Chapter 5: “Cast Aspersions upon the Heroic and Patriotic"
Esolen opens this chapter with a memory from his childhood of the beginning of the Memorial Day parade in his home town.
“We watched in silence, not understanding the half of what was going on. The commander barked out an order. Clock clock, went the rifle bolts. Fire! And again, and again, a salute of twenty-one guns. Then amid the curling smoke, and the boom still reverberating in our eardrums, and the birds frightened into flight, came the lone plaintive call of taps. . . . You didn't really need the words. For as we boys stood there, listening, we suspected that something of dreadful importance had gone on, something that had to do with being a man, and even more, with belonging to a nation.
But the solemnity of the day brought with it a real joy, and a lot of boisterous fun. That is, in fact, one of the purposes of solemnity, which we, the interminably informal and drab, have forgotten. For as soon as the men had brought their rifles back to the marching position, and turned in formation to proceed down the hill, we scampered after them, eager to be the first to hop a ride on one of the fire trucks . . . .
It wasn't, I suppose, much of a parade, but it was something. My town has not had one in the last thirty years."
In this chapter Esolen notes a modern discomfort with honoring the things of the past, of our nation, of noble sacrifices, of causes worth fighting for. The sad fact that flows from this discomfort is a loss of a sense of love of home, of where we come from.
“For just as we have nearly lost the capacity to weep a tear of gratitude at our nations birthday, so we have lost the local geography of life. In every sense of the word, from the homestead to the town, from the state to the nation, from the distant past to the last lights darkening in the west, we do not honor our father and our mother.
And that deadens one very dangerous region of the heart. It used to be thought that the purpose of the school was to stir patriotic feeling to life and give it noble expression. It is now the school's purpose to dampen that feeling – and at the same time to give students the smug impression that to interpret one's national history in the least charitable light, to go out of one's way to find one's native land in the wrong, to sniff at one's local and national pastimes in favor of the fashionably foreign, is to drag that ignorant old country into the light where she belongs, to do her a favor against her will. We must produce people who could never write the following verse from America, nor sing it with out rolling their eyes in impatience, because they could not conceive the feeling it describes:
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills,
Like that above.”
The study of history in general can certainly inspire us as we read of the nobility, heroism and sacrifices made by people in the past but, as Esolen argues, to love our hometown, state, or and it's history, and to honor that history, is to have our imaginations inspired in a unique way. It is unique because it is tied and rooted to a particular place and a history of a particular people which is only accessible to those who are from there, to those who can say: These are my forefathers. This is the history of my town and my people. From this history I am called to a particular form of heroism.