Watching St George’s flag bedecked England football fans singing the national anthem as they fought with French police and Russian hooligans, the aphorism “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” never seemed more apt. Three weeks earlier I visited the same shops and bars now being laid waste, and was met with courtesy and kindness. I wonder what reception I would receive now …
Why is it that accident of birth should lead some to believe absolutely – so much so that it was worth fighting for – that our country is superior to all others? It’s undoubtedly true that in many spheres – technological innovation is one – we punch superbly far above our weight. Yet, despite our ability to create wealth, poverty is rife and inequality causes division – a cause for shame.
Some may argue that “My country right or wrong” for long served us well. Without pride in the flag and unquestioning obedience, would tens of thousands of our young men have gone the fields of Flanders a century ago, certain of the terrible fate that awaited them? Their courage was not alcohol or drug-fuelled but based on an unflinching sense of duty.
Had they stripped away the layers of patriotism, those men might have seen they were instead being asked to fight for less noble causes, less worth dying for – resources, trade, space. These have lead to a thousand of years of conflict on mainland Europe.
Yet the last 70 years have seen uninterrupted peace in Western Europe. The fates of nation-states are so intricately entwined, cooperation, learning, sharing, trading has replaced sending thousands to slaughter.
Let’s celebrate what is best about England but acknowledge the value of working closely with our European neighbours and vote to remain in the EU on 23 June.