Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Changing Allegiance to Symbols

Since the anti-Islamization demonstration on 9-11 in Brussels, ProFlandria has been an invaluable contributor to Gates of Vienna. He was born and raised in Flanders, but is now an American citizen, and has an excellent understanding of both cultures.

I have been relying on him for translations from the Dutch, information on the cultural background of Flanders, and help with understanding the Flemish political situation.

In my post about Belgium on Thursday, ProFlandria left a comment that is worth reproducing here in its entirety. He was responding to another commenter, eatyourbeans:

“An outsider or a fanatic might assume that the people who fly the ‘stars and bars’ want to bring back slavery and leave the Union. But nothing of the kind. The flag means, at least to those who display it, the willingness to defend one’s home, one’s kith and kin, one’s native region and its manners and customs against meddlesome outsiders.”

That’s as good a comparison as I’ve seen. I have tried not to wade too deeply into this discussion because I’m still coming to terms with my own experiences in that regard. But let me throw caution to the wind…

As a teenager I joined the Sea Cadets in my hometown, Oostende. We started up our chapter with one officer and four pimply friends, if memory serves. One of my friends invited his girlfriend’s brother to join, and he brought his friends. We soon realized that at a stroke, half of our chapter were “those” people — like the ones we saw on TV (late 70’s — early 80’s) roaming the streets of Flemish “border” municipalities to prevent their Walloon counterparts from taking over.

My “new” friends were fond of crewcuts, boots, and all things military. I learned to like crewcuts too, but my friends also had an open admiration for German martial prowess which bordered on the infuriating. Considering my family history, that didn’t sit so well. They were also members of organizations which espoused (mix and match to taste): idolizing WW1 Flemish veterans (great), memorializing “martyrs” to the cause of Flemish equality (uh…), supporting amnesty for Flemish WW2 SS veterans (hmmm…), and musing over the glories of Germanic/Nordic history and myth (cool, but what’s with all the runes?).

My initial reaction was one of caution — the guys seemed okay, but are they serious!? Inevitably we would have our discussions, and over time my friends’ stance on many things softened, or disappeared — I think the Wehrmacht idolatry was the first to dim (they did swap it for a healthy appreciation of Israeli military prowess).

On the other hand, I also learned. At age twelve I knew superficially about the unequal treatment we had received as a people, but I wasn’t worried about it. Later it dawned on me that Walloons were not only contemptuous of my “uncultured” language for its own sake, but because it was mine. They would come to my hometown on vacation (it’s a beach), rent an apartment from my grandparents, and be quite affable. But every now and then the mask would slip.
- - - - - - - - -
The most memorable occasion was when a little boy ran up to me on the sidewalk when I was about fourteen and yelled: “Sale Boche!” [dirty Kraut]. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but when the red left my eyes I saw myself backing the boy’s dad up to a wall and hitting him over and over. I quickly walked away and left him stunned, and I have tried to rationalize that event ever since — “I must have realized the boy was too little to know what he was saying, I wouldn’t have hit the mother anyway, so that just left the other parent who had taught the kid to say that…”

No matter. It definitely wasn’t my finest hour because I don’t actually remember thinking any of that when it happened. The whole thing could easily have gone very, very wrong. So I decided to learn all I could about my “environment” — not from my friends’ propaganda leaflets, but from the library. Most sources I found would airily admit that there might have been problems in the past, but that was mostly over.

I joined the Navy at 18. It was pretty much inevitable: my dad and uncle were both Navy men, and during WW2 their dad had crewed on a fishing boat out of Swansea (Wales) doing his part for the war effort. By that time I was an ardent royalist, I kid you not. Two reasons: the near-mythological stature of King Albert who defied the Kaiser’s Army in the Big One, and a book on Leopold III’s Shakespearean tribulations during WW2. For anyone familiar with the pomp and pageantry of military ritual, once you add that in the mix you actually get guys who tear up when they’re in a parade (mea culpa…).

Slowly, however, my symbols started to tarnish. For one, the obvious over-representation of Walloons among officers was impossible to ignore. I found out that Albert’s treatment of his mostly Flemish enlisted personnel was less than edifying. I think the last straw was finding out about the Royal House’s decidedly “swastikarian” tendencies — especially with respect to Jews. I forget the name of the book, but I remember the shock at having one of my icons, whose latest scion was now my Commander-In-Chief, brought so low. As an object lesson in the danger of symbol worship, this one can count. Basically, if you want to find real-life Nazis in Belgium go to the Palace at Laeken.

By that time, however, I was stationed in the US on “temporary assignment” — for seven years. Things happen, you marry, you build a house… then they send a replacement. And a funny thing happened: I didn’t want to return home. Lots of practical reasons, but they were excuses — I could feel a different resistance, as well.

I didn’t realize until several years later that my country could no longer stand a comparison to the one I now lived in. True, we had all the artifacts of civilizational greatness — but this country had the practice of it. Imperfectly, to be sure, but also passionately. Discovering how this new country came to be was a revelation. Things I had known to be true suddenly proved flawed, or false. And without consciously looking, I had found my new symbols. If you’ve recited the pledge, you know what they are.

The last time I looked, my old friends are still culturally Flemish, but also Belgian soldiers. I haven’t spoken with any of them in over fourteen years, so I don’t know how they feel about current developments. It’s too risky to ask — the (Walloon Socialist) Minister of Defense deputized selected personnel to “evaluate” the troops’ possibly subversive sentiments.

My point, if I can even find it in all these ramblings, is this: as you said, symbols mean different things to different people. Changing your allegiance to them after having their validity challenged is a very long, and sometimes painful process. It is the kind of growth that leaves scars, but good ones. If certain people in Vlaams Belang are traveling this road — and I’m reasonably confident they are — they have my respect, and I’ll say no more about it.


Simon de Montfort said...

Yes, but whilst on that 'journey' you are vulnerable to being tagged as all sorts of Unpleasant Things

I still do not understand the comparison of some of the symbols used by anti-jihad groups with the 'stars & bars'; the battle flag of the Confederate army ( which was NOT the flag of the Confederate States of America )

I have lived in the American South, and two of my children still do live there--for the time being, anyway. I have yet to meet someone who convincingly says that it is merely a symbol of Southern pride.

In my admittedly limited experience, those who flaunt that flag are making a statement of what I'll call "defensive racial identity": the symbol of those whites who feel disenfranchised and to some extent betrayed by more affluent Southern whites who have adjusted well to integration in the South and kept a relatively high status and position despite the advances of Southern Blacks

The Whites who display that flag seem to have not done well, and see themselves as put-upon and used as scapegoats--and generally ignored except to blame for this and that

Interestingly, when I've seen that flag on a staff it is flown below the American flag--as it to say that ( at least in the South ) blue-collar Whites are the Real Americans

The old Civil War had those two symbols as opposites; the civil war now engulfing the USA has many of the former Confederates seeing themselves as the last bastion of True Americanism

another interesting journey.......

Vol-in-Law said...

Simon de Montfort:
"I have lived in the American South, and two of my children still do live there--for the time being, anyway. I have yet to meet someone who convincingly says that it is merely a symbol of Southern pride"

A flag can have all kinds of meanings ascribed to it. The SPLC and America's neo-Nazis both wish to Nazify the Confederate battle flag, but that's not its meaning for millions of American Southerners. Were the Dukes of Hazzard Nazis? :) For most who fly it it's a symbol of Southern pride and not of racial hostility.

eatyourbeans said...

This damned R-word is always going to hobble our movement because right now the enemy owns its meaning and uses it against us. We even use it against ourselves.

What say we take it back and define it our way? By racist I mean somebody who loves and is proud of his forebears and the civilization they built. Simple as that. Any member of any race can be a racist; it merely means loving your own people and ways wihout hating, condeming or harming anybody else. I got my space, you got your space, get it and we'll get along fine.
Learn from the Swiss SVP.

Dymphna said...


It helps to remember that when the conversation reaches the level of name-calling you're deaing with a school yard bully. So you have to watch your back, and you have to grin at the contempt and ridicule. Human aggression being what it is, someone is always going to try to shove you into bearing their load of hatreds as well as your own. The shrinks call it "splitting" --but the Manicheans got there thousands of years ago: the world is divided into good and evil and guess who's evil, you racist?

Make them define their terms. What does the word mean to them? Why is it important for them to divide the world --or you -- that simplistically? Does it make thinking easier? Do they feel safer? Or do they need to be King of the Hill by always laying claim to having the Truth?

LGFwatch calls us "the cesspool" so I invited them to come for a swim...heh.

But i don't take their epithets seriously. One of their commenters called me the Mad Queen...I love that name!

Another said my writing was like William Burroughs. No, I don't think it was a compliment. So I told them part of my family story related to Burroughs: that he and my father were roomies at the public drug treatment hospital in Lexington, KY(it was the only one in the country then and has since closed. In its day it was famous). And I said I couldn't write "The Naked Lunch" (Burrough's novel) but I would consider "The Naked Supper."

Those exchanges didn't change their minds about this here cess pool with the Mad Queen sitting in the middle like a large toad, but now I'm a racist with some reality filled in. No one can hurt you if your truth is worse than what they try to throw at you...

and if they call you racist, you might say, "in my family we say 'culturists' -- we're all kind of amateur anthropologists where I come from." IOW, own it and change it.

Don't defend against it. Makes you look and feel spineless.

This is a dirty war where you have to fight dirty whilst keeping your soul clean. Don't project back: keep the conversation centered on you and your questions to them, respectful questions.

Above all, remember: you are ten years old and this is the schoolyard. The same rules prevail, only the words have gotten bigger.

SamenoKami said...

Dymphna, your comment - "Make them define their terms. What does the word mean to them?" - can only be a starting point. We must hold to the strict dictionary (an older version not a corrupted newer version) of the word 'racism.' Bigot, prejudiced and racist do not have the same meanings but our enemy wants to use them interchangably. If 'their' definition of racism is not correct, in order for the debate to continue, racism must first be defined by its true definition. As an oddity/example - the proper use of math has been termed 'racist' within recent memory. If the enemy can make up 'Alice in Wonderland' meanings for every word then we will win neither the argument nor the battle.

Simon de Montfort said...

Vol-n-law, I did not say anything about Nazis. I said that I had not met anyone who convinced me that they saw the Confederate battle flag as only a symbol of Southern pride. Your argument is badly flawed

I stated what I thought that flag meant to those who fly it: a complaint about the course of history, and loss of status--and I could add a sense of loss of identity, but that would be subsumed by the two factors I noted

It's a way of saying, "I'm here; I'm still here; I'm not going away", etc

Of course symbols are fluid and contain elements of mystery as they appeal to the unconscious as well as the conscious mind. But to display a certain symbol to the public is a deliberate act. There are many ways to show one's Southern pride without using that flag.....