Loyalty to our nation is a given. If you are born to a country, you are expected to toil its soil, bring forth glory, fight its wars, and if necessity arises, to die on its behalf. Most people explain that love for a country is compulsory since the nation provides stability and comfort. Reciprocity is required, if not demanded. You must love your country in return. But why is that a must?
While growing up, I cannot remember how many times we had to do National Day poems, eulogies or songs, or the repeated refrain that we had to include some kind of national love in our projects or organised plans. Not once, during my more impressionable years, can I recall a single person, either friend or authority, who took up the role of the contrarian and asked why we had to praise and love our country. In fact, the entirety of national service in any country is always one repeated whoop of exaltation. Loyalty to the nation goes uncontested. And that’s wrong.
After all, isn’t a nation a corporation, with a political party for a face and an appointed leader for a soul? Yet the sum of its parts are ultimately inorganic and sterile. Decisions made at a national level are necessarily impersonal, subjected to the whims of the powerful few, and concerned with furthering a much broader agenda we may never be aware of – we are only privy to what we need to know. Running a country isn’t easy, but it must, as a function of performing at such a level, be secretive and manipulative.
I am reminded of Chinese and Japanese history where loyalty to the country is deeply entrenched in their culture: many eminent generals and even ordinary villagers will sacrifice their families, friends and careers to unquestioningly serve their nation. And such acts usually entail some kind of brutish murder, slavish torture or terrible bloodbath. Apparently, murder on behalf of the country is a special kind of killing that no-one needs to lose sleep over. And in all documented instances, these people are heroes: there is nothing more noble than putting your country first.
Yet, I highly doubt they understood what they were fighting for. What makes up a nation? The culture? The government? The people? Why fight for an entity that has its own motivations? These heroes are patriotic to a fault – an unsurprising result from having years of their education being instructed incessantly that they must love their country – and at times, I find such undiluted patriotism (or nationalism, if you prefer) eerily similar to religious fanaticism: one dies for a god, the other dies for a country. Both are considered saints, given accolades and share the same flawed (and hopeless) superiority complex.
Loving our country comes with a price. We inevitably believe that our nation is superior in a certain way. Don’t many Americans consider their country to be the foremost moral police of the world? (an ironic and contradictory point) Don’t the citizens of Saudi Arabia think that its variant of Islam is be the right way to seek enlightenment? Don’t Singaporeans take pride in its unique cultural language and traditional family values? An unfortunate consequence of loving something is that – as someone once pointed out to me – you become incorrigibly biased. And I do not see how loyalty to a country helps promote a larger love for mankind.
During an interview by the Saturday Evening Post on October 1929, Einstein said that “Nationalism and any guise of patriotism, is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. It (patriotism) leads to unjust and pernicious privilege and position.” And he’s correct. How many disputes, either about territory, recognition or privilege, have come about because many citizens on either side of the conflict feel chivalrously entitled to some sort of respect?
So have you thought (HYTA) whether we should be loyal to our country?