For God, King and Country

This obscenity is found on war memorials, often in Latin: ‘Pro Deo, Rege et Patria’. I call it an obscenity because the majority of those servicemen and women did not die for those fictions but either because they had no choice in the matter or to save their comrades. Lying on the battlefied with his legs blown off, a soldier was more likely to be calling for a medic or his mother than any so-called deity, even if he believed in one. Still less for his monarch – it was centuries since any king had been anywhere near a battle, let alone the front line. On the other hand a fair few of those ‘fallen’ may have fought to defend their country, however they envisioned that, from invasion and destruction by the enemy. So we’re talking about patriotism. This term is touted as the ‘decent’ form of nationalism, in that it should not imply any superiority over other nations. But a cursory glance at the history of war, imperialism and sport shows the lie in that. It has to be endlessly invoked because it’s a relatively new phenomenon – the idea of nation states is barely five hundred years old and much less in most parts of the world. Most people’s loyalty is to groups much nearer to them – their family, their tribe, their work mates, their football team, their community, if there is one, their co-religionists. Their traditional enemies are likewise mainly closer to them. So, at times of war and other international conflicts, patriotism/nationalism has to be revived and reinforced and the enemy dehumanised – ‘The only good Indian/German/ Jap/etc is a dead one’. The problem for the rulers is that these false emotions are hard to control when they’re trying to be on good terms with the Indians/ Germans/Japs/etc. Then ‘patriotism’ becomes extreme nationalism, which the right wing make a show of deploring, while using it to their advantage wherever possible. As someone said long ago, “What’s moderate racism?” So what’s moderate nationalism? Another set of blinkers to stop us seeing clearly.

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