The breath which condemns submission to laws this nation has not made condemns submission to scales of value which this nation has not willed. To both sorts of submission I ascribe the haunting fear, which I am sure I am not alone in feeling, that we, the British will soon have nothing left to die for.
That was not a slip of the tongue. What a man lives for is what a man dies for, because every bit of living is a bit of dying. At the beginning [of this lecture] I refused to define patriotism; but now at the end I venture it. Patriotism is to have a nation to die for, and to be glad to die for it—all the days of one’s life.
I am just old enough to have had the opportunity to participate in the 1980 election of Reagan. During the campaign, I had the opportunity to meet a good sized contingent of traditional Southern (mostly white, male) Republicans. On election night, after some drinking—actually after a lot of drinking—the subject turned to the War Between the States (as they called it). [My own view is that calling it The Great Rebellion or, more simply, treason, in keeping with contemporaneous nomenclature, is more appropriate.]
What I learned was that these gentlemen were entirely comfortable with their U.S. identity. They did not pine for the Confederacy to rise again. They did not blame the U.S. military for Confederate wartime deaths. There was no anger in connection with Sherman’s march, and the destruction of southern cities, farms, infrastructure, and other public & private property. So what exactly did bother them--what precisely was their beef? It was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It upset them to no end. I was young then. Perhaps, I should have understood why it upset them so much. In my defence, I can say, after some years (decades) of reflection, I figured it out.
It is one thing to lose a war to superior force. The losers must expect that the winners will believe their (i.e., the winner’s) cause right, and the loser’s cause wrong. But The Battle Hymn goes further than that—it is a constant, present reminder that their great-grandparents cause was not merely wrong, but unchristian.** Compare The Battle Hymn, with The Battle Cry of Freedom: the Southern Version (refrain). Generally, 1776, 1812, 1846 and America’s post-1865 wars were about (normal) politics and ideology. Those wars may have had a moral purpose (as understood by the combatants), but they were not fundamentally about religion. However, for those whose material world was wholly destroyed by the Civil War, the consolation of religion was all that they had left. Thus The Battle Hymn was an attack on everything which remained to them. So when all the other political and ideological poses of the old Confederacy fell away, only a generalised loathing in regard to The Battle Hymn remained. Only that was inherited.
I suppose if church attendance falls in the South and as The Battle Hymn’s place in the iconography of American culture is displaced by transgender bathrooms, even this limited revulsion shall pass away. I wish I could say that will be a good thing.
Seth Barrett Tillman
Éire—19 Sivan 5776
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SethBTillman ( @SethBTillman )
* Patriotism, in Wrestling With The Angel 1, 8 (London, Sheldon Press 1977) (lecture given at the invitation of Basil Watson, Rector, S. Lawrence Jewry, London).
** Be assured, my point here is wholly sociological or anthropological: I am not making any normative (much less any theological) claim.
My recent prior posts (on Brexit) include:
Seth Barrett Tillman, Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ... Dewey beats Truman ..., The New Reform Club (June 24, 2016, 10:32 AM);