It was, to understate things wildly, an important football game. Both the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots were 9-2. If New England lost, it would mean their next home game against Miami would be to retain their top berth in the AFC East. It was, basically, for all the marbles.
And it nearly made me lose my marbles. By the time it came down to first-and-goal at the one yard line, I was gasping, "oh, my God," into my hands over and over again. By the time it came down to fourth-and-goal on the goal line, I was completely petrified and silent, until Willie McGinest grabbed Edrin James' leg and held on. Then I was out of my seat and screaming. Kellie and I were hugging. You'd think we'd just saved the world.
Meanwhile, our country as a whole is deeply embroiled in our own struggle for first place, but our league is the entire planet, and the trophy, at least theoretically, is peace. And yet even when our President makes what even I have to admit is a daring visit into the heart of a war-torn region to raise morale with the troops, I shrug and change the channel. A Presidential election is coming up, but I'm really more concerned about who the Red Sox will sign in the off-season and how we'll stack up against the Yankees than who we'll elect and what our plan is for getting out of Iraq.
This is probably a defense mechanism.
After all, if the Patriots lose, no one gets killed. If they win, no one gets plunged into desperate poverty. If they go into overtime, it doesn't mean we'll be forced to report to the U.N. about it. Even if the Sox win the Series, no one's life is at stake. I can't say the same for cheering on my country in international politics.
Although, I suppose that, if you root for your home team because that's where you were born, right now I should be waving the pom-poms. Today the American troops in Iraq "struck back" against the insurgency (although it's difficult to call it striking back when we were the instigators of this whole mess), killing 46 guerillas in the northern city of Samarra. Three al-Qaeda operatives were also reportedly captured in Iraq in recent days. Go USA! Go Team! Way to kill those rag-heads!
After all, that kind of blatant jingoism would probably earn me congratulations in this society. I'd be "supporting the President." All the rest of the pundits with their faces and chests painted red, white and blue would join me in cheering on our soldiers. In short, it would be very easy for my sports fandom to carry over into the much messier arena of the war. And if I'm prepared to be blindly, even irrationally, a fan of my home team on the sports field, then why not be consistent when it comes to international conflict?
Well, because politics and international policy, in my belief, are not the simple sporting events many Washington wonks make them out to be. And because cheering on a football team trying to carry a ball into a little box has little in common with supporting troops taking on the monumental and complicated task of reconstructing an entire foreign country on every front, be it infrastructural, political, religious, or cultural. Also because supporting a quarterback selected by expert coaches to do a single job--throw the football down the field--is a far cry from assessing the performance of an elected leader with many multifaceted roles in both the foreign and domestic operations of a sovereign nation. Finally, because it is the nature of a football team to engage other football teams in athletic contest, and to beat them if possible; it is not-- contrary to popular opinion--the sole goal of our country to make war against other countries.
So yes, it would be very easy for me to wave the flag, to buy the party line, to support the President, to cheer when 46 more people lose their lives for reasons that are unclear at best. Reducing one's national identity that way is, in fact, temptingly simple. Maybe that's why so many people are doing it lately.