Sunday, December 11, 2016


By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- Many years ago, the current Minister of Education, Olga Vasilieva, recalls that on a trip to America she attended a special memorial remembrance ceremony devoted to those American soldiers who had died during the war in Vietnam. The experience evidently held her in awe. She stated : " When I began to murmur something to a 
companion,a young school boy who was holding a standard threw a glance at me and silently drew his finger over his mouth signaling me to be silent.
I couldn't imagine Russian boys of that age behaving in such away."
The Minister had been recently interviewed by a journalist from Argument  and Facts. Like many other Russian politicians , she was expressing sentiments such as 'Why can't Russians be as patriotic as Americans ?' . Some Russians have even gone as far as to suggest Russian schools should emulate American by getting their students to sing the national anthem on a daily basis.
During the interview, the Minister then gave a moralistic talk on how young people should be genuinely, and not superficially patriotic. Like many Russians, she wonders whether the younger generation are either less, or more patriotic than the previous. Unlike some who recall the wartime exploits of young children who sacrificed themselves by throwing themselves with a grenade to stop tanks,
 and lament a perceived decline, the Minister leaves the question open.
The comments indicate that some Russians have a more complex and ambiguous attitude to Americans. In a word, many are inconsistently Anti - American. They don't all mock Americans as idiots who imagine Russians walk about the streets with bears.
But are Americans as patriotic in the sense which Olga Vasilieva perceives?
For many people narrowly and crudely reduce patriotism to absolute loyalty to the state. This view claims in the words of Pushkin's play 'Boris Godunov' that:
'History is made by the Tsar and nobles, while the people remain silent'.
But not all Americans blindly stand to attention to sing the National anthem in American schools. If they don't perform this ritual, it does not mean they are unpatriotic, but on the contrary , could even be affirming a more solid and deeper patriotism. Daniel Ogen, from the Blackfoot Indian tribe told me a sad story which dates back to his childhood days of the 1960's. He told me:
"One day I came to school in a very angry mood . I had just heard the news that my brother had been killed while serving in Vietnam. When the teacher asked us all to stand and sing the national anthem, I just refused to stand up.
 The teacher went mad and shouted at me to stand up and come here but I refused to move from my desk. So the teacher came up to me and tried to physically drag me away from the desk. But because I clung on to the desk with
 such strength he could not wrestle me off . So he sent for two other teachers to try and wrestle me off. None of them could drag me off. So they all ended having to carry away the desk out of the classroom with me gripping on to it !'
I still wonder how Daniel managed to cling on to that desk with such stubborn diehard tenacity. But I'm sure the sentiments expressed by the Minister of Education about the homage paid by young Americans at the remembrance
ceremony would have been appreciated. While visiting Russia , he was sick of many Russians taunting Americans as thoughtless and ignorant idiots.
He was at pains to inform them that there were many unheard of voices in America . Not all Americans go around chewing gum and incessantly or otherwise pretentiously smiling.
But if you seek to identify an example of American patriotism then you should look at the action in South Dakota, where American native Indians and their supporters went out and fought the construction of an intended oil platform over sacred land. They fought to defend the graves of their ancestors against companies who see land as merely a commercial asset. . They risked life, limb, and liberty against a well-armed police force. They have won a victory against
 the oil company because the army decided to halt construction. So patriotism means more than just silently respecting the dead at religious services .It implies fighting to protect the graves of your ancestors.

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