In an ideal world humans would have no need for the primitive instincts associated with religion and nationalism.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that our species will ever evolve to such an enlightened level. In the meantime we have national anthems, which were the hot subject on today’s Liveline. (Thursday)
National anthems have just one purpose; to make sure citizens of warring states will mindlessly slaughter each when the occasion demands and to keep those same citizens primed for war in peacetime.
In the 1970s Cobh could be a dangerous place to socialise. The navy was in the midst of its first big modernisation programme which resulted in a large number of recruits, descending on the town to relax and check out the local talent. This did not go down well with the local gentry and so fist fights and even mini riots were common.
I remember on one occasion a free for all was underway at the local hotel. Chairs, bottles and fists were flying all over the place until the band decided to play the national anthem. Immediately, the fighting ceased and everybody stood to attention, when the music stopped, it was back to business.
Over the years I have witnessed people being threatened and even assaulted because some drunken imbecile got it into his head that the anthem wasn’t getting the respect it deserved.
I also found it fascinating to experiment with the psychology of anthems by, for example, whistling God Save the Queen among friends. It always got an immediate response; in most cases there would be pretended outrage and some finger wagging but on some occasions I would be gently but firmly ‘advised’ that my actions were ‘unwise’.
Needless to say, I was never stupid enough to carry out such experiments among strangers, especially where alcohol was being consumed.
One of my most interesting experiences regarding the playing of anthems was when Ireland played England at Croke Park last February.
I watched the game with some friends in the Old Oak bar in Cork city. The place was packed and the atmosphere was electric. Hearing God Save the Queen being played on such hallowed ground was an amazing experience.
I was even more amazed, as was everyone else, when a man in front of us stood rigidly to attention when the band struck up Amhrán na bhFiann. Seconds later another man stood up and before long most people in our area were at attention.
I think the key to the emotions generated by nationalism is awareness. It’s possible to be a proud citizen without carrying around a large load of negative historical baggage