Jonathan Foreman has reported from Iraq, kept us up on movies…he’s covered a lot of ground as a writer. In his recently released book, The Pocket Book of Patriotism, Foreman is all-American (overcompensating for his British accent?), conveniently collecting some of documents and assorted Americana that every red-white-and-blue citizen should want to be well familiar with. He recently e-mailed with National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez about the book, blacklisting, baseball, and more.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Dude–you’re cultured. New York. London. Man of the world journalist. Movies in the family. What are you doing being all Hank ill patriotic?
Jonathan Foreman: Hank ill? Yo, when did NRO get hip hop?
But thank you for that characterization. I am a dual national and I have spent much of my life living outside the U.S. But if anything, the time I’ve spent abroad has made me feel more patriotic, partly in reaction to all the ignorant anti-Americanism I’ve encountered. And I’ve never had any truck with the notion that you have to be ignorant of the rest of the world to love America.
Kipling wrote “who knows England who only England knows” and I think the same applies to America: The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve come to appreciate America and her ways.
Sure I think that some of the societies I’ve lived in have a lot to teach us about the good life. And that we pay a social price for some of our freedoms, social mobility, and wealth. I’m well aware that foreigners aren’t always wrong when they object to their traditions are being undermined or overwhelmed by fast food, celebrity worship, etc.
But I’m very proud of American history, of America’s role in the world–especially over the last decade and a half–and of the optimism and idealism that are America’s hallmarks.
It’s always ticked me off when I’ve been at dinner parties in England or on the Continent and some guy who only knows about America from Dynasty condescendingly asks how I can bear to live in ghastly vulgar, violent place like America. If I don’t lose my temper I say I’m glad to live in a genuinely democratic, free, and egalitarian country.
And finally it was seeing patriotism in action–seeing firsthand how our troops in Iraq represent the best of American generosity and idealism and decency–that inspired me to do this.
Lopez: A student at a top Manhattan high school didn’t know if the Vietnam War or the Italian Renaissance happened first? You had to have made that up.
Bet the kid’s name was Hank Ill, too.
Foreman: I didn’t make it up. In fact I was told about her confusion by an editor at the New York Times.
Lopez: New York Times? You don’t say. Now we know it’s true.
What is patriotism?
Foreman: A big question and one worth asking. I have a stab at answering it in the book. But fundamentally I believe that American patriotism is different from other patriotisms. It’s not a blood-and-soil nationalism–because so many of us are newcomers or the descendants of people who voluntarily chose to take part in the American experiment. We are a nation based not on race or deep roots in a particular landscape, but on a proposition, on certain political and philosophical ideals. That’s not to say that Americans aren’t capable of crude chauvinism or an ugly contempt for foreigners. But that isn’t real patriotism.
Patriotism is a kind of love. Love of your country and your fellow countrymen.
Lopez: You’ve spent time in Iraq with our troops. Is patriotism what drives those who sign up for the armed forces?
Foreman: Yes; I just got back from another embedding trip there.
I have met many soldiers–especially in frontline combat units–who frankly and unashamedly say that they joined up to serve their country. And though other soldiers join up to pay for an education, to find adventure, for a career boost, or to get out of some kind of fix, there are other ways they could find these things than putting on their country’s uniform and they know it.
Lopez: Did you have to include a Jesse Jackson quote in the book?
Foreman: Did I have to? No. But hey, it’s a good quote by an irresponsible, hypocritical, grossly cynical, morally bankrupt politician with a certain gift for language. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And quite a few of the people I quote saying moving or perceptive things about America are unsavory fellows with problematic politics.
Lopez: Beyond the Reverend Jackson: How did you pick what you included in the book?
Foreman: Well I included everything I knew would be absurd to omit, and added things that I personally felt should be part of everyone’s historical knowledge–your standard American liberal chronology would include the Fall of Saigon say, but it might not include the flight from Communist tyranny of a million Boat People. My timeline remembers the Eastern European anti-Stalinist uprisings, the millions lost in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, etc. I’m interested in South Asia, in the the development of technologies that changed the world like the stirrup and barbed wire so you’ll also find that kind of thing in the chronology. I also don’t think that the views of the Founding Fathers are comprehensible without a basic knowledge of the British and classical traditions that inspired them.
There were a few battles with the publishers about what to include. People who work in N.Y. publishing houses tend to be on the Left or at least familiar only with the standard baby-boomer ABC-TV complacently liberal version of the past, the kind in which the 1960s are the most important decade in all of human history. They freaked when they thought I was going to leave out Woodstock.
Lopez: Who is your target audience with this book? It’s not like folks who are browsing in a bookstore for a light read will be enticed by flag etiquette.
Foreman: I think that Americans are fascinated by history and tradition, especially their own. And an amazing number of people are into what you might call patriotic trivia: from the history of the Medal of Honor, to the nation’s greatest battles, to the order of the States joining the Union.
Some people seem to like the book to dip into, others read the timeline like a story–which it is in a way. As for the poems and speeches and songs, it’s what makes the book ideal for parents and grandparents who want to give kids a taste of the civic and patriotic education they had, but isn’t available in most schools today.
So I guess the target audience is everyone from high-school kids, to professors on anti-American campuses who want to be reminded why they love their country.
Lopez: You don’t include a whole lot of speeches. What was your criteria?
Foreman: It’s a pocket book. If it were the big bumper book of patriotism I would have included more. As it is there are more speeches than in the excellent Pocket Book of British Patriotism by George Courtauld which was my template and inspiration.
My criteria were firstly sheer fame and brilliance–as in the Gettysburg Address. Secondly, I included speeches which heralded a major change in American policy or American culture. All of the speeches impressed or moved me with their language and their expression of American idealism, even the ones that expressed things I might disagree with like FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech.
I also think there are remarkable continuities in these speeches: You read JFK’s inauguration speech and W’s “Forward Policy of Freedom” and they clearly come out of the same tradition.
Lopez: Did being the son of a blacklisted father influence your views on patriotism?
Foreman: A great deal.
My father Carl Foreman remained a patriot even when the Hollywood blacklist forced him into exile and he had to sue the State Department to return his illegally confiscated passport. It’s why he never gave up his American citizenship and wanted his kids to be American and proud of it.
But his experience meant that I could never be a patriot of the crowing, unquestioning, rah-rah, see-no-evil type. I’ve never believed that America’s greatness depends on pretending or insisting that her record is flawless. From the very beginning, genuine patriots have fought against for freedom and against injustice in America. Moreover, there is a constant battle in our society between individualism and a brutal conformism. It’s a central theme of American life to be found in great novels and our high school movies alike. You saw it on P.C. university campuses in the 90s and you saw it in the Hollywood blacklist. Both involved ritual humiliations and denunciations that are more about the moral posturing and purity of the inquisitor than the stated goal of the purge.
Like my father I believe patriotism shouldn’t be about fear and hatred, especially not fear and hatred of your fellow Americans. And I guess I distrust people who try to force their notion of patriotic expression on others.
Lopez: Thank you for including in your timeline under 2000 the Yankees winning their 25th World Series. But why did you have to end the entire chronology with a Red Sox win? Because it was that once in a lifetime, right?
Foreman: It isn’t often that the laws of nature are turned upside down. And if 2004 had seen a comet hit the moon or the birth of a flying pig I would have felt equally obliged to record such a freakish phenomenon