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May 27, 2008

The last refuge of patriotism?

Here's a great Memorial Day story from, of all places, New York in, of all places, the New York Times.

The flagship store of Lord & Taylor, one of the great old department stores, begins each day by playing a recording of the Star Spangled Banner. The former chairman of Lord & Taylor began this practice during the Carter Administration, when the Iranians took over our embassy in Tehran and held hostages.

Playing the national anthem each morning has become a ritual at Lord & Taylor. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the same whether it’s a Wednesday in mid-March or a holiday like Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in service to their country.

* * * * *

The morning routine at Lord & Taylor is probably the longest-running daily ritual that can be traced to the 444-day Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979. The situation in Iran cast the United States in an unaccustomed role — a superpower that was powerless — as the administration of President Jimmy Carter could not win the release of the 52 Americans taken captive in Tehran.
Despite recent "re-branding" of the store, it has maintained this tradition, which goes something like this:
Five minutes before the store opens, the lights come up. On the public address system on Tuesday morning, a jazz combo was gliding through the Gershwin tune “Somebody Loves Me.”

That faded down, and out. There was a respectful pause before the orchestra struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then the sound system went back to soft jazz as the shoppers streamed down the finally open aisles.
It's a small thing, perhaps, but in an age when people are sometimes uncomfortable with expressions of patriotism, it's a good one.

And you have to read the article to the very end before the inevitable New York doubt creeps in. The last person interviewed for the story says it's inappropriate in a commercial venue.
But Patty Kahr, on her way to check on alterations to a dress she had bought to wear to a wedding, said it was “inappropriately patriotic for a commercial setting.”

“I think that kind of patriotism should be voluntary, not enforced,” she said. “You expect it at a sporting event, but when you’re going shopping for clothing?”
Because, as we all know, it's OK to be patriotic when 300-pound linemen are crushing the quarterback, but we certainly wouldn't want it to interfere with shopping for a dress.