Patriotism

(Reflections upon reading 

Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad)

 

Patriotism can be shallow

or even cruel.

Easily manipulated

and hard to square

with our values.

 

Is there something deeper,

Something more human, more loving?

 

Accounts of Russia during WW2

Describe a willingness to sacrifice,

To stand together in the face of a 

ruthless inhuman enemy.

 

It comes from deep inside of a people,

Proud of what they have accomplished,

Aware of their vulnerability

And still humiliated by their relative backwardness.

Not surprisingly Hitler took that as weakness.

 

How could a fascist understand 

The collective strength of these “unter menschen.”

The strength to endure enormous hardship

To resist and then

Take the fight to the enemy.

The strength to see and forgive a comrade’s shortcomings

While still holding him or her to account.

To find love in moments of calm, always aware that 

German bombers could appear at any time.

 

This is the stuff of history.

It is the source of our power,

Our determination to not succumb.

 

In telling this story, Grossman evokes 

Stories of the past

Across the river of time: 

“And in the dark and troubled days of 1812, a courier sent by Rostopchin, governor of Moscow, could ride by night to Kutuzov’s HQ, have time for a few hours rest and a meal, and be back in Moscow by evening with the latest despatches.”

 

The fascists broke.

Their brittle, ruthless inhumanity

Did not prevail.

 

July 2019

 

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