Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'll De-clare!

I got my new passport this week.

First of all: Wow, can one man gain a lot of weight in ten years! I look like I ate the guy from the last passport picture, then grew a beard and got glasses, then ate at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet every weekend morning for the entire decade.

It is time for some changes, people. A healthy diet, a vigorous workout regime.

But this strays from my main point.

Does anyone think the new passports are a little hyper-nationalistic? The entire book is filled with quotations lauding the United States and illustrations that broadcast the tried-and-true idealizations of our country. Were the old passports like this?

The liberty bell and the constitution seem almost mandatory. Fine. The bald eagle and lady liberty, too. The grazing bison, Mt. Rushmore, a steamboat rolling down the mighty Mississippi, fields of grain, a farmer plowing behind two oxen, two cowboys driving a herd of longhorns, a Whitmanesque locomotive, smoke billowing from its stack, charging across the frontier, a testament to American progress.

On the page with the train is the quote from Promontory Point: “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” Seems a little manifest destiny-ish, no?

Do I have any problems with any of these photos, specifically? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But the accumulative effect of them, along with the quotations. It just makes me wonder: When does patriotism become nationalism? And when does nationalism become jingoism?

Must we always mitigate the good with the bad? Do we need to remind ourselves that Washinginton and Jefferson owned slaves, that our taming of the Mississippi is causing coastal erosion at a football field a day, that nations of people were exterminated in our push across the continent.

I’m not anti-American. There is certainly plenty to be proud of, no? But what does that mean, to be proud of one’s citizenship status, especially a status we are born into by mere chance? Does the good done by my countrymen and countrywomen reflect on me in a way that should evoke personal pride? If so, should the bad done by my countrymen and countrywomen evoke in me shame? Isn’t that the logical extension?

But again…what is logic?

Probably, I’ve spent too many years in graduate school, sitting around tables and pontificating on stuff like this. Actually, I’m sure this is the case.

Happy travels.

Post Script

Of course, I'm never original. Many have already pointed out the obvious.
eg: http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=88301410-af84-4c65-9ae0-9ed47e62f586


comprehension said...

"...nations of people were exterminated in our push across the continent." Isn't the history of other continents the same? In Europe, for example, the Islamic Moors swept across Spain exterminating and appropriating until they reached the unconquerable mountains of the North where, eventually, northern kingdoms led by Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand united and began their onslaught to drive the Moors out of Spain. They completed driving the Moors out of Spain in 1492. 1492? Does that ring a bell? After liberating Spain, this monarchy financed Columbus and the discovery of North America etc....What goes around comes around, I guess...The exterminating and conquering continued...it wasn't anything new...And like the Moors used Islam as their reason, the Europeans used Christianity as their reason (and greed). Every realm of humanity in every continent is guilty of it throughout history, so why beat ourselves up over it?

I think people overlook what the people that moved to the "New World" had endured prior to arriving. Thankfully, our country evolved into better society.

Ric said...

Good comment.

I thought of you when I wrote this. I hoped you would respond.

I completely agree. We ALL have blood on our hands. No country has an innocent past. And I agree we shouldn't beat ourselves up about it. But I also think it's wrong to unproblematically hold up iconic images that lift up prideful, one-sided notions of nationhood, that characterize one nationality as somehow chosen. Doesn't that sound familiar?

And this isn't an in-house document, keep in mind. The function of a passport is mostly for presenting to members of foreign countries.

I would have made it less ideological. But that's me. I don't think we need to beat ourselves up OR pat ourselves on the back. We just need a place to put a stamp.

But I hear your points, C.