October 20, 2005,
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.
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.
Bet the kid's name was Hank Ill, too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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