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What the patriot wants for his country


Hadrian's Wall

When I wrote about patriotism yesterday, I left something big out.

I was thinking about that omission when I looked at the British Museum's current exhibit, Hadrian and Conflict. The online gallery has a disheartening video that describes building Hadrian's Wall - disheartening because it never gives us any idea why Brits hated that wall and how they fought against it, and overcame it.

You have probably experienced being in a situation you hate - having to do what you don’t want to do while not being allowed to do what you’d like. To be a slave is to experience that all the time - to be unable to choose your friends, select your own job, live where you want, travel freely or even dress as you please. To be a slave is to be unable to protect the people you love. It is an extremely unpleasant experience.

The people of Britain understood what it meant to be slaves, and those who were free were determined they never would be.

According to the OED, in the Old Celtic and Old English languages they spoke, the word free meant a friend, a member of the family, someone beloved.

Faced with Roman invasion and slavery, the people of the islands decided to fight. This might not be your decision - to fight means to risk death - but it was the choice they made.

They fought the Romans before Hadrian's Wall was built, and afterwards. In AD 81, as Roman legions overran the north, destroying villages, enslaving, and exacting punitive taxes, Calgacus and his men made a stand. Luckily for him he had a great historian to preserve (or invent) his words-

The Romans make a wasteland and call it peace. . . .Our brothers and sons are torn from us by conscription to be slaves. . . .As you advance into battle, think of your fathers and your children! (Tacitus quoting Calgacus in Agricola 30)

Seventeen hundred years later his words inspired another man -

Remember. . .you are free men, fighting for the blessings of liberty. . .slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men. George Washington

At Mons Graupius, Calgacus and the Britons fought to the end. Thousands died. Those who survived fired their houses to keep them out of Roman hands. The next day, wrote Tacitus, an awful silence reigned.

As I said, this might not have been what you would have chosen to do.

In 480 BC Greeks defended their city states from the invading Persian Empire. As they attacked the massed ships at the Battle of Salamis they cried, Eleutheria, Eleutheria! Freedom! Freedom!

That was the big thing I left out.

A patriot wants his country to be free. Not only because he loves himself, but because he loves his country.

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