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?
For example, in September 2002, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., upon returning from a European trip, said, "As an American I've always been proud. I have a (U.S. flag) pin. I was embarrassed to wear it."
At a Berlin film festival, actor Dustin Hoffman said, "For me as an American, the most painful aspect of this is that I believe that (the Bush) administration has taken the events of 9-11 and has manipulated the grief of the country, and I think that's reprehensible."
In London, American director Robert Altman said, "The present government in America I just find disgusting, the idea that George Bush could run a baseball team successfully -- he can't even speak! I just find him an embarrassment. I was over here when the election was on, and I couldn't believe it -- and I'm 76 years old. Then when the Supreme Court came in and turned out to be a totally political animal, the last shred of any naivete that was left in me has gone. When I see an American flag flying, it's a joke."
In Brazil, actor Danny Glover said, "Yes, (Bush) is racist. We all knew that, but the world is only finding it out now."
Actor Sean Penn, on his infamous "fact-finding" mission in Iraq, said, "If there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands."
Also in Berlin, director Spike Lee said, " . . . It's ludicrous to expect the whole world to follow what (George W. Bush and Tony Blair) want. . . . America doesn't have the right to tell other people what to do. To say the whole world has to fall into line is you-know-what. I hope more people will rise up."
Call it the "Stockholm Syndrome," a coping mechanism also known as the Survival Identification Syndrome, the Common Sense Syndrome, or, simply, transference -- usually consisting of three components that may occur separately or in combination with one another: negative feelings on the part of the hostage toward authorities, positive feelings on the part of the hostage toward the hostage taker, and positive feelings reciprocated by the hostage taker toward the hostage. (FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin)
Until scientists come up with a vaccine for the Stockholm Syndrome, a copy of Frederick Douglass' speech perhaps serves as a temporary treatment.