by Jeff Thomas, International Man:
Recently, after reading an essay of mine, a reader angrily questioned my loyalty to the USA. My immediate reaction was that I’m not a US citizen. I therefore tend to observe the US dispassionately, just as I’d observe any of the nearly 200 “foreign” countries in the world.
But, as I’m British, what if he’d questioned my loyalty to the UK? Would he have a valid point? Well, at the very least, he’d certainly have a question worthy of an answer.
I, of course, have a legal right to live and work in the UK, and yet I choose not to. It’s simply not my idea of a great country in which to reside. As much as I regard the traditional English village to be an ideal environment in which to live, I reside elsewhere. The reason is that I place a very high value on personal freedom, a nonintrusive government, and a populace that doesn’t feel that it’s entitled to largesse that’s been forcibly taken from another segment of the population.
But that doesn’t exactly address the question of “loyalty,” does it? Well, there, I must confess, I tend to answer the question with another question. Whenever someone speaks to me of his loyalty to his country, I’m inclined to ask him to define “country.”
In most jurisdictions, the term “country” seems to be bandied about more by governments and the military than by the average citizen. Whenever a government wants blind compliance from its people, political leaders speak of “loyalty.” Whenever a military seeks to send people off to possibly be killed in battle, again, “loyalty” is the reason given.
But if the question is asked, “Loyalty to what?” answers vary. “Loyalty to the flag” is a common one. Another is “Loyalty to this great land of ours.” And, not surprisingly, these answers are common, no matter which country is under discussion. But is one flag superior to another? Is one land better than another (which would suggest that all those who feel their land is better are incorrect)?
Let’s have a closer look at some possible definitions and representations of “country.”
One of my earliest memories is of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. But this is not so much due to the event itself, as it’s because my family’s home was littered with all the flags, pop-up books, biscuit tins, and other memorabilia that commemorated the coronation. The house was tricked out like Christmas in June and I’ve never forgotten it, although I was only five at the time.
So I was taught what the Union Jack represented at an early age. Yet I regard it primarily as a piece of cloth. I’ve lived in numerous countries and they all have their own bit of cloth that they run up the flagpoles. The reader might ask himself, “Am I loyal to this piece of fabric, regardless of whether the leaders of my country represent the principles in which I believe?”
A Particular Portion of Real Estate
A country can, of course, be defined geographically. If we’re born within the boundaries of a country, we’re asked to take great pride in that fact, even though it’s a mere accident of birth and has nothing whatever to do with our own selection.
So, if we feel loyal to a particular piece of ground, is it the ground on which our home sits, or does it encompass the town nearest us, or is it an entire country, most of which we’re unlikely to ever even visit? It would seem natural to value one’s immediate surroundings, but it would make less sense for large numbers of people to collectively value vast areas that have no relevance to their personal lives.