Nationalistic Platitudes and Hokum Pokum (Alakazam).

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” ~Mark Twain

On any given day, my three older sons can be seen marching through the house, arms cocked at rigid right angles and swinging, fists clinched. “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave,” they sing each attempting to outdo the other with their vim and vigor. They ask me to chime in, to follow in their footsteps and march out the rhythm. Sometimes I do.

They have learned this song at school, it being lyrically safe and a relatively inoffensive piece of nationalistic hokum in which buzzwords like “God,” and “grace,” are conspicuously absent. The absence of those buzzwords does not particularly bother me. After all, I’d rather teach my children about God and grace unencumbered by the bounds of national identity, but that is a discussion for another day.

This Saturday, I was cleaning the dishes and Ian was sitting at the table recreating the battle for Helm’s Deep and repeating the opening line to the Grand Old Flag ad naseum. (It’s the little things that drive a parent nuts; am I the only one?) Somewhere around the three-hundredth repeat, it struck me–“forever in peace may you waive.”

“Ian,” I stopped him, “do you know what ‘peace’ is?”

“Not really,” he said. He turned back to his sketch, back to the orc hordes advancing on the heroes. There was probably a pretty good parental moment in there, and I’d like to tell you that I seized it. The juxtaposition of orc battles and the Grand Old flag had me dumbstruck, though, so I let the opportunity pass. (I’m sure there was some daydream in there of Aragon waiving the stars and stripes victoriously over the battle grounds as he spurred the boys to victory!)

I turned back to my dishes, considered the line–“forever in peace may you waive.” We sing this song, and the great many like it, all the while looking for the next thin red line–Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, Iraq again, Libya, Syria, Korea again, (I feel like I should throw another Iraq in there for good measure).

I am thirty five years old, and there has not been a day in my life that the flag has flown in peace, at least not as I think of peace. And don’t get me wrong, I love my country and I turn inside out when someone burns the flag, but this doesn’t change the fact that we often exchange peace for platitudinal notions of it. We love to fly words high, let the wind whip them around for dramatic effect. And we don’t relegate this penchant to nationalistic tendencies, at least not in my experience. But that, too, is a discussion for another day.

Words are easy. Doing is not.

Hokum Pokum, Alakazam.

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  • Diane Bailey

    And, I consider the thought that there is no peace outside of Christ and the love of the Lord. I believe America to be the promised land of the Christians. And we appear to be going the same way as Israel.

    God is our hope, our peace, our Grand ole Flag, and his banner over us is Love. ( I know- these are somewhat random thoughts)

    • sethhaines

      I always enjoy folks’ random thoughts around here. Thanks for sharing them, Diane.

  • I’m also skeptical of “every heart beats true beneath the red white and blue, where there’s never a boast or brag…”

    • sethhaines

      Never a boast. We are so humble.
      {Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.}

  • Martha

    The older I get, the more I realize that our comfortable American hegemony (and therefore peace) is dependent on someone somewhere, in the open or in secret, doing or threatening violence on our behalf. I say this as an unashamed Army wife: it makes me long for heaven.

    • sethhaines

      Yes. That’s true. And I’m glad you are unashamed. We have good men doing good things in our armed forces. They are my brothers and I’m grateful for them.

      Thanks for stopping in here.

  • I think, as you alluded to, we often exchange whatever the “real thing” is for a platitudinal notion of it.

    • sethhaines

      Boy, ain’t that the truth! When I read your comment I immediately thought, “love, marriage, faith, parenting, work…” and the list just kept coming.