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The Sin of Being Patriotic

Joan spouting poetry

Joan spouting poetry

On this election day, I turned to my mother’s diaries from the 1930s for some wisdom. As always, I found it in the voice of Joan at age 15 in January 1938. In this passage, she writes about “The Sin of Being Patriotic.”

The Sin of Being Patriotic

If a reasonable man were to look at it (which he never does), he would easily see the foolishness of what we call by the brave word, “patriotism.” What is this “motherland” we honor? Is it the flag? It cannot be the flag. It is a beautiful thing to be sure—waving brightly in the air, but who will die for a piece of cloth?

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn't she look swanky?

Joan’s doodle of herself in a hat.

You say it is only a symbol; then of what is it a symbol? Of the men who founded a country and who have lived in it? No, for who will die for dead men? Is it the living leaders? No, it cannot be. For if half the country acclaim a leader (which, incidentally it never does), why, then the other half must hate him. So it is not the leaders, for who will die for a despised man even if he be president?

Is it, then, the people—can it be? This hungry, seeking people of whom we are a part—whom—though we are of them, we are a part—whom—though we are of them, we laugh at? Who knows? Men have died for less—and for more. Can it then be for less—and for more?

Joan's sketch of the Fountain of the Great Lakes from May 29, 1937

Joan’s sketch of the Fountain of the Great Lakes from May 29, 1937

Can it then be this last thing, the land? The good black earth with green things that grow and die again—the good black Earth that will cover us all? Is it this that men die for, the symbol at once of life and death? Is this what we die for—our tomb?

Nay—if men die not for any of these things and yet die, do they die for nothing? Are all the souls buried into Earth for naught? Perhaps it is nothing, but I, too, would die for this wrong and beautiful thing that men call “patriotism.”

Yet peace is not so great that we would sell our dreams for her—even if they be foolish dreams.


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