It seems that patriotism is one of the most common terms used during times of war. Governments often use propaganda about nationalism to advocate their political views of the hostilities. Sometimes they even force patriotism on their constituents with fear-mongering techniques, which can have dangerous implications. That’s not to say that patriotism is inherently bad—many wars have been won for just causes because of it. However, it is a mistake to only think of war at a national level. There are devastating effects on the soldiers, families, and victims of war hostilities. The stories read this week discuss the struggle between concern for macro-society (patriotism) and micro-society (family/personal interests) during war. While no narrative completely rejects the idea of macro-society, they clearly emphasize the greater importance of micro-society and the consequences of patriotism.
“Loyalties” is the first story which discusses the concept of macro and micro-society. It centers on a family living in an African village during the Nigerian civil war. The father and schoolmaster seem to be the most loyal characters from the beginning, as they are large supporters of the new Biafra. However, by the end of the tale they have switched their allegiances back to Nigeria. Their perspectives clearly reflect the bigger concept of the macro-society. There is an element of humor in the way they switch so drastically from one side to the next. The mother, on the other hand, represents concern for the micro-society, because she only cares about the tasks of everyday life. The tone of the story clearly favors the mother’s perspective. After all, she is the only character whose loyalties remain true throughout the entire story, and the author pokes fun at the politics of the men. Even the mother sees the humor in it all, telling her son, “Go and collect the goat…after all he is now a Biafran goat so we must take better care of it” (144). At the conclusion of this story it is apparent that the concept of macro-society during war has certain limitations and weaknesses, which can greatly impact the individuals and families involved.
Just as “Loyalties” discusses the flaws of patriotism, “Peace and War” explains the failings of micro-society. It depicts two men who go to war every day and treat it as business. They are casual about their job because the war is at a standstill, and there isn’t much action taking place on the field of battle. Yet they continue to serve their country daily, and show great patriotism in the process. Their wives have different opinions, though. The first wife doesn’t believe there is a war; she even suspects that her husband is using it as an excuse to cheat on her. However, the second wife is truly worried about her husband, calling him and checking on his safety quite frequently. Both women are concerned more with micro-society, yet in very different ways. The second wife is simply concerned about the well-being of her family, much like the mother from “Loyalties”. Her worries—although considered ridiculous by her husband—are certainly understandable and justified. The flaw of the perspective lies in the viewpoint of the first wife. She doesn’t understand the war and underestimates its potential for serious consequences. Even her husband acknowledges this, stating that “She didn’t believe we were at war” (147). This speaks to an issue that is quite prevalent in the United States. Like many Americans, the second wife can’t relate or understand the dangers of war because she hasn’t seen any of it firsthand; it has never been fought around her home. Therefore, by focusing on the micro-society and ignoring all sense of macro-society, she takes the war for granted without appreciating the actions of her husband.
“An Easy Death” is another story which depicts the consequences of macro-society and patriotism. The soldier in the narrative has a great deal of success in life before going to war. He is dedicated to his country and brings success to the army by fighting and winning several battles. However, his life changes forever because of one of his experiences during the war. The soldier explains to the narrator, “In the war I saw many things…but up until then there was never a sense of personal involvement” (172). He comes to understand the effects of war on an individual level when he finds one of the victims of his army starving and still protecting her dead baby. This incident ruins the soldier’s life, causing his wife to leave him and eventually leading him to a mental breakdown. He suddenly has to face on a personal level the realities of the terror he’s been involved with, and that guilt forces him to commit suicide.
The final story dealing with war on both the personal and societal level is “Dust”. In it, Biyumi is focused solely on the well-being of his son, Mahrus, who has gone off to war, fighting for Egypt. Aside from this, everyone else in the village seems more concerned with the national cause, although they all have family fighting, too. One little girl even states “We are all ready to sacrifice our lives so Egypt may live” (215). However, this rash statement seems inconsiderate because of the situation. It is easy for a person to immediately speak of sacrifice and honor when they are far from the field of battle, as this girl is. Yet when there are personal ties, it is much harder to accept the concept, just as Biyumi struggles with his sense of nationalism.
Although many of these stories have specific settings and historical significance, they also speak to today’s world. We have seen a great shift toward patriotism in the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001. It would be wrong not to respect the soldiers who have fought bravely for the United States since that time, just as it was wrong for the wife in “Peace and War” to underestimate the dangers around her. However, we must also honor the micro-society, both here and in other parts of the world. Will our actions as a nation lead our soldiers into traumatic situations like the soldier in “An Easy Death”? Or will we consider the families and communities involved, saving ourselves from micro-societal damage? I only hope that we can learn from stories such as these and not take our “blind” patriotism too far.
Global Cultures. A Transnational Short Fiction Reader, ed. by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (University Press of New England, Hanover and London, 1994)
by Andrew Landowski
Major: Music / Mathematics Education
Expected Graduation: May 2008
Hometown: Tumwater, WA
In this essay I explored the theme of patriotism as it was presented in "Loyalties," "Peace and War," "An Easy Death," and "Dust". I then used this information to distinguish two main "types" of patriotism and define them as micro-society vs. macro-society. And finally, I attempted to examine some consequences found within the stories and relate them to our current situation in Iraq.