As President Trump attended the solemn ceremonies honoring the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day–the day we now celebrate as Veteran’s Day in the United States–he was treated to a lecture from French President Emmanuel Macron. The translation of one phrase from his memorable speech went as follows: “… patriotism is exactly the opposite of nationalism.”
Words like that can perk up the ears of Spirited Reasoners. How on earth could such a statement be true?
After much thought, I realized President Macron was right. The following illustrations come to mind:
I recall, during one of my vacations, seeing a monument in the central square of almost every small village in France. These monuments bore the names of young soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. It struck me that in some cases there were more names on the monument than there were people now living in the village. The spirit of nationalism that sent so many young people to their death was, indeed, a betrayal of the older generation’s duty to the younger. National pride had led to the sacrifice of too many patriotic young men and women.
But one need not travel to France. Perhaps that country’s most celebrated gift to the United States was the Statue of Liberty, which has become one of our most sacred patriotic symbols. On the base of that statue, one finds the words of Emma Lazarus, whose poem, THE NEW COLOSSUS, has been memorized by many a school child. The words most often quoted from that poem are the following: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the gold door!”
The Statue of Liberty is, to me, a wonderful symbol of patriotism, expressing sentiments that have always made me proud to be an American.
My paternal grandfather came to the United States as a refugee from Lebanon sometime around the year 1907. He was only a boy, around nine years old, without any family members to join him. He sailed on a ship filled with refugees from the port of Marseilles. Upon his arrival at Ellis Island, he was denied entry because he had no sponsor, could not speak English, and had no family members to help him with the interviews or forms. In essence, he was an “illegal immigrant.”
Somehow, he was advised, perhaps by another immigrant who could understand English, that he might have better luck if he attempted entry at Providence, Rhode Island. He followed that advice and gained admittance, in part because a West Virginia mine operator with the last name of “Williams” offered to sponsor him. Since my grandfather could not speak a word of English, and therefore did not know what people were asking when they wanted to know his name, he was given same surname, Williams,” as that of his sponsor. Hence my own last name.
My grandfather repaid his sponsor’s generosity by serving as a sandwich maker for coal miners. Later, he opened his own successful restaurant in Bristol, Virginia.
Here’s my point: My grandfather made it to this country as a refugee in part because of the wonderful sentiments of Emma Lazarus found on the Statue of Liberty, sentiments that, I truly believe, echoed those of most Americans at the time.
I call those sentiments “patriotic.”
Now, let’s look at how today’s spirit of nationalism differs. Under the current sentiments expressed by President Trump, a refugee like my grandfather would be viewed as an “invader.” President Trump would see him as dirty, a potential criminal, and someone to be kept out of this country at all costs. We might even call out the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force to keep a shipload of such invaders out.
See how far we’ve drifted from the patriotic verses printed on the Statue of Liberty? One could argue that we’ve lost that identity entirely, at least in the eyes of the world.
President Macron hit the nail on the head. Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism.