country, but it seems to me that if I want to really support liberty, democracy and self-determination, I need to be pursuing that in other ways than blind loyalty. I think of it like how it would be if my dad had an addiction which was leading to fundamental changes to his behavior. Sooner or later, his behavior might conflict with what he’d taught me about the right way to behave. If that was the case, I think my loyalty to him would demand that I confront him about this. I might even have to chop his arm off with a light saber. Sometimes love demands confrontation.
I have no patience for people who say “love it or leave it.” I’m here for the duration. I had a great time helping to make this mess (I’m thinking of all the action figures made in Taiwan and shipped across oceans at the moment) and now it’s time to clean up. I’m not about to go somewhere easy like Canada, to run up their real estate prices. The US may be a bit messed up right now but I love it anyway. Tough love.