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Pledges, poppies and Pharisee’s… Barack Obama, the Irish National Anthem and Identity November 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Freedom of speech.


Public, or semi-public, expressions of loyalty and affirmation are in the news. The wearing of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance of the First World War has rumbled through these parts last week in franklittles post. I’m in almost complete agreement with him on this (and while ‘whataboutery’ is bad, still I can’t imagine that we’ll any time soon be treated to an article in the Independent telling us how wearing an Irish Republican Easter Lily is a sign of our ‘maturity’ as a nation and our ability to transcend narrow nationalism). I tend to have little time for the poppy and generally think that UK Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow, who didn’t wear it on the television over the last while, has much the right idea.

Interestingly Alexander Chancellor writing in the Guardian a week or so ago disagrees. He argues that:

…remembrance of the first world war remains to this day a powerful stimulant to patriotic feeling. Poppy day, which falls this Sunday, unites the nation as nothing else. While the poppy is now also supposed to commemorate the sacrifices of the British military in every subsequent conflict, it is by its very nature associated first and foremost with that of 1914-18, in which, after all, the greatest sacrifices were made. It is unique among symbols of the kind in that it commands near-universal acceptance. One can even imagine an Islamic fundamentalist finding it perfectly possible to extol the stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war.

Despite Jon Snow, whose continued refusal to wear a poppy on the Channel 4 News earned him a letter of congratulations in yesterday’s Guardian, it is generally felt to be above controversy; and its appearance on every BBC staffer’s lapel is not seen, as any other promotional symbol would be, as in some way compromising the corporation’s integrity. I understand Snow’s objections to wearing any kind of symbol on air and his anger with those who would insist that he do so, but it seems to me a pity nevertheless that he should resist participating publicly in such a rare and benign demonstration of national pride. There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about.

I don’t disagree with him as regards Remembrance – I had relatives who fought in that War. The First World War was a truly horrific event, perhaps in some respects the event of the 20th century in terms of its power to shape the rest of the century both in Europe and further abroad. So Remembrance yes. But remembering what? Those who fell? Again. Fine. Our own record in the Republic of Ireland on Remembrance is patchy. The Garden of Remembrance (commemorating the independence struggle) on Parnell Square is often ignored as is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Inchicore (which commemorates those who died in World War 1). Thinking about revisionism in history on foot of the Hidden History program the other night one can see how there was a strand of thinking amongst some that all such commemorations were dangerous… hence are near pacifist state identity over the past 30 years.

I don’t, in some ways, disagree with him about the choice to wear the poppy. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The choice has to be there. And here is the thing, does one feel ‘national pride’ about the poppy. Or rather, should one? I don’t intend to enter into the varying complicity of those who participated in the Great War (a strangely hollow term in light of what came after), but this is surely an history which cannot be weighed in a simple fashion. I suspect that as time passes there will be less and less agreement with his statement that ‘it is generally felt to be above controversy’.

Yet, the truly interesting sentence in that piece is “There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about”.

That has all the impact of a ‘ah-hah’ moment, doesn’t it. Because here we have in microcosm perhaps the motivation of those who believe the poppy is an uncontested symbol. The sense of ‘national pride’ is an engine driving its use.

And this is what makes it so contentious. Because it cannot be both a symbol of national pride and a symbol of Remembrance for those who fell. I’m not instinctively anti-nationalist. Nationalism has virtues as well as vices. But the realities and the horrors were such that ‘nationalism’ is too conflicted in that mix, too difficult to use as an anchor to ‘extol a stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war’. Indeed it’s a testament to the duality of nationalism and it’s ability to attract and repel that so much of Irish politics, and indeed the previous sentence, is about finding a balance between it’s positive and negative aspects.

Which brings me to the contemporary. In the United States there has been a viral email which accuses  Barack Obama of ‘refusing to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance’.

The reality is that he is shown during the national anthem with – as an excellent piece in Slate by Ron Rosenbaum notes – ‘his hands clasped in front of him, although some consider that a sacrilege, too’.

The widely circulated e-mail seems designed to play upon Obama’s previous public decision to stop wearing a flag lapel pin. To suggest there’s a pattern there. If so, I would say all these pledge-and-pin, hand-and-heart, loyalty-ritual fetishists are misguided about American history, especially the importance to that history of the challenge to loyalty pledges. If it’s a pattern in Obama’s behavior, I think it’s a courageous challenge to conventional wisdom on firm constitutional grounds (however politically self-destructive it may prove in the short run). When was the last time you saw a politician make that trade-off?

This is almost a pharisaic position which is demanded of Obama. And one that is oddly naive. It’s as if to suggest that in the process of singing the Anthem, or pledging Allegiance somehow any duplicity or deceitfulness would be negated – a sort of ‘how could anyone lie at that point?’. Well, people lie at every point. There are a raft of other issues which enter the debate about the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem which Rosenbaum addresses. Issues of the separation of church and state, the religious aspect of the Pledge, the dangers of ‘forcing’ public utterances. These are issues which we on the left feel a particular edge to. As we know leftists tend to be rather individualistic lot, hence perhaps the propensity for splits in our organisations and formations. And interestingly enough when faced with actual instances of ‘collective’ behaviour we tend to be averse to them. That’s a good thing. Then there is the unhappy history in the US in particular of McCarthyism (although in truth considerably less unhappy say than – to take an example at random – the lamentable history of the GDR which, on a tangent, developed a strong residual national identity out of the most unlikely of materials). There is the nexus of religion, domesticity, capital which engenders a near reflexive distrust on the left. And so on.

And Rosenbaum makes a critical point that relates to this:

I certainly feel allegiance, though less to the inanimate flag than to “the republic for which it stands,” but, paradoxically, the moment when I feel most rebellious about that allegiance is when I’m being forced by state or social coercion to pledge allegiance. The America I feel allegiance to isn’t the America that requires compulsory displays of loyalty.

I’ve always felt that way, that the point at which my loyalty is most vocally demanded is the point at which I least wish to give it. In Ireland we have little of the paraphernalia of such observance. I actually didn’t know that the pledge demanded a hand over the heart. To me that seems a little – and I say this in no way wishing to upset those for whom it is pivotal – theatrical. A little ostentatious. And yet it is a tradition and one that has developed. That in itself is not a great argument for its retention, in fact it’s practically no argument at all. Yet it has a meaning.

But note that it is when we are even gently coerced that we are – some of us – somehow detached from our national identity. We don’t stop being American or Irish. But we start to examine or critique that national identity.

My country is dear to me. But how dear and what exactly is the country? It’s not the government, but it is – to some extent – the representative institutions. The physical infrastructure. The place and above all the people. All, needless to say, accidents of birth. But how to parse that out?

One of the things at Croke Park in Dublin during Gaelic football or hurling matches which is unusual is the way in which the end of the National Anthem (sung in Irish at the beginning of each match) is drowned out by cheers as the game commences. Unusual in a way because it seems to indicate that the Anthem is but an interlude, and an unwanted one at that. And yet, even if I find that irritating, and I do sometimes, I wonder if the reality of a true ‘nationalism’ is that it avoids an obsession with the ‘inanimate’ or even the ‘musical’ symbols and instead is lived by its people. That the cheers rather than detracting from Ireland, and Irishness, in some way validate our identity.

That may be an overly optimistic reading. It’s remarkable that even with the lyrics on the large screens around the the stadium there is a certain – hesitancy – on the part of many to sing the words. That’s a pity.

But cheering is easier than singing an anthem in words which are half-familiar to people but not entirely understood. And then we see (or face) other social fears. Astoundingly the primary phobia amongst people is speaking in public. I’ll bet singing in public comes a close second third or fourth. Anthem or no, the process of engaging is difficult. Perhaps more challenging than many would think because the act of singing the Anthem is qualitatively different from chanting during a match. We, or at least most of us, understand that the Anthem is conferred a different sort of authority.

But there is one good aspect of this. Although all are enabled, none are forced. Perhaps that is because the Anthem is in a language which – sadly – is not used entirely widely. That leads to a certain distance – indeed there’s probably a thesis in just how the trappings of the Republic of Ireland, largely forged in the Celtic Revival, led in part to just that distance and detachment.

I believe it is coercion that destroys identity and kills cultural expression. So perhaps the concept of enabling gently is the best way forward. That all are welcome to participate. That that participation may be whole-hearted, conditional or even non-existent.

It’s far from the worst way to forge such identity.


1. Pidge - November 30, 2007

I don’t really know what to make of the whole remembrance concept. A few weeks ago, I was coming back from a competition in Oxford. I went both ways by ferry and train. In Oxford Train Station, at 11am, everything stopped. It was a busy station, but when announced over the intercom, everyone stood up and stopped what they were doing and had a minute of silence out of remembrance.

Later on, my train to Holyhead was ten minutes late, meaning I was stuck in Holyhead Ferry Terminal for ten hours (until 2am). I mostly read, and talked with a nice guy in his late thirties intermittently. He was waiting for his dad to pick him up (who, incidentally, was originally from up the road from me).

A few hours later, I was talking to the guy again, and he mentioned that he had been in the British Army, in logistics, and had been in the Gulf War and had been in Northern Ireland. He said he had been diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome, but that he didn’t really buy into all that. He also mentioned how his brother hadn’t picked him up yet.

I was talking to someone who worked in the terminal, and they mentioned how the guy I had been speaking to actually lived in the terminal, and told everyone that he was going to be picked up by his dad/brother/girlfriend etc.

The contrast between Oxford Train Station and Holyhead was disconcerting: people had taken time out of their day, probably at a collective cost of millions, to remember the dead. Yet, on the same day, someone who had been in the British Army, and was alive, was being ignored. There’s something very off when great lengths are gone to to remember the dead soldiers, while the living soldiers sleep in ferry terminals.


2. Pidge - November 30, 2007

(I know that that’s nothing to do with your conclusion, but the mention of the poppy reminded me of it.)


3. Hugh Green - November 30, 2007

Good post, but why does one need to forge such an identity? You are right that nationalism at certain points has certain instrumental purposes e.g. emancipation and liberation, but when it is co-ercive, that is, when failure to consent to its demands results in a personal cost, then it runs counter to purposes of emancipation and liberation.

There are lots of paradoxes. Like you, I find the roars at Croke Park a more authentic popular expression than the playing of the anthem itself. Yet one thing can’t exist without the other. So where to draw the line?

I was at a Church of Scotland wedding last year, and everyone joined in singing the hymns. Yet at Irish Catholic weddings only the nun in the front row sings. So I’m not quite sure if the failure in the Irish situation to sing the national anthem is all down to a reluctance to engage with national pageantry (the whole spectacle of a GAA match being a piece of national pageantry anyway). At the same time, I remember resenting being told to stand up for the national anthem by border nightclub bouncers, so I can an aversion to singing the national anthem on similar grounds.

Anyway, getting back to the point of forging an identity: questions should always arise, when it comes to a common project of forging an identity: whom does it benefit, and whom does it exclude?


4. Eagle - November 30, 2007

This is an interesting subject. The Pledge is said with the hand on the heart. It’s how all school kids learn it. The history of the pledge is interesting. Written by a socialist. Read here.

Whatever the official history, as far as I was concerned the reason for the pledge was an attempt to ensure that immigrants became American. Their allegiance was to “the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands…”. You may have been born abroad, but you’re an American now. And, I always thought it was particularly aimed at all those kids who went to Catholic schools rather than the state run public schools.

I can understand the urge to resist such coercion. When I was in school, most kids would stand, but few would actually say the pledge. It was a ritual, but not one that was undertaken with any enthusiasm, believe me.

Maybe it was the times (post Vietnam War), maybe it was the whole teen thing (‘not gonna make me say it’) or maybe it was simply that few students really understood what the pledge was about or why we said it. I don’t know. I guess for many school children here, the morning prayer was somewhat similar? Catholic school kids in America do both the pledge and the prayer.

It was only after I moved here that I realized that not all kids have to say a pledge each day.

Still, there are efforts here to forge a national identity through school. I mean, the whole “national language” effort is one big identity-building process, don’t you think? In fact, the reaction of so many kids here to the language is similar to what I remember hearing from kids about the pledge when I was in school. “It’s stupid. It’s a waste of time.” etc.

Symbols like the pledge and the flag are more important in America than they are in Europe because America doesn’t have any long-lived, deep, cultural roots that people instinctively recognize as “American”, which is not the same in Ireland or France or Germany or whatever. America is (mostly) the republic. Ireland is Ireland regardless of its system of government. France is France. (Britain is a little trickier. The monarchy is fundamental I think and without it I’m not sure Britain would exist. I wouldn’t stake my life on that point, however.)

Anyway, this is going to go on too long. Needs to be discussed later in the day in a dark room with a glass full of dark liquid.


5. Eagle - November 30, 2007

Oh, and by the way, I learned to stand with my hands at my side when singing the Star Spangled Banner. I’m not sure where this hand-on-the-heart-during-the-anthem thing started exactly, but I blame Ronald Reagan.


6. Garibaldy - November 30, 2007

“I blame Ronald Reagan”

Don’t we all?


7. sonofstan - November 30, 2007

Interesting that in both Britain and the US the preferred leftist anthems – Jerusalem and This Land is Your Land – refer to the land (England’s green and pleasant…. Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream waters) whilst the official anthems are both about miltary victory – recalled or devoutly to be wished for (send her victorious)


8. Eagle - November 30, 2007

Seems I was wrong and I should have been putting my hand over my heart. I guess I can’t blame Ronald Reagan after all.


9. coc - November 30, 2007

I would say all these pledge-and-pin, hand-and-heart, loyalty-ritual fetishists are misguided about American history, especially the importance to that history of the challenge to loyalty pledges. If it’s a pattern in Obama’s behavior, I think it’s a courageous challenge to conventional wisdom on firm constitutional grounds
I would be far more impressed if Obama went the whole hog and did this. Now that’d be a man you could vote for!

Regarding Amhrán na bhFiann in Croker, while the cheering is probably to be discouraged, I find it far less offensive than putting the words up on the big screens, as if people didn’t know the words! Maybe everyone doesn’t, but over the best part of 30 years attending matches there, I’ve never failed to experience hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-itis, even in the good old days, when most of us savages were just presumed to know the words. As a personal preference I don’t sing it myself, but I’m clearly in the minority. I’ve always considered the cheering to be an emotional outburst brought on by the intensity of the occasions mixed with the revolutionary idealism of the words themselves. Or maybe it’s just 50,000 drunken yahoos?


10. Hugh Green - November 30, 2007

Plenty of Ulster GAA fans don’t know the words because they weren’t taught them at school. Like me. Well, I know the first four words, but I suppose that probably doesn’t count. Perhaps part of the roar during the final bars is a roar of compensation for not knowing the words? I guess the risk of having the words up on the screen is that it turns it into a giant karaoke.


11. Eagle - November 30, 2007


Does the anthem mean anything to you personally? Or is it simply that it means something to all those around you?


12. Garibaldy - November 30, 2007

In my experience northern GAA fans are much less likely to cheer before the end of the song, largely because it means more to them given the nationality dispute.


13. Barack Obama 2008 - Friday Headlines : positivelyBarack.com - November 30, 2007

[…] headlines you just have to click on… Pledges, poppies and Pharisee’s… Barack Obama, the Irish National Anthem and Identity via Cedar Lounge I’ve always felt that way, that the point at which my loyalty is most vocally […]


14. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

coc, I know what you mean, but… lots of people just don’t know the words. I tend to get through most of it, but still have to sneak glances at the screen for the very end…

Hugh, that’s a great question you raise about why we forge these identities. I think that it’s a natural outworking of human interrelationships, some wish to link into something bigger, more transcendent. Not sure Hobsbawm, or even Tim Edensor would agree though…

Eagle, I was genuinely amazed to find out the hand on heart element to the Pledge. It actually makes sense on one level… those links are very interesting too…

Pidge, I think that anecdote gets to the heart of why so many are suspect of such rituals… although… nah, got to go away and think about that…


15. Eagle - November 30, 2007


I know what you mean about the hand on heart, but I think it’s somewhat similar to raising your right hand when “swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

You’re making an oath. I hadn’t realized that until WWII you were only supposed to have your hand on your heart for the start and then adopt a straight arm salute.


16. sonofstan - November 30, 2007

Couple of interesting points raised:
1) WBS: not being funny, but why precisely does national identity matter so much to you? I was teaching a bit during the week about narrative identity – we are the stories we tell about ourselves – working in concentric circles out from personal identity, and when I got to ‘Irishness’ what I got back from a mostly late teenage/ early twenties class was amazingly anodyne -‘we like a laugh’ ‘we’re friendly’ – when I mentioned things like the anthem and flag and language (and a fair few of these students also do irish) they kind of went ‘oh, yeah’ with that look they get which means ‘what is this old bloke on about?’ Either they don’t care or the old ‘whatever you say, say nothing’ caution about such matters has survived into another generation.

Anyway, the point I was trying to get at is that there’s loads of conflicting stories about irishness – even, or especially, as the whole Colacrease (sp?) thing shows – but even aside completely from ‘the national question’ there’s the tendency, represented here occasionally by Idris, that sees Dublin as a Hibernian great Wen, leeching off the rest of the nation, the obverse Dub one of ‘the bog begins at Newlands Cross which sees the rest of the country as barely reclaimed from savagery…… for a small country, at peace, there isn’t actually much that is uncontentious, that constitutes a national narrative that we all take part in. Whereas, as Eagle says, for the US, the state is the locus of loyalty and celebration not a pre-existing or notional future nation, or any common culture, really…….


17. Eagle - November 30, 2007


I like your observations about the students’ perceptions of Irishnewss. I wonder how many of them have the same poor view of Irishness when they’re not in Ireland?

I’d love to know what sort of responses you’d get from similarly aged Americans, but they’re exposed to a lot more education (propaganda) about the workings and benefits of the republic than are school children here.


18. sonofstan - November 30, 2007

Well, the other thing about teaching recent school leavers that’s bothering me s how little history they know – not just Irish; things like the date – or the century – of the french revolution escape them.
I’m sure I’d get better from Americans (I know yanks are reputed to know nothing about the rest of the world, but I think that’s a self- perpetuating European prejudice)

….and any recent irish school leaver will have done somthing called CPSE which is compulsory to Junior Cert (I think) – which is supposed to fill the gap in civic knowledge.

It wasn’t exactly a poor view of being irish, though; i get the impression most of them are quite comfortable with it, which is certainly different from when i was their age, when the frustration at the backwardness and lack of opportunity and excitement was the norm


19. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

sonofstan, I’ve done and continue to do academic research into areas relating to political and national identity. Busman’s holiday in part… And I’m interested in the way it grows out of political identity, and vice versa. I’m also interested because personally I have a number of overlapping calls on my own ‘national identity’ and it’s something I wanted to parse out. And I think Irish ‘identity’ – as you point out – is a very very complex thing, a real construct if you will. This is intriguing even in the context of your point about the US because while that is generated from many nationalities finding an identity in the umbrella of the US identity, here we have identities which apparently see themselves as incompatible despite actually being quite similar in many respects (or indeed having strong organic ties between them)… think how just in cultural/political terms we can describe those on this small island in many different ways and yet all contain some element of that ineffable “Irishness” … Nationalist, Unionist, Republican, Loyalist, Anglo-Irish, Ascendancy, West Brit etc, etc

A great great book on this is Stephen Howes one about Ireland and Empire which deals with culture and politics and the perception of same through historical studies.

I don’t know if young people are more less or just the same as regards their interest in various issues or things… some are some aren’t. You and I are of an age (I think!), at least where we can remember the H-Blocks mobilisation, and even then that was still quite limited in it’s serious hold say on my class mates…


20. Garibaldy - November 30, 2007

Stephen Howe now is it? You’re really just trying to wind me up, admit it.


21. sonofstan - November 30, 2007

WBS….. Teach me to careful with my phrasing…… I meant, I guess ‘why were you interested’? as in your sense of personal national identity….
One thing that attracted me to socialism in my youth -earlier than yours I think, I was out of school well before the H- Blocks! – was the internationalism; in the rather smothering embrace of mother Ireland in the ’70s, when, instead of being the most globalised economy in the world, we were more like an outcrop of the Warsaw Pact (only without the socialism) and I guess the nationalism = reaction idea remains lodged in my personal cathecism since then; and I guess I also think that maybe we can have too much identity – or at least too much ‘identity politics’ -and that sometimes good old universality might be called for. I’m currently working on Kant’s cosmopolitanism, his view that the state was but a step in a teleology towards an earth united in friendly trade, a notion some liberals take to sanction economic liberalism and benign capitalism, but Kant’s version is stronger and stranger; a world republic ruled by ‘a kingly people’ – sovereignty identical with inhabiting the earth.

That all said, I don’t think national identity must be noxious; and i think concrete sense of place can be a bulwark against the deterritorialisation effect of capital; but I’m never comfortable with overt, political nationalism (not just irish) in almost any context….


22. WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2007

Stephen Howe isn’t – and I have to state this clearly – of my particular ideological or historiographical line. But, I think the book is a fantastic primer on the varying approaches to Irish history in that it examines the various threads. There are many things I’d be sharply disagreeing with him about.

sonofstan. I share much of your feelings. But… I know many/most don’t share this approach and we live in societies where for better or worse people do have strong, or sometimes weak allegiances to these things. I don’t know how we can work around that exactly, so perhaps it’s necessary to engage with it.

That’s mighty interesting about Kant.


23. Garibaldy - November 30, 2007


Is it the kingly people thing that makes Kant stand out from the likes of Smith (or just about any late C18th believer in the efficacy of commerce to solve all the world’s problems), or is there more to it?


I found the Howe thing deeply trivial, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Though perhaps worth a rant sometime. For now, I’ll settle for saying it’s caricature. And he’s nowhere near the expert on imperialism or on Ireland he likes to think he is.


24. sonofstan - December 1, 2007

For Kant, the ‘friendly’ in friendly trade was more important than the ‘trade’ – cosmopolitanism was the adult state of this world, just as lawful coexistence was the adult state of the individual in contrast to a Hobbesian war of all against all. As individuals are only free if our ‘unsocial sociality’ is represented by just institutions, societies are only free if unthreatened by war; it begins with a complex theory about property, which for Kant is the foundational principle of law and society – not property as stuff we own; the important thing is that we recognise the right of others to own stuff and expect a similar recognition which floats free of the fact of possession and coercion and becomes an impersonal necessary law; the beginning of the replacement of nature by a ‘second’ nature……..

But, no, he wasn’t an apologist for commerce. The placeholder for a future world was not trade, but the ‘republic of letters’

It’s a weird mix of conservatism, revolutionary enthusiasm, pietism and politics – my intention is to prove that whatever else he was, he wasn’t either a 19th or 20th c liberal -economic or political.

…..and weirdly, and culpably, i hadn’t thought of looking at Smith yet as a comparison, so thanks ( I think)


25. Garibaldy - December 1, 2007

Cheers for the explanation. Just thought of Smith when you mentioned friendly trade. Haven’t read much Kant but will you be comparing him to Mill and Constant and that lot to prove his non-liberal credentials? From the little I know of Kant, he seems to be different in the scale of his revolutionary enthusiasm. But Hegel becomes clearer looking at what you’ve being saying about Kant.


26. sonofstan - December 1, 2007

But Hegel becomes clearer looking at what you’ve being saying about Kant.
Thanks. Glad you got that – it’s what I’ve been battering on about for the last few years…
The anti- liberal line is more against 20c ‘Kantians’ like Rawls and, in a different way, Habermas.


27. Garibaldy - December 1, 2007

I see why you are going after the liberal line, though I know Habermas much better than Rawls. Never been convinced by communicative ethics or whatever he’s calling it these days. Although a bit more civic responsibility would go a long way.


28. soubresauts - December 1, 2007

About national anthems, I wonder how many people feel as I do… I think the Irish anthem is awful, both musically and lyrically. The words meant something 100 years ago, but not now.

So while I respect the anthem, I always find it a bit painful, and a bit embarrassing. Especially when every other anthem I know (British, American, French, German…) has genuine musical appeal.

Who would join me in appealing for a replacement — one that all of us Irish could love and sing happily? My pitch is for “Danny Boy” (and I remember being taught the tune by a Christian Brother who called it “The Londonderry Air”). I suppose the lyrics are a bit inappropriate as an anthem, but, hey, isn’t it a great song? Let somebody come up with a nice version as Gaeilge…

The Australians should have gone for “Waltzing Matilda” (another song that everybody loves), and we should go for “Danny Boy”.


29. Garibaldy - December 1, 2007

The Italian anthemn and all south American ones at the world cup are just laughable. Totally overblown.


30. Eagle - December 1, 2007

Musically, the only anthem I like is France’s.


31. Garibaldy - December 1, 2007

Impossible to beat.


32. sonofstan - December 1, 2007

The bit in Casablanca where all the low lifes and renegades in Rick’s sing the Marseillaise in defiance of the (boo! hiss!) Nazis always make me blub embarrassingly


33. Garibaldy - December 2, 2007

Thinking of the blood pumping out of Capet’s severed fat neck in punlishment for his crimes against the French people makes me blub embarassingly.


34. WorldbyStorm - December 2, 2007

Garibaldy, rant away against Howe any time. I’m just giving you my impression of its utility as a means of engaging with at least some of the thinking in the area…


35. Garibaldy - December 2, 2007

Not sure the colonial critique is worth that amount of effort to start with. But the book itself is superficial, and an extended review essay. Might be of use as a primer, but I can think of other things better suited to the purpose.


36. WorldbyStorm - December 2, 2007

FWIW, I tend to think of Ireland as a place where across history and within the geographic confines of the island we saw many different aspects of foreign rule, colonial in some places, and not in others. I certainly don’t think it’s useful to apply the colonial analysis undigested to it. In fairness to How it is very very comprehensive, whatever my feelings about his conclusions…

BTW what else would you recommend?


37. Garibaldy - December 2, 2007

Yeah, as we discussed with John McAnulty, colonial aspects, but not a proper colony. In terms of reading on the colonial thing, it depends which period you’re talking about. I think that Nicholas Canny’s arguments for the early modern period have to be taken seriously, and are worth thinking about. In the C18th, Sean Connolly’s work, which says Ireland should be seen as part of European norms rather than as a colony, is essential. The argument is summarised in an essay he did called Kingdom or Colony in a collection on writing Irish history. He has a new book out on the early modern period as well. There’s also a collection of essays, can’t remember who edited, called Was 19th century Ireland a colony? Hugh Kearney recently published a collection of essays that deals to some extent with this question. As for literary approaches, you’re talking about people like Joe Cleary, Colin Graham, Seamus Deane etc. So in terms of a primer, I would say go for the C19th book or Connolly’s stuff.


38. WorldbyStorm - December 2, 2007

Cheers. Got to ask isn’t that quite close to what Howe suggests?


39. Garibaldy - December 2, 2007

It’s a matter of how it is suggested, and whether the suggestion is based on proper research or not. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.


40. WorldbyStorm - December 2, 2007



41. Garibaldy - December 2, 2007

Just been watching Top Gear. Lewis Hamilton will look like Obama does now in about 20 years time.


42. Eagle - December 3, 2007

(Sorry to bring this back about 3 days, but …)

Even though I didn’t post anything over the weekend, I’ve been thinking about this ‘conversation’ a lot. {And, what I have to say may not be even vaguely original, but I clearly don’t read the same books you guys read.}

… for a small country, at peace, there isn’t actually much that is uncontentious, that constitutes a national narrative that we all take part in. Whereas, as Eagle says, for the US, the state is the locus of loyalty and celebration not a pre-existing or notional future nation, or any common culture, really…….

I think this point that sonofstan has summarized nicely here is one big reason why Americans generally are less willing to pool sovereignty than are Europeans or maybe anyone else. For Americans the Constitution is a contract we all sign up to. It’s what underpins the nation, unlike in Europe where there is a national narrative (even though often the ‘nation’ and the state are frequently at odds) there is no deep national narrative in America. That the UN or ‘The Hague’ are outside the Constitutional contract is what makes Americans naturally less trusting of such institutions. I think this also explains the reluctance to give up the “right to bear arms”, etc. In Europe, the laws don’t make the nation, but in America they do (to a great extent anyway).


43. Eagle - December 3, 2007

I’m sure I’d get better from Americans (I know yanks are reputed to know nothing about the rest of the world, but I think that’s a self- perpetuating European prejudice)

Well, I don’t know. I agree about the self-perpetuating European prejudice. I don’t think either Americans or Europeans have cornered the market in ignorant people.

As for CSPE – UGGGGHHHH. It might appeal to you more than me, but as far a I was concerned it was a waste of time. My daughter did it for 2/3 years (now I have another doing it, I think, she keeps me in the dark). I was happy about it at first when I thought it was going to be about the workings of the state, etc., but it’s mostly ‘leftish’ propaganda. Nuclear power is BAAAD. Big businesses are BAAAD. Greenpeace is GOOOOD. Maybe the teacher makes the difference, but even the book and the exam struck me as RUUUBBBBBISSSHHH.


44. sonofstan - December 3, 2007

Eagle – that’s weird; obviously we brought our own prejudices to the table with CPSE – the bit that made my blood boil was when my daughter came home parroting the virtues of competition!

TBH i agree, it was pretty useless – any political awareness my kid has comes from us (and her grandparents) – if kids grow up in a house where these things aren’t discussed then they’re babe in the wood the frist time they get into a polling station – if they bother.


45. sonofstan - December 3, 2007

….and I’d like to discuss a bit further what you say about the contractarian origins of the US, but I’ve work to do; will get back later.


46. Eagle - December 3, 2007


See the 2006 CSPE Exam here and the additional brochure that they used for that paper here.

Now, maybe you don’t see those questions as I do, but to me this whole course is nothing more than pro-EU (not necessarily left, I accept), pro-UN, pro-“rights” activism, pro-interventionism with regards to “development”, etc. propaganda.

Honestly, other than question 1 (just about) I have issues with every other question on this exam. I remember my daughter telling me how during the mocks she answered one question about the benefits of nuclear power and she got essentially a zero for it. On the exam she just went along with the intent.


47. sonofstan - December 3, 2007

I agree with you about the orientation of many questions to ‘rights’ activism and development issues and so on; thing is, I don’t see them as left issues – I’ve all sorts of problems with rights activism based on identity and i find all that ‘make poverty history’ stuff a variety of trendy colonialism which takes away the few shreds of self- determination left to African and Asian countries after Capitalism has taken its portion. Both approaches achieve the exact opposite of the ’empowerment’ they are supposed to promote – all they do is further empower the middle-classses domestically, and capital globally – Bono thinking an ethical credit card is some kind of big development achievement is a nadir in this kind of non- thinking.

But I grant you it does constitute a budding hegemony that values ‘caring’ over praxis; that confuses wearing a rubber band around your wrist with activism.


48. Garibaldy - December 3, 2007

I see the CPSE contains no references to not being a corrupt politican or property developer. Might be a fairly fucking fundamental place to start given the rampant corruption among the entire political class within the Free State.


49. Eagle - December 3, 2007


One thing that I find odd here is that while almost nobody has trouble accepting that Irish politicians can be corrupt, etc. you find far fewer who believe it possible of those in power at the EU level and almost no consideration of the corruption possible at the UN. If Kofi Annan’s name was Haughey, nobody would believe he was anything other than corrupt.

Yet, from what I gather, during CSPE class my daughter’s teacher talked about the UN as if it was a conclave of angels with Kofi at its head.


50. Eagle - December 3, 2007


Interesting that you don’t see those as “left” issues. I don’t see them as “right” myself, so where do they fall? 🙂

I really like that last sentence of yours: “a budding hegemony that values ‘caring’ over praxis; that confuses wearing a rubber band around your wrist with activism”.


51. Garibaldy - December 3, 2007

I’m sure there is corruption within the UN. We need only look at places like Kosovo or Bosnia to see it, never mind the food for oil business in Iraq. But, more importantly, the whole UN system has been weakened and neutered by the emergence of a unipolar world, especially when the US refuses to pay a bill it owes to the UN worth a billion or so, drastically reducing its ability to alter lives in the developing world through health and education programmes.


52. sonofstan - December 5, 2007

I’ve been thinking a bit about the contractarian notion of identity you were talking about upstream as it obtains in the US – the idea that people are loyal to a book of rules in the absence of any sense of ethnic or cultural identity that predates the founding of the nation. Its true that the US seems unique in this; other ex- colonies where the descendents of the colonists are the majority population – Canada, Australia, NZ – retain a link with Britain through the commonwealth,and, at least until recently, there was some sense of deference to the ‘mother country’ and some sense of a cultural identity dependent on that.

What I find puzzling is this; I’ve lately been dipping a toe gingerly into the work of Carl Schmitt, the Nazi political theorist whose work seems to find odd supporters among some leftist political philosophers – Laclau and Mouffe, Agamben, Zizek (sometimes). Scmitt’s headline ideas are 1) the opening line of Political Theology ‘Sovereign is he who defines the exception’ and 2) the ‘friend/ enemy’ distinction, the idea that nations are defined negatively by an enemy, and not by abstract rules or values. The puzzle is this; the US is, in someways, the perfect enlightenment nation; multiethnic, defined by abstract values rather than concrete material bonds, yet it appears that – much more than in any European country – both of Schmitt’s conditions are met with; the definition of -and the acting on – the exception (suspension of civil rights/ torture/ the patriot act) and the friend/ enemy distinction at the limits of nationhood.

You said above that, as the UN and the Hague are outside the scope of the constitution, Americans are naturally distrustful; but surely abstract cosmopolitanism should be more attractive, not less, in a society that defines itself by contract?


53. Eagle - December 6, 2007


Wow. As I said above, I don’t read the same books you guys do. I’ll have to give this a bit of thought (and this is a tough week for me) and see if I can comprehend your question sufficiently to answer it. I’ve never heard of any of the people you’ve mentioned above.

Let me throw this out, which I think is relevant, but maybe not. Although Americans have a strong sense of loyalty to their constitution (contract) that doesn’t mean that they’re beyond the basics of human nature (and this is probably my own anti-enlightenment attitudes to human nature speaking).

To varying degrees: Americans don’t trust others who are “different” – internally and/or externally; Americans believe that there are those outside America who want to harm America. I think this can explain why the laws can be changed in a way that seems to contradict the ideals.

Now, I don’t think that Americans are necessarily different than Europeans in these matters, although where they draw the lines as to who’s “in” and who’s “out” is different as is their perception of the world at large.

I’m not sure I’m explaining myself well, but basically I think I’m trying to say that the system of government and the citizens’ commitment to the constitution is often at odds with the basic human instincts of fear, want, etc.

Funny enough, the Declaration of Independence is more idealistic than the Constitution, which was a more conservative document intended to allay the fears of those who had reconsidered some of the idealism of the Revolutionary War by the time 1787 came around.


54. coc - December 6, 2007

Does the anthem mean anything to you personally? Or is it simply that it means something to all those around you?
Well, not in the sense that I (or anyone belonging to me) was in the GPO or anything, but in the sense that I have been ‘conditioned’ to feel an emotional response the the anthem. I imagine it has the same effect on most of those around me. Even though I am aware of this ‘conditioning’ it still works and I don’t see it as being harmful, though admittedly it perhaps leaves me marginally more susceptible to crude demagoguery – not that we see as much of that here as we might see in the US of A.
Plenty of Ulster GAA fans don’t know the words because they weren’t taught them at school. Like me.
I hadn’t considered the Northern experience, but still I am surprised that most wouldn’t know the words. I have certainly never noticed a slackening of the crowds rendition when Northern teams are present. The words were always printed in the programs anyway, for as long as I can remember, which I suppose belies whatever mild offence I professed to feeling when they put the words on the big tellies!


55. Garibaldy - December 6, 2007

“I hadn’t considered the Northern experience”

Typical Free State bastard 😉


56. Eagle - December 7, 2007


The reason I asked is because above you were endorsing disrespecting the American anthem by American athletes who chose to represent America at a major sporting event. How would you feel if an Irish athlete did the same?


57. coc - December 7, 2007

… disrespecting the American anthem by American athletes …
Really? I thought they were trying to highlight the disgraceful racism endemic in American society at the time. I thought they did it in an as moving and dignified display of passive resistance as you would see anywhere. For their courage they were outcasts for years, though nowadays they are generally recognized as the heroes they are.

If an Irish athlete raised a clenched fist during Amhrán na bhFiann it would generally be assumed they were raving Provos, but I’d have no problem with anyone using such a stage to make a political point, as David Hickey did a few years ago at the All Ireland (provided of course I agreed with the point belong made!).

Since I assume most people nowadays think racism is a ‘Bad Thing’ I surprised that anyone still sees The 1968 Olympic Salute in terms of disrespect.


58. John - December 7, 2007

You’ll probably find this peculiar, and I still find it difficult to explain myself, but Amhrán na bhFiann rarely fails to bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye, and I’m an English anarchist who finds “God Save the Queen” revolting and regards all nation-states as abominations. Nonetheless, Amhrán na bhFiann has a significance and symbolism to me outside of politics with a capital p, insofar as Ireland is now the place that I regard as my home (I’ve been here 14 years), the place where I feel settled, where I am accepted, and where my wife and her family are from. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m regarded as “belonging here” by everyone else on this island, but I nevertheless feel less marginalized here, encounter less aggression and hostility here (I was only ever told to fuck off back where I came from once), and basically have an emotional connection to the place that I don’t have for England (which is not to say that I don’t have an emotional connection with the U.K., seeing as that’s where my folks still are, only that it’s of a different sort).

I think that if you’re going to be patriotic in the sense of being proud of your country simply because it’s where you’re from, then you’ve also got to be ashamed of it too to the extent that your homeland is responsible for crimes down the ages. Claiming reflected glory from the great deeds of your fellow countrymen and women is hypocritical if you don’t also accept responsibility for their crimes. However, that’s a different sort of patriotism to what I’m referring to, I think, which is about a love of place and an attachment to specific people, without requiring that such an attachment either denigrates other people, their places, and their loyalties or excludes the possibility that those attachments might change or that other people might also come to share that same attachment and become a part of the same community of feeling.


59. Eagle - December 7, 2007


If an Irish athlete raised a clenched fist during Amhrán na bhFiann it would generally be assumed they were raving Provos, but I’d have no problem with anyone using such a stage to make a political point, as David Hickey did a few years ago at the All Ireland (provided of course I agreed with the point belong made!).

Well, at least you’re honest. If the Irish traveler who represented Ireland at the Olympics had carried out such a protest, how would you feel? From what I’ve seen/heard here there’s hardly any daylight between their experiences and those of black Americans.

How would you have felt if someone like Wayne McCulloch had decided to make a protest if he’d won a gold medal?

That clenched fist was the Black Power salute. Black Power rejected the Civil Rights Movement’s integrationist message in favor of a black separatism. I don’t think there’s much to celebrate in that.


60. coc - December 7, 2007

Well, at least you’re honest. If the Irish traveler who represented Ireland at the Olympics had carried out such a protest, how would you feel?
If Francie Barrett had made some protest at the Olympics I would have shed tears for his bravery and applauded him no end. I agree that the prejudice suffered by Irish travellers is shocking and indeed comparable to the treatment of Black Americans in sentiment at least, if not in scale.
How would you have felt if someone like Wayne McCulloch had decided to make a protest if he’d won a gold medal?
As I said above, it would depend on whether I agreed with the message or not. I have no problem with people using whatever platforms they have available to them to make political statements and indeed would argue that it is the duty of any well informed citizen to do so. The singing of a national anthem is an inherently political so no better platform to spread your message as far as I can see. While Amhrán na bhFiann is special to me I recognise it as the expression of revolutionary idealism it is and would never feel offended if someone was moved by that to express a little more revolutionary sentiment. I don’t think Irish people fetishise the ritual the way Americans do.


61. soubresauts - December 8, 2007

Eagle wrote:
That clenched fist was the Black Power salute. Black Power rejected the Civil Rights Movement’s integrationist message in favor of a black separatism. I don’t think there’s much to celebrate in that.

It was a few months after the assassinations of MLK and RFK. There was a vast amount of anger and defiance, not to mention despair. There was still a vast amount of racial discrimination in the U.S. It was a peaceful protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Effective too. They knew they would suffer for that action, and they did. Good on them!


62. Eagle - December 8, 2007


That you would applaud if Francie Barrett (couldn’t remember his name) had protested during Amhrán na bhFiann is fair enough. I have no problem with your admiration for Smith & Carlos really, I was just curious.


Yes, those were tumultuous times. But, were they being “peaceful” or throwing gasoline on the fire?

My point was that the salute was not all that peaceful. They could have sat down or adopted some other form of protest, but they chose to use the Black Power salute. Black Power was not a “peaceful” movement. Most black people rejected them.

And, Smith (not sure about Carlos) suffered and is bitter today, although I can’t say I know much about him (saw him on t.v. being interviewed once and that’s how he struck me). He can’t stand George Foreman, who I believe did more to try to reconcile the races in 1968 in America than did Smith & Carlos with their inflammatory gesture.


63. WorldbyStorm - December 8, 2007

John, it always to me depends on which version of “God Save the Queen” is being played, the Lydon one or the other one 😉

But I know what you mean, particularly about the attachment to place and actual people, something which can transcend a narrow view of patriotism…


64. Matt Norman - December 10, 2007

Hi all, my name is Matt Norman. I am the nephew of Peter Norman who sadly passed away in October 2006. Peter was the “White guy” on the winners podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 68. I suppose what makes me surprised is the fact that I thought American’s would know more about what actually happened on that day and the significance of the “Black Power Salute”. In 2008 I will be releasing the final story of what actually happened in 68 and what the whole thing really meant. I am the only person to actually sit Tommie, John and Peter down in the same room to find out the truth. Obviously over time the story has changed between Tommie and John and that’s why getting them together with PETER NORMAN will give American’s a very new insight to the truth. Peter Norman had a lot more to do with those protests than most people think. For more info on the film “SALUTE” go to http://www.salutethemovie.com


65. soubresauts - December 10, 2007

That’s fascinating, Matt. So, the film will be out next year, is that right? Do keep us posted.

In 2007 it’s hard to think of true sporting heroes like those guys.


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