UPDATE: Reynolds links this post with an update. Although I appreciate the link, it's clear that Reynolds isn't really paying attention. Here is the substance of Reynolds' criticism:
UPDATE: This post at Obsidian Wings criticizes me for not providing a link to the "unhappiness" -- but if you follow the link I provide, you'll find precisely that, in the very first Amazon review. (It was, in fact, the only Amazon review when I put up the post).
As any who actually read this post will know, my criticism is of the following part of Reynolds' original post (helpfully boldfaced): "This slogan seems to have produced some unhappiness, on the ground that it's excessively pro-military." The bumper sticker should produce unhappiness, but not on the ground that it's "excessively pro-military." I'm in favor of being excessively pro-military in times of war. Rather, as I write at length below, the bumper sticker should produce unhappiness because it's factually incorrect, and misleadingly so.
It's also worth noting that the original critical review that Reynolds referenced (by one "Groovy Vegan") actually makes a point very similar to mine. Groovy Vegan may very well think the bumper sticker is "excessively pro-military" -- though those are actually Reynolds' words -- but he/she is not criticizing the sticker "on the ground that it's excessively pro-military." She/he is criticizing the bumper sticker because it's false.
And I note for the record that I likely have little else in common with Groovy Vegan other than thinking that this bumper sticker is, well, poorly thought out.
GLENN REYNOLDS is back at InstaPundit, and it's a bit sad: InstaPundit always improves a bit when Reynolds takes a vacation and lets others fill in. This is not a slam on Reynolds -- though he has become predictable of late -- but rather a recognition of the difficulty of solo blogging. Providing both quantity and quality is a tough gig, which may be why the best solo bloggers tend to be journalists (e.g., your Sullivans, Kauses, and Yglesiases) and the high-traffic nonprofessionals (e.g., Reynolds and Charles Johnson) are mostly link aggregators. You'll find exceptions, of course. But not many.
All of this is by way of quasi-apology to Reynolds for nit-picking the following post of his:
"IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THANK A TEACHER: If you can read this in English, thank a soldier." This slogan seems to have produced some unhappiness, on the ground that it's excessively pro-military.
I've no doubt that there's unhappiness in some quarters that the tag is too pro-military -- though Reynolds provides no links, a sign that these unhappy quarters have not yet discovered the internet(s). (Perhaps the Amish?) But being "excessively pro-military" is not my beef with the bumper sticker: I'm quite frankly in favor of being excessively pro-military in times of war. Nor is my beef with the fact that the quote is simply wrong -- though is it. My problem is that the quote is wrong is a highly misleading way.
But first, why the quote is wrong. Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America. Both spoke English (the former rather famously). Every other war has been distant and posed no direct threat to the U.S. homeland: for instance, as much as they threatened U.S. interests, neither the Japanese nor Germans actually threatened the U.S. homeland (much less the English language) during WW2. Moreover -- and for those more interested in metaphorical "wars" rather than real ones (pace** VDARE) -- there was and is very little risk that Spanish will someday shove-out English as the U.S.'s mother tongue. Indeed, for those paying attention the last half-century, you might suspect that the opposite is more likely to occur. (For convenience we leave the Firefly scenario to one side, which is more plausible but much farther off.)
So, while there are many things we should thank our soldiers for, only an idiot thanks them for defending our English language. We should thank our parents instead (and perhaps the odd English teacher) for that -- both of whom, if you're like me, you don't thank enough.
But why is an ahistorical bumper sticker worth a blog post? Paul Cella, who writes quite a bit about the nature of patriotism, provides a partial answer:
Sometimes, as with most loves, patriotic love will move men to amusing acts of that folly which is actually wisdom. There are unique delights in every man’s warm feeling for his home. He may remember a certain valley, or the glow of a sunset at a certain time of year; he may be surprised by some long forgotten smell, or reminded of warm memories by an old tune. But at any rate he can hardly describe these things with any exactness. They are the inexpressible particulars of any love. ....
.... The attempt is made, by this theory, to attach the love of country to a variety of political doctrines. Mostly these are fine political doctrines — liberty, rule of law, free enterprise — but they cannot be the stimulus of truly human passion, because they exist only as abstractions. We need only give cursory consideration to the sanguinary Twentieth Century to observe the sort of inhuman passions wayward abstractions can stimulate. Sloppy talk and sloppier thinking allows such phrases as the “threat to democracy” to pass unremarked almost daily, but the pulverizing fact is that “democracy” has no concrete existence of its own. There is no democracy as such; there can only be American democracy, or French, English or Iraqi democracy. Men only talk of a threat to democracy because they perceive a threat to their country, which they have associated, through the rarefied parlance of Western politics, with this system called democracy.
.... No political discourse, no matter how sensitive, no matter how inspired, no matter how comprehensive, can possibly capture even a fragment of the living tradition that is within a man when he reflects on his country. Reality is too vast for words. Ideologies have their uses, of course, but they must always be abbreviations of reality.
Cella and I disagree about a great many things, as a conservative and classic liberal should; yes, even though fate lumps us together in the same party. And I find a lot that's objectionable in the post that I link above. But credit where it's due: Cella is right about the components of patriotism. As much as I would prefer a patriotism of abstract love of freedom, capitalism, and truth (I kid only a little), the reality is that patriotism arises from more grounded influences. It comes from a home: yours.
And, although seldom acknowledged, the center of most homes in the United States is the English language. It is, with no exaggeration, both the means of expression and the currency by which we pay our dues of love, hate, play, anger, and guilt. Threaten the English language and you threaten us at a very basic level. Indeed, perhaps the most basic.
That is why it's troubling to blithely (and blindly) suggest*** that the English language needs soldiers to defend it. It doesn't, and it never has. But if you let yourself believe otherwise, then you find that all sorts of other beliefs naturally follow. And there is the rub. Instead of seeing immigration in economic, cultural, and political terms, you begin to wonder about invasions. Instead of remembering that the U.S. remains the world's last remaining superpower -- and long may that remain true -- we overemphasize the threats against us.
Indeed, in my book, the country truly started off on the wrong foot when it decided that 9/11 changed everything. No, it didn't. The world was always bad. We just let ourselves forget that. But while the philosophy of "everything changed" (aka, the myth of being "mugged by 9-11") was somewhat plausible -- at least to those who hadn't been paying attention -- pretending via bumper sticker (that'll show 'em) that the English language requires an F-22 for defense is some kind of grim joke. At its worst, this pretension confuses nativism for security. Contrary to base instinct, such confusion is not good for security.
We shouldn't skip into the future blissfully ignorant of our vulnerabilities: but please, people. Get a grip on yourselves. Keep your perspective. We should not only act, but retain the power to think before we do -- whereas others are courageous from ignorance and hesitate upon reflection.
Or, in the words of the country that came closest to taking over the U.S. (in the War of 1812): Keep a stiff upper lip, mates.
* * * * *
*Cite, for those who must know the meaning of every post title.
**I think that I once wrote somewhere that folks who use the term "pace" who are neither ancient Romans nor Roman Catholic priests should have their heads extracted from their most-pretentious asses so as to make a cleaner shot. Ahh well. We all become what we hate. (FTR, I forgive Trevino for his incessant use of pace only because he'll always be Tacitus to me.)
***A double split infinitive, with parenthetical. What do I win?