Friday, September 11, 2009

Kimmel Harding Nelson Residency: Day 5

Chicken coop breed variation display; River Center Nature Center; Nebraska City

What accounts for the amplified patriotism that I feel? This American ardor is not specific to my time in Nebraska City. Over the course of the last year, my national pride has swelled, even as I'm daily disappointed by the reactionary ignorance of so many fellow citizens. Still, in this smallish, midwestern town, I am acutely aware of my American identity.

Perhaps Nebraska City's abundant reminders of our nation's meteoric, messy, and astonishing history forefront my appreciation for my peoples' achievements? Or perhaps it is the love of place reflected in the town's twelve museums, each one a heartfelt labor?

Upstairs annex; River Center Nature Center; Nebraska City

Consider, for example, Joe Voges' River Country Nature Center. Voges, born 96 years ago in Nebraska City, began learning the craft of taxidermy in 1933, at 20 years of age. 47 years later, in 1975, he opened the Nature Center, a collection of mounted wildlife - 90 percent of the taxidermy on display is his handiwork - grouped into natural history dioramas and educational exhibits. In 2005, the museum expanded and moved from Nebraska City's old fire hall to a spacious, street level location nearby.

The taxidermy is by turns amateurish and professional, but the information presented is up-to-date and effectively communicated. The best of the Nature Center exhibits are of American Museum of Natural History quality, and, throughout, one senses Voges' driving desire to educate subsequent generations about the importance of preserving biodiversity and conserving natural resources.

Albinism display; River Center Nature Center; Nebraska City

Perhaps Voges' tellurian impetus is part of the reason I feel a particularly "American" pride in Nebraska City? Like our national history, we're a contradictory, complicated lot, but we fundamentally remain a people that identify the "great outdoors" as a reflection of our values and beliefs, and vice versa. Certainly, there is myth involved in that association, but there is some truth, too.

The contemporary character of this American identification with the land is both Romantic and Utilitarian; it incorporates a self-conscious brand of rugged individualism that, on the one hand, allows for George W. Bush's popular appeal, and, on the other, has made the United States an international wellspring of conservation efforts and environmental philosophy. Despite the previous presidential administration's willingness to bend to the will of extractive industry, the United States remains uniquely positioned to foster among the international community a conservation ethic. Indeed, an overwhelming number of internationally active organizations working for preservationist and conservationist causes are American in origin or base; we are yet the vanguard in the environmental arena.

But even - nay, especially - on the streets of Nebraska City, on the banks of the great Missouri River, at the head of the Oregon Trail, I must inoculate my healthy patriotism against the virus of nationalism. I sometimes wish that "America the Beautiful," Katherine Lee Bates' celebratory hymn, were our country's national anthem, instead of Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner."

Whereas the "Star Spangled Banner," set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, extols military valor and revolution in the name of freedom, Bates' "America" is both a celebration of our vast American landscape and a plea for social justice, pragmatic politics, and humility. Hers is the United States of America that fills my breast with pride; hers is the clay that I am made of.
"O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years [...]
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!"
In 1930, then Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace stated, "There is as much need today for a Declaration of Interdependence as there was for a Declaration of Independence in 1776." I agree, and we're overdue, but I'm starting with the anthem. The Brits can take back their drinking and fighting tune.

Missouri River display; River Center Nature Center; Nebraska City

Photo credits: all photos, Hungry Hyaena, 2009


Donald Frazell said...

Thought you might have been at the patriotic festivities of the local high school football game, still ya gotta go. Just as going to small towns in the San Joaquin valley night minor league baseball games brings out our contradictory bonding, and isolating nature. We are the most complex and emotional creature after all, well worth the three hours of study.

patriotism adn nationalism reflect the two, and opposite forms of Pride. patriotism is teh pride of doing, of expecting the msot of oneself, of knowing one, or in this cae, one nation, can overcome with hard work and constant growth.

Nationalism is arrogance, claiming to be better than others, waving a flag to cover up ones sins and inadequacies. As others use the cross, hammer and sickle, whatever icon to bind into a blind mass and so be easily manipulated.

Patriotism demands from the individual to do more and pursue virtue, nationalism covers one inadequacies and permits sin in its name. This is like creative art and entertainment. Art one loses oneself, ones identity into the all, by pursuing ones ability to its fullest, always pushing to do and crate more. Entertainment one loses ones identity inot another, a symbol, a person, a salse hype, and so feel above others who are not of that monolithic sect. It is not about life, but the individuals desire to be supreme, and so godless.

Of course, religions do this too. They ahve multiple functions, dealing with life and death at teh formost in each commuity, helping it to heal and move on. Also to explroe teh world, ad findi some peace in understanding, with waht knowledge we ahve available to us.

And then there are teh waves of nationalism, religious fervor, populist and Hollywood magazines to find cheapm power in, releasing all personl responsibility for teh 'greater cause".

Now, after 9/11 and now, I still wanna hunt down and kill that bastard bin Laden. Though i hear their reasons for attacking us, we msut defen ourselves, and know what they did was truly evil. Bush messed up adn diverted this, we needed to hunt him and his cohorts down adn kille them and then get the hell out of the hell that is afghansitan. wE cannot change a people, they are more fractured and violent than any place on earth, they must evolve, or not. Their choice.

But many of the flag wavers are wavering, they are all about themselves, and want ort bail out, as whats in it for them? they have no stamina, no sacrifice. And i have a son in the military. I dont want war, but we must at least cut the head off teh beast and then pursue the causes of its birth. Why are people blowing themselves up for this? THAT is what scares me.

sorry for the tangent, but nationalism and patriotism exist everywhere. Is it the pride of love and sacrifice, or of arrogance and control? We all have both. Even in Nebraska city.
And Pride goes before the fall, that of Lucifer, and great nations.

art collegia delenda est

Hungry Hyaena said...


Alas, so far as I know, the Nebraska City HIgh football team doesn't play a home game while I'm in town. If they were to, I'd attend. Also unfortunate, the team has lost two of the three games it has so far played this season by 69 or 70 points, which suggests to me that the defense is swiss cheese, and that the local fans will be heartbroken. The patriotic festivities may be somewhat dampened, as a result.

I appreciate your distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Similarly, I sometimes distinguish between religious behavior (akin to patriotic "pride of doing") and religion (akin to nationalistic arrogance), though I do distrust all strains of religion as I do all strains of nationalism.

Donald Frazell said...

Damn, looks like they needaa new priest on the team, a new coach. Thought football was the religion of Nebraska, or was that Texas?
Must be all the kids in the area who are good at footbal go to one school, like they do here in the LBC and go to Poly. Always in the top 20 nationally, and the rest suck. Same with Orange County and either Mater dei or santa margarita, and the bay area and de la salle.

Sports lead to scholarships and pro careers, and we all know the true god of America is the $.