What is patriotism?

Amal Chatterjee
11 min readJul 21, 2019

Source : Google photo of the show of patriotism in India

Synopsis : This blog on patriotism sheds some light on the word and how in some countries it is being understood , used or abused. Anyone can be patriotic irrespective of his caste, religion or creed.

I recall a time during my childhood days when everyday before our school started , all the students were required to fall in line in the football field and stand in strict formation according to their class and wait for the national flag to be raised when we sang the patriotic songs that we had all memorized by heart. One teacher sang the song playing his harmonium that the orderly had placed on a rickety table and we all followed. Then the head master made some announcements if there were any to make and talked of other sundry items that could include new rules for the playground equipment etc. Then we were dismissed so each class went to its classroom keeping the formation intact which was a part of the discipline we all had to follow.

Those kids who were late at the assembly were not allowed to join their ranks and were kept waiting for some admonishment from the headmaster who insisted on punctuality. This was all a part of the routine we all had to observe everyday without fail.

The assembly every day served the purpose of making us proud of our nation, its flag and sing the praise of our motherland to make us feel a sense of patriotism. We did not have a pledge of allegiance that American children are required to say everyday and we did not have to sing our national anthem to start the school day. The anthem was sung only on special occasions like the independence day or the Republic day when we had to sing it in exactly 56 seconds but no one really cared much for the 56 seconds to sing it so the kids sang it in their own fashion and in their own way using many notes of the do re mi and made a cacophony of it which was fun.

In India the word patriotism is limited to singing the anthem once in a while and singing patriotic songs early in the morning assembly before the school starts in grade school and high school. Later in college, there were no such requirements although I recall in my first year of college, there was an assembly everyday before the start of the classes when the class teacher took our attendance, handed out some mails to kids and made some sundry announcements. The system of taking note of our attendance was unique when we were all required to stand on the steps of the stadium where each student was required to stand in the square assigned to him. The teacher noted only the missing squares so the attendance was noted quickly without calling out the names of each student. It was an ingenious system.

Later when I transferred to another college, there was only a weekly assembly where the Principal made a prayer because he was a protestant who took such prayers seriously but we were not required to do so being no Christians so stood there to hear the announcements that were made. There was no anthem, no singing of patriotic songs and never any pledge of allegiance.

So I was very surprised when I went to the United States where I saw how seriously the Americans took the patriotism everyday in their life. This started with the pledge of allegiance in the classroom for the children but did not stop there. The 4th of July is celebrated in every town and city when people wave their flags and war veterans come out to parade in their uniform wearing all the medals they had received. Almost every house was decorated with their flag and women even wore bikinis made of their flag that I had never seen in any country.

If you visit India, you will never see the national flag displayed in any home let alone in bikinis because it is unlawful to wear the national flag the way the Americans do. Indian women do not parade in their streets wearing the costumes made of the national flag . The common people who celebrate our Republic day in Delhi just watch the parade from the side of the main boulevard or watch it on their TV at home. The school children who join the parade do so in their dazzling uniform just like the soldiers and airmen. The Republic day parade in Delhi on January 26 is a dazzling display of numerous floats, military hardware and aerial displays of fighter jets, helicopters showering flower petals on the parade that is telecast live worldwide so I can see it here in the Philippines.

In a diverse country such as India, people are generally considered patriotic and you can sense a feeling of great pride in them for their country in spite of all the complaints you hear on every subject. This sense of patriotism and pride is heightened during the time of crisis like war with Pakistan but normally speaking, people do not make patriotism a subject of discussion in their everyday life like what I have seen in America.

So I come back to the topic of what is patriotism and what it means to people. When I was a kid, I used to hear our father sing the patriotic songs. In those days before the independence, there was a great revolution going on in the country because everybody was affected by the fever of struggle for independence. People burned piles of western clothes in every street cross section to protest the British and took great pride in wearing native clothes . They encouraged the local cottage industry to make home spun cotton clothes that people wore with great pride. They wore Congress caps to show their support for the non violent movement spearheaded by Mohandas Gandhi and the Congress workers.

People waved the national flag and marched in the streets in very large numbers all over the country to protest the British occupation of India and often got beaten back by the British police. They joined the protest to stop the salt works run by the British and got beaten by the sentries at the gate who fractured their skulls but still they continued.

The independence brought a change to the country. Now people were free to go about their routine life without fearing the British anymore so the national fervor of patriotism slowly diminished as there was no more need for such protests and displays at the cost of jails, beatings or even death.

The significance of the struggle for freedom as experienced by the older generation is diminished in the younger generation that came after the independence because they had only read about it and were not participants in the freedom struggle so they did not suffer like their parents and grandparents.

What ignites the patriotism?

If you ask the Germans and French or just about any European, they may tell you the sufferings due to the last World War that brought so much misery to them . They clearly recall the hardship, the death and destruction of their towns and villages and the disruption of their normal life under the Nazi occupation. They will tell you of someone they knew who had died or was tortured by the Gestapo and they still recall the airlift of food and even coal to Berlin when the Russians had blockaded a part of the city. They still recall after all those years the food shortage and shortage of almost everything.

Source : Hitler making speech in Nuremberg to rally support

But to stoke the latent flame of patriotism in every German, it took a person like Adolf Hitler who through his oratorical skills could rouse up millions of people in Germany to his cause. He could make them do anything in the name of their country even if it meant the mass slaughter of the Jews and the minorities. Their support of Hitler and his party only brought them disaster, deaths, destruction of their cities, towns and villages by the allies, shortage of food and deprivation on a national scale that took them a long time to come out of.

Similarly the patriotism of the Japanese during the last war also brought them death and destruction on a massive scale that the Japanese still remember with great sadness today. So during the time of crisis, the leaders of their country demand a show of patriotism and support in order to overcome the challenges so a whole nation pulls together and stands united to support their government and often suffers the consequences.

Today the word patriotism does not carry as much weight as it did back then because the world has changed, it has brought some prosperity to some people and generally speaking people now have more education than the previous generation and more job opportunities than before. There are still some countries suffering from proxy wars like in Iraq, Syrian, Afghanistan etc. that has led to the increase in the acts of terrorism in all parts of the world but big countries like India and China are at peace where people go about living their normal day to day life.

So I do support a sense of belonging and a pride in the country that has educated me and helped me in many ways when I needed it. I do feel a sense of duty toward my home country so I pay my taxes and do many things that are considered patriotic although I think that it will be hard to drive people today into a patriotic frenzy the way Adolf Hitler did in Germany back then. It is because people now are educated enough to examine the motive of such leaders before they give their unconditional support to them.

In a functioning democracy , there are checks and balances to stop anyone to become an autocrat like Hitler but in countries where the dictators rule, people still live in fear and worry about what will happen if their dictator drags their country into a war that can mean death and destruction on a national scale.

But I would shy away from wearing my patriotism on my sleeve like they do in some countries where women wear their flag in their bikinis. The love and respect for your flag should only extend so far as not to make a mockery of it. Healthy respect for the flag that represents your country should be cultivated but a mockery is clearly not the way to do it. The flag should be revered like you revere Jesus or Buddha but should you wear a panty with the picture of Jesus covering your crotch and proclaim your love this way?

The abuse of patriotism :

People blame Hitler for the World War II when he roused the German people into a frenzy to do his bidding that led to the near destruction of Germany and the loss of lives in millions but people forget that Adolf Hitler tried to make peace at least seven times with the allied powers before he chose the war. Decorated military officers like Stauffenberg and many others who were patriotic Germans saw how Germany was being destroyed so tried to assassinate Hitler but failed and were shot. The Deputy Fuhrer Hess who loved Germany also tried to make the offer of peace by flying into England one day but he was arrested and sent to a prison where he later committed suicide.

So patriotism can mean different things to different people but one thing is certain. It is the love for your country , its values and its legitimate government elected by the popular mandate , its culture, its way of life and religions are all a part of patriotism. When you defy a dictatorial government and abusive police force, unjust laws and political harassment of the minorities, people of ethnic origins, blacks and others at the cost of going to prison, you are no less patriotic than others.

Source : U tube video of mob lynching of Muslims in India

Now in India we see the rise of Hindu nationalism that equates itself with being patriotic. Mob lynching of Moslems who refuse to say Bharat Mata ki Jai ( Victory to Mother India) or Jai Shri Ram ( Victory to Ram) is being reported in many parts.

They use the ban of cow slaughter in some parts to attack Muslims who eat beef so they are labeled as unpatriotic and beaten up or even killed. Any politician who supports the Muslims is attacked or ridiculed so the majority now decides who is patriotic and who is not. It is very dangerous in India for any Muslim to shout Long live Pakistan and wave the Pakistan flag anywhere because the crowd of Hindus will attack such a person. Policemen may watch but will not interfere. The Buddhists in Myanmar also used the slaughter of cows by Muslim Rohingyas as an issue so they chased them out of the country because they say that cow slaughter was anti Buddhist and unpatriotic.

It is useless to tell them that the Muslims are also Indians who have contributed to the struggle for its independence. Thousands have sacrificed their lives when they fought against the British in the Indian National Army of Bose . Muslims serve in the national and regional governments and have received high awards for their services and their patriotism during the wars with Pakistan.

But the rise of Hindu nationalism tends to negate the contributions Muslims have made and still do and has started to redefine who is patriotic and who is not. It reminds me of an American president who said “ if you are not with us, you are against us” during his rallies to get support for his war in Iraq that many countries including Germany and India did not support .

In any democracy, the opposition plays a crucial role of checks and balance so that a government does not become autocratic and impose its will on the country against their wishes. Remember how people all over the United States rose against the war in Vietnam and protested on the streets ? They were no less patriotic than those rightly or wrongly supported the war and had every right to protest. Such democratic protests have yielded positive results and ended the war in Vietnam. The protests in France led to the independence of Algeria.

But to use the word patriotism to start war and mayhem somewhere and label those who do not support it as unpatriotic is an abuse of the word and its meaning and that is now happening also in India where the Hindu nationalism is on the rise that starts labeling people who do not support them as unpatriotic people be they Muslims or others.

This is how a democracy can be destroyed in the long run so I hope that you who are my readers understand that protesting unjust government , unjust laws and rules does not make you unpatriotic . Learn from the example of Claus von Stauffenberg and Rudolf Hess who loved their country and died for it.

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