As I watched the US team run around pointlessly for 90+ minutes against Germany last week, a strange thing happened to me. Being a “red-blooded American,” I had sincerely hoped for a miracle allowing us to somehow defeat the German ubermenschs. But a little more than halfway through, a disconcerting feeling came over me. As it became increasingly clear that this US team would never be a serious contender for the cup—lacking the skill, grace and crispness of a world-class team—I had a sudden shift in perspective, and I began interpreting plays from the point of view of a German fan. I felt equal frustration when the German attackers would make a poor pass, or sailed a rocket over the crossbar, as when the US did. And I literally felt my worldview, my allegiance, my-self being divided in two.
My family has been American for generations, but my ancestry is about 50% German. This, combined with an unhealthily intense love of German philosophy, has caused me to take pride in this association. Germany—to say the least—has had a complicated history, which makes this relationship a bit strained at times, but one I’ve chosen, nonetheless. Yet despite my benighted hope for the US moving beyond the round of 16 finally being dissolved, it felt unsettling to me how easily I betrayed my loyalty; how fluid and weak was my attachment to my real homeland.
Despite all my philosophic posturing of being above the shifting sands of our shiftless times—I, apparently, was no better. I was a banal Benedict Arnold, yet believed myself to be a Francis Scott Key, holding faith that the flag still flew amongst the smoldering ruins. Images of my German-descended, American grandfather fighting in WWII flashed through my mind. I pictured him helping to destroy the very lands that had forged his ancestral blood because they threatened to destroy the entire world. And then I saw myself, drinking a Belgian-style microbrew at a bar at one in the afternoon on a Thursday, ready to give up the ghost simply because my countrymen had a 90 minute lapse in imagination and couldn’t even put together a shot on goal.
This is the ultimate sign of privilege: the right to choose one’s loyalties. No longer determined by lineage, or the soil that feeds us, we now choose our fidelity based on self-interest and calculation and place bets on the assured winner to revel in unearned victory.
I sat in a bar in Rouen, France recently chatting with a new group of friends I had acquired for the evening. Suddenly it dawned on me that it was April 20th, and made an ironic comment about it being Hitler’s birthday. It was met with faces of stone-cold seriousness and curses against the German nation. To me, Hitler was nothing more than a boogeyman, a strawman used to make over-wrought invectives against one’s political “enemies.” But in France, a country brutalized by this devil-made-flesh, even 70 years later, it remained an open-wound in which I had just thrown salt. A few days later, as I walked through row after row of 9,387 identical white crosses at the American military cemetery in Normandy, I finally understood their perspective. Yet, how quickly this lesson was erased, as I watched the German national team run circles around us in front of the entire world.
America is a nation of immigrants, the pinnacle of the modern dream, but now devolves into the grotesque of postmodern perspectivity. Our ancestors fought and died for our right to choose, for our freedom, yet we’ve now turned our backs on them. It wasn’t till I started studying history that I truly began to love my country. I grew up with the now all-too-common perception that the US is a monster, a unique aberration in the history of humanity. Until I was able to place our actions in context, and see that, like with all things, you must take the good with the bad, I’d thought pride was a completely unjustifiable feeling for my homeland. The right to choose is a just and powerful thing, but so often, it we use as an excuse to not face reality.
Like the German people today who must overcome the demons of their past, we too must find a way to move beyond ours, and not let history be deterministic. Our newly gained right-to-perspectivity can help us accomplish this. But at the same time, I fear that we too often utilize it as a means to forget or distort the past—in order to overcome it simply through ignorance. We owe it to our ancestors who made this privileged position possible to honor their memory, to treat them like the fallible human beings they were, and to realize the fallible human beings we remain. We mustn’t let this Perspectivism destroy who we are.