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Samuel Johnsons quote on ‘patriotism’ is perhaps the most famous of them all “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Theodore Roosevelt, one of the better loved American presidents said in 1918, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is also morally treasonable to the American public”. Mark Twain said, “Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You can not shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let them label you as they may”. Howard Thurman – “During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism”. And finally, Hermann Goering (he should know about this!) “Naturally the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country”.

One definition of ‘patriotism’ is ‘pride in or devotion to the country somebody was born in or is a citizen of’. So, in the light of the wisdom of the quotes above, where do we stand on this subject in relation to the current scenario in Sri Lanka? Is our patriotism defined and fashioned by our love for this country with all the diversity of its inhabitants living in harmony throughout the land? Would this same patriotism be altered if a section of it is deemed to be separate state within the nation? Would a ‘patriot’ prefer the ongoing conflict to continue, rather than agree to a settlement that would stop the war but alter the geopolitical framework? Would a ‘patriot’ consider giving the Tamil people the freedom to run their own affairs to be ‘unpatriotic’? Where do we stand on this?

Sheeet maaan, you be getting all political an sheet recently, waazzzup? Could be dose exchanges wit yo frens on da talks an all dat bombing goin on be bodderin yo maan? An all dis ‘patriot’ talk, is dis da same as ‘nationalism’?

I was hoping that Java would stay out of this discourse, as he usually ends up distracting me and nothing gets done, except for the music and his ubiquitous joint. It’s pissing down with rain, I’m still in the hills, the family left yesterday, so it is (was?) an ideal chance to get a post out of the way, but now…????

Okay Java, here goes – ‘Nationalism’ has been defined as ‘excessive or fanatical devotion to a nation and its interests, often associated with a belief that one country is superior to all others’. Another definition is ‘the desire to achieve political independence, especially by a country under foreign control by a people with a separate identity and culture but no state of their own’.

Heeeyy maaan, dat fust one soun like dose radical chauvinists we have an da second soun like da folk up north. So could dey be both ‘patriots’ an also ‘nationalists’? (is dat da correct word, maaan?).

Well, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer this okay, but in the case of the first definition and those ‘radical chauvinists’ you mentioned, I doubt they think that this country is superior to all others. However, it does seem that since they belong to the majority race, they believe they have the right to determine language and religious policy without considering the rights of the other ethnic groups in the country. I think that altering the constitution to enshrine a religion as the ‘state’ religion and a language as the ‘state’ language kinda makes this notion pretty much beyond any doubt. And as to your second observation regarding the ‘folk up north’, I guess the second definition spells it out in a nutshell.

Sheeet! Yo mean da government exclude dose udder religions an languages from being part of da makeup of da country maan? Dat souns like…..sheeet!!! Unbelievable maaan! Why dey go do dat for? Best way to create conflict an upset da balance huh? Who do dis sheeet?

It’s hopeless! I can’t get this going with Java in my head and in my ear (like Penny Lane!).

Look Java, it’s a looong story man and I’m not even sure if I can give you the whole history of it accurately. We’ll have to ask Nahorp or Bamthy who are into the socio-political history of the country. So now just excuse me so I can get this done, okay?

He gives me this aggrieved look and heads off to the sound. I’m sorry I got distracted and lost the gist of where this was going, but at least I got some of it down and maybe use it as the base to expand on it later. It’s just too much work to carry on now that the rain is pelting down, Buzzy is spooked by the sound of it on the roof and is curled up by me, Java’s got the whole room smoky and got the volume up high on Tom Rapp of Pearls Before Swine doing Everybody’s Got Pain.

So I’ll put this away and join him.

November 2006
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Ephemeral Ruminations by Java Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
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