Chaykin on Patriotism

By | Wednesday, July 03, 2024 Leave a Comment
I ran the following exactly one year ago. As a rule, I generally try not to revisit pieces that are less than five years old, but given the news of the week, I think I'll make an exception before the US takes a day off from celebrating (now ironically) being independent from a monarchy.
The notion of who is or is not patriotic, who is or is not a "real" American has been a subject of greater scrutiny the past few years. While it hasn't quite taken on the McCarthy-istic tones of the 1950s, it has nonetheless resulted in more than a few people getting killed. The attempted January 6 coup is a direct result of people demanding that they're somehow more American than others and has probably been the most internationally headlined example, but there are many, many more localized examples I could pull out. President Biden has euphemized the idea as a "battle for the soul of the nation."

As my reference to Joseph McCarthy should suggest, this debate is hardly new. And, back in the 1980s, Howard Chaykin used his American Flagg! comic to talk about his thoughts on patriotism. Interestingly, in prefacing what he thinks patriotism has become, he cites two overt dystopian novels and two sci-fi books that are, while perhaps not dystopian, decidedly less than utopian. And this was in 1983, still pretty early in the reigns of mega-conservative asswipes Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. While Chaykin has expressed some pretty bigoted opinions on trans people in more recent years, and his note below has some casual sexism, I think it's an interesting artifact to reflect on in the current environment nonetheless. So may I present to you Chaykin's afterward from American Flagg! #1...
"So, if you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag, wash it."
-- Norman Thomas

...And, on the basis of that simple precept, the upheaval of the sixties lost my spiritual commitment. My body stayed behind, to meet girls (historically speaking, liberal women always have been easier than Republicans).

What no one seemed to realize was, that by trashing 200 years of symbolism the movement virtually handed over the concept of patriotism to the "corporate fascist elite."

It's long past time we took patriotism back. I'm a liberal (some might say radical) kind of guy who still gets a bit squinky at the Star Spangled banner. My identification with the mythic aspects of America is intense, to say the least.

And that's the why behind American Flagg! I'll be throwing you some (hopefully) pretty oddball concepts in the this book; stick with me, I think it'll be worth your time.

Meanwhile, to fill the time between issues, some suggested additional reading material, starting with two classics.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.
1984, by George Orwell.

These two set the tone for all modern, post-holocaust negative utopias...

Followed by two more classics, in an entirely different vein:

The Demolished Man, and The Stars My Destination, both by Alfred Bester.

Two brilliant novels by an author with an astonishing grasp of the business of advertising, media and business.

Finally, Revolt in 2100, by Robert Heinlein. One of the Future Histories by this prolific author, detailing a theocratic takeover of the U.S.A.

There are lots more, but that's enough for now. Again, stay with us, and remember...

"Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Howard Chaykin
April 15, 1983
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