PATRIOTISM has had a poor press. Two world wars, the decline of the nation state and the rise of political correctness have swung the pendulum so far from the excesses of Victorian jingoism that today we appear too often to be in denial of our past.
One man for whom the pendulum had swung too far was George Courtauld. Appalled by his children’s ignorance of the events which have shaped our society and the society of the world, he compiled and published in 2005 a slim volume called The Pocket Book of Patriotism. He took as his subtext a line from the speech of Henry V before Agincourt: “This story shall the good man teach his son.” In the book he created two parallel time lines, one recording events in English history, the other events in world history, and he peppered the time lines with quotations from the events.
Some of the quotations are specific to their times but many have relevance today. Gordon Brown might have been quicker to abandon his futile attempts to increase the number of days a terrorist suspect can be held without charge had he followed Magna Carta’s injunction that ‘To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay right or justice’; and action to tackle the superbugs in our hospitals might have been advanced had the Cabinet remembered Florence Nightingale’s maxim ‘The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm’.
The most profound quotation is the oldest. Under 3BC the time line notes ‘The Birth of Jesus’ and quotes, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. Two thousand years ago the words of Christ were revolutionary. Two thousand years later, for far too many of us, familiarity has bred contempt and we fail to recognise how radical his teachings still are.
This story shall the good man teach his son? Here! Here!
Or quite possibly, Amen.
Tim Drakeford, St Alphege Church