Proud of America


February 22, 1991|By GARRY WILLS

CHICAGO -- Wars are drearily the same. We never learn from them. Bits of other wars come back to mind as we read, in the news, about Marco Lokar. He is an Italian athlete who was studying in America, playing college basketball for Seton Hall. When the coach of Seton Hall had his athletes start wearing American flags on their uniforms, Mr. Lokar refused -- it is not his flag, and he is a pacifist.

The booings began, the threats, the calls to his home that disturbed his pregnant wife. He is going back to Trieste, abandoning his hopes for an American education. He got more (( educated on the meaning of this country than he had intended.

In World War I, the Boston Symphony had one of the world's two or three greatest living conductors, the Swiss Karl Muck, as its musical director. When Muck was asked to play the American national anthem as part of every concert, he refused -- it was not his kind of music. The booing began for him.

Since Muck was a Swiss who spoke German, it was assumed that he was a German, and a ''German-lover,'' when all good patriots were supposed to be German-haters. The New York Times denounced Muck. He agreed to play the anthem, saying he did not realize he was being given a political test -- one he submitted to when it was put in those terms. But it was too late. There was now a frenzy to get Muck. When he took his orchestra to Baltimore, the Catholic cardinal there told his flock not to attend.

Muck was arrested by the immigration service, held without legal proceedings, then taken out beyond the international limit and placed on a ship for Europe -- a man whose career and reputation had been ruined by people anxious to exact from everyone the same patriotic gesture. Marco Lokar did not lose so much, but only because he does not have, yet, so much to lose.

In World War II, the interning of Japanese-Americans is famous, but petty little harassments of Americans with German and Italian names is less known. My wife's home was searched without a warrant by FBI personnel looking for radio transmitters in any homes rented by people with Italian names.

I was just asked by a BBC interviewer if the war in the gulf did not make me proud as an American. No, I said. Why? The interviewer asked: ''Aren't you glad to see America asserting itself?'' Can we be proud of our country only if we are beating up on someone else?

Conquering nations are a dime a dozen in history. Free nations, nations that allow dissent and encourage citizen debate, are very rare. We stop being that in time of war. We give away our real reasons for pride while trying to vilify foreigners like Marco Lokar and Karl Muck, or bully our own citizens named Kodama or Cavallo. This is a matter for pride?

7+ *Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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