Stars and stripes a ubiquitous symbol in patriotic American life

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...The stars and stripes are a ubiquitous symbol in American life, but the flag-waving reaches its paroxysm on Memorial Day, May 31st, which honours those killed in war, and on July 4th....

“In most European countries,” notes Prof Philip Golub of the University of Paris, “extreme, overt displays of nationalism tend to be confined to the far right.”

Dr Golub, who is American, has just published Power, Profit Prestige; A History of American Imperial Expansion, which examines the origins of US nationalism.

“Historical catastrophe” – two world wars in 30 years – “explains the social reluctance in Europe to express nationalist feelings or even strongly patriotic feelings in an overt and self-conscious way,” Dr Golub says....

I was struck to see only one African-American family at the concert at Wolf Trap. The attempt to understand why led me to the 1841 Independence Day speech by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

To the American slave, July 4th was “a day that reveals . . .the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim”, Douglass said.

African-Americans have fought in all American wars, although the armed forces were racially segregated until the 1950s, says Peniel Joseph, professor of history at Tufts University.

“Blacks ARE very patriotic,” he insists, “but their patriotism envisions a multicultural, multi- racial America which has been at odds with other visions.”

The flag has denoted “competing definitions of what American democracy means”, Dr Joseph continues. Jimi Hendrix played an astonishing rock-and- roll Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969....

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