Joho the Blog » patriotism

August 25, 2016

Five minutes of hope

What I find most remarkable about this exchange: So few conversations begin with the request for help changing one’s own mind.


November 8, 2015

"Bridge of Spies" and Spielberg's American heroes

Bridge of Spies” continues Steven Spielberg‘s conscious (?) attempt to refashion what it means to be an American hero. It’s impeccably made, beautifully acted, and a compelling story. It’s more muted than Spielberg at his most exuberant (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Tintin), but it was a good night out at the movies.

And once again it’s Spielberg giving us the counterpoint to the cartoon heroism of Indiana Jones. It’s Spielberg being Frank Capra (e.g., Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Tom Hanks being Jimmy Stewart — both with a defining ambiguity. As in Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad and Lincoln, to be moral is to be morally conflicted, which for Spielberg is a big step up from being right. As in Amistad and Lincoln, to be an American hero is to take the Constitutional promise of equality under the law as what binds us into a nation, and then to be conflicted about its application. In particular, it is to worry about the conflict between the rule of law that one has accepted as constitutive of the nation and the exceptional worth of every individual. It is the exact opposite of Indy facing the crazy swordmaster, shrugging his shoulders, and shooting him from a distance, and walking away. Tom Hanks never shrugs his shoulders in a Spielberg movie.



By the way, when it says at the beginning that it’s based on true events (truthy spoilers here), it’s not some wild fictionalization. All the major elements are true. Knowing that makes the movie more interesting.

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May 12, 2013

WW II vets welcomed by airport passengers

I was in National Airport in DC yesterday and came upon this scene. The vets are being welcomed by passengers waiting for planes and by people who came especially for the event. It’s a trip sponsored by the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that brings vets to DC for free to see the memorials and sights. It was a genuinely heartwarming scene. For all the books I’ve read about WW II and the movies I’ve seen, I still can’t imagine what it took to serve.

BTW, Honor Flight’s page — — warns us not to be confused by That’ll teach you: If you’re a .org, grab the .com for another $15/year.

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January 19, 2009

American patriotism

Yesterday I had to explain to my startled children why their dad just about jumped out of his seat with joy when Pete Seeger showed up on stage. To those not of a particular generation and of a particular swipe through that generation, it is indeed a mystery…

I was born in 1950 to parents who agreed more about politics than anything else. My father was a WWII vet and a graduate of Harvard Law who, rather than going into private practice, went to work as a lawyer for the New York State Labor Relations Board. He believed working people needed the power of unions to fight exploitation. And he was right.

My mother was a folksinger — she taught guitar but did not have enough confidence, or I imagine, my father’s support, to perform — starting in the early 1950s, before the the pop acculturation of that form. Folk music back then was a mix of art, anthropology and politics. During an era of smooth, mass market, commercial singers — think of a Perry Como Christmas Hour — the folklorists were out in the fields, preserving the raw, bottom-up songs of the least among us. Folk music stood in the fields against the great lawn mower of commercial entertainment.

A labor lawyer and a folksinger. My parents were the very definition of what others called “commie symps” (communist sympathizers). Pink, not red. They had no love for Russia, but they also saw America’s sins for what they were: Racist, misogynist (my mother but not my father was something like an early feminist), crass, bullying, and sexually obsessed with atomic bombs. They believed in America’s stated principles and promise, and had the ACLU membership cards to prove it. But they had also lived through a time when lynchings went unpunished, and Joseph McCarthy had twisted the legislature around his accusatory finger.

Pete Seeger was of my parents’ generation. In our household, he was the example of what a patriot looks like. A man of the people. Someone who had suffered for his political views in the McCarthy years. A hero who had stayed true to his ideals. A person who felt connected to the worst off, who appreciated their culture and who worked for their aspirations. A quiet person who never boasted. A character who never bowed to fashion or the expectations of others. A singer happiest in a small circle of like souls. Someone whose life and songs celebrated the greatest of America’s democratic ideals: The ineffable value of the ordinary person.

So, when Pete Seeger came out on stage in his rainbow Smurf hat, to sing before our new president, our new black president, I lost it. What my parents would have thought. What Pete Seeger must be thinking. But most of all, the proof of how steeply history can arc.

Pete Seeger: American patriot.

[Note: This post is also up at Huffington. Feel free to comment there.]

words and music by Woody Guthrie

[Note the second-to-last verse, the one that begins “As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there.” It’s a lot of people’s favorite — dw]

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding

This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

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November 9, 2008

Star Spangled Obama

I like this video:

You could take it as yet more feel-good Obama propaganda, which it is. Or you could take it as a celebration supporters are entitled to, which we are. Or, you could take it as progressives (or liberals or lefties or whatever you want to call us) folding themselves back into the patriotism that the right had appropriated for itself, which is why I like it.

You could also replace those “or’s” with “and’s”. [Tags: ]

And no comment needed:

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August 23, 2008

McCain on Biden: Should have, didn’t

If McCain hadn’t become Karl Rove’s sockpuppet, this is what he might have said in response to the selection of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate:

I congratulate my friend and colleague Joe Biden on his being selected as a vice presidential candidate. Joe and I have disagreed frequently over the years, and we disagree now on many of the important issues facing this country. But I’ve also worked with him, count him as a friend, and respect him as a capable man who loves the country he’s served for so many years.

That said, I remain convinced that the solutions Joe and his running mate are proposing are dangerous, and dangerously out of step with the American people. We’re going to keep on making that case up and down this great land, offering our own practical, down-to-earth solutions that will make a real difference in the lives of hard-working Americans.

McCain’s actual response, in full, from his Web site:

ARLINGTON, VA — Today, McCain spokesman Ben Porritt issued the following statement on Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his running mate:

“There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be President.”

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