Published on Monday, October 27, 2003 by
Patriotism? Or Just Conformity?
by Laura Kaminker

My baseball season ended last week, when the Yankees lost the World Series. So also ended another season of harrassment by other fans. It's not that I'm wearing a Red Sox cap - I'm a Yankees fan through and through. But I choose not to stand during the singing of the national anthem or "God Bless America". For this, I pay a price.

I am opposed to nationalistic displays of any kind. Patriotism strikes me as divisive, a kind of misplaced pride based on the geographic fluke of where one happened to be born. 

But the specific brand of nationalism displayed at Yankee Stadium in recent years, mixed with so much military fervor, is deeply offensive to me. During the seventh-inning stretch, Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard exhorts fans to rise for a "moment of silent prayer" to remember the "men and women stationed overseas who are defending our freedom [meaningful pause] and our way of life".

This disgusts me on so many levels! First, it's not a moment of silence - it is a call to prayer. As an atheist, I deeply resent being directed to pray. Next, what exactly is this way of life being defended? Our right to invade countries that haven't threatened the U.S.? Our freedom to drive SUVs? Halliburton stockholders' right to maximum profit?

I would not have sent one single American to meet his or her fate in the Iraqi desert. I see the troops as victims of a political war designed for the profit of a select few. 

Beyond all this, I don't ask "god" to bless America - I wish good things to all peace-loving people throughout the world. The United States doesn't deserve the blessings of a supreme being any more than any other place on Earth, though I wish it would use its mighty wealth and power to bestow more blessings and less damage on the rest of the world.

Thus, I feel that to stand during the singing of "God Bless America" is to show support for the Bush administration's useless war, for American military might and for the idea of public prayer.

But that's just me! I'm not asking anyone else at the Stadium to adopt my view. I would never try to prevent anyone from standing. I don't make noise and or raise a sign of protest. I simply sit.

For this, I have endured everything from cold stares to outright attacks. People have made vicious comments, hurled ethnic slurs (guessing the wrong ethnicity), anti-gay insults (wrong again!), accused me of being a communist (three strikes), a baby-killer, a child molester and just about every other kind of evildoer you can think of. The comment I hear most frequently is, "If you hate America so much, why don't you leave?" This baffles me on two counts. One, that choosing not to stand during the singing of a patriotic song means I hate America - when in fact I value America because it does not require me to stand and sing.

And two, that if you do not love every single thing about this country, if you have any criticisms at all, that you should not live here. If people believed that, slavery would be legal, women and African-Americans wouldn't be allowed to vote, and - yes, baseball fans - Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and the Yankees' own Mariano Rivera wouldn't have been allowed to play. 

The vehemence - the violence - of the reaction to my quiet sitting makes me wonder what exactly those standing believe they are defending. If we disagree with our elected officials, we should leave the country? (Did they leave when Clinton was re-elected? Just wondering.) What is this freedom the armed forces are protecting, if we are not free to sit when told to stand? I want to ask the people who harass me, do you love freedom - or just conformity?

I wonder, is the guy who stands with his Yankees cap over his heart during "God Bless America" somehow "more American" than I am? What has he done for the servicepeople in Iraq? I am an activist, working to (in my view) improve my country, to make it more democratic, more just, more free. I also volunteer my time to help others. Maybe the guy sitting next to me does, too - but why do I get the feeling that he spends his days earning money to feed his family and his evenings watching sports on TV? Yet because he stands and sings a song, he's done his bit, and I'm a communist, baby-killing dyke.

And doesn't it strike anyone as just a tad ironic that people believe I shouldn't be allowed to sit in this wonderful free country of ours?

I ask no one else to act like me. I just don't understand why they need me to act like them.

Laura Kaminker is a freelance writer and full-time Yankees fan.