Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist, born a slave, once offered a lesson in patriotism. In 1859, he fled for his life, accused erroneously of participating in the raid on Harper's Ferry, along with John Brown.
Director-producer-writer Ron Maxwell ("Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals") notes that, in 1860, Douglass spoke in Glasgow, Scotland, where, prior to his address, a radical antislavery leader delivered a scathing attack not just on slavery, but on all things American.
Despite his experience of brutality and dehumanization, Douglass, nevertheless, criticized the previous speaker. "He who stands before a British audience to denounce anything peculiarly American in connection with slavery," said Douglass, "has a very marked and decided advantage. It is not hard to believe the very worst of any country where a system like slavery has existed for centuries. This feeling towards everything American is very natural and very useful. I refer to it now not to condemn it, but to remind you that it is just possible that this feeling may be carried to too great length." He gave a detailed analysis of the American Constitution. Despite America's flaws, Douglass said, America stands unique in comparison to all other nations with its Constitution even with America's failure to live up to it.
This brings us to the Dixie Chicks, arguably today's most famous country band.
At a concert in London just before the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Dixie Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines announced, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
Predictably, the Dixie Chicks fans reacted angrily, prompting the group to later issue the following statement: " . . . The anti-American sentiment that has unfolded here is astounding. While we support our troops, there is nothing more frightening than the notion of going to war with Iraq and the prospect of all the innocent lives that will be lost."
Maines, herself, added the following addendum: "The president is ignoring the opinions of many in the United States and alienating the rest of the world. My comments were made in frustration and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view." Fans remained unappeased, and Maines issued yet another statement: "As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect."
What is it about foreign travel that seems to have a disturbing effect on otherwise rational Americans?