I keep having this daydream: instead of quitting track and field when I was 19, I have continued in it, and have just won the 800 meters at the Olympics. Apart from the fact I am the first 88-year-old to have won the event, my victory has created a bit of a sensation. Because right after the win, Canadian supporters have pressed a Canadian flag on me, urging me to run it around the track in a victory lap.
Unfortunately, I have to tell them, “Sorry, I can’t carry that flag. I don’t believe in flags.”
What happens next? Am I excoriated by the entire nation, does the whole stadium rise as one to denounce me? Am I even allowed to accept the medal?
Surely I must be granted an interview to explain my action. Faced by Ron Maclean, gibbering away at double-fast speed, I cannot hear what he says, but I gather myself enough to say, “Hang on a bit there, Ron.
“I have never believed in symbols of nationalism, whether flags or anthems. I got off to an early start with these feelings, for as a teenager in New Zealand, where it was the custom for the national anthem to be played before the movies, I embarrassed my mother by refusing to stand for it.
“You know, Ron, I once testified before a Parliamentary committee. I think the subject was immigration. The first thing I told them was that when I came to Canada in 1954, I discovered here were two things I particularly liked about this country: it didn’t have a flag or an anthem. Unfortunately, that has changed.”
He asked me a question, but once again I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. At my age, although I am fit enough to win an Olympic title, my hearing has degenerated somewhat, and I hsd to just wait until Ron stopped the gibbering long enough to give me an opening.
I said, “I don’t think even you, Ron, could seriously argue that flags are anything more than instruments used by leaders to exert mental and emotional pressure on their citizens. Any political leader who wants to lead his nation into a war against some other nation turns to the flag, presenting it as the symbol for everything that is virtuous in life. What a load of malarkey! I am a young man, I know, but even I can remember the town hall meetings at which the citizens gathered to farewell the volunteers who had so nobly answered the call to go and kill people. It was, after all, part of the national tradition.
“My Dad told me, Ron, that more than a century ago when the British colonizers of South Africa had a problem with Dutch immigrants who were beating the English immigrants in the theft of African land, they mobilized the young men of what was then called the Empire, who, it turned out, had been so brainwashed that they went in their thousands, hundreds of them willingly dying to further the British imperial agenda.
“I was brought up in one of those near-colonies, a remote, small country settled by the British and seized from the local inhabitants in a brutal war, but there was nothing unique about us New Zealanders answering that ridiculous call: 6,500 men (and 8,000 horses) went off to and fight 231 died; Canada sent 8,000 and lost 244; Australia sent 6,000 (plus about 10,000 more serving in other units), and they lost more than 500. I am much happier that today I beat out the young men from those countries in an 800-metre race than I would have been going off with them, shoulder to shoulder, to fight somebody else’s war. Of course, a few of them had some second thoughts about what was going on around them. One young Canadian soldier recorded that every day 15 to 30 British Tommies died from fever or dysentery, and each corpse was sewn up in a blanket, and four shillings were taken out of their last pay to cover the cost of the blanket. 'The soldier's game is not what it is cracked up to be,' he wrote home."
This was quite a long speech, far longer than the customary TV sound byte of 6.5 seconds, and when I finished I found Ron foaming at the mouth in his indignation, unable to pursue the questioning. So I got up to leave the studio, but some managing thugs came in and told me I was needed in the stadium to receive my winner’s accolade, my medal, and the recognition of my country which goes with it.
“Hey, guys, you’ll just have to count me out of at least part of that ceremony. I can accept the medal, for what it is worth, but I can't, surely, be expected to stand there while the goddam national anthem is played. I don’t believe in national anthems any more than I do flags.”
The team leaders who were calling the shots began to tremble: could this turn into an international incident, could it possibly result in our nation being seen throughout the world as a nation of traitors, men without backbone? But even worse, could this possibly be used as a rallying cry for the young people of the world to do some thinking for themselves, to refuse to be dragooned into the service of our appalling political bosses? Could such rebellion lead, for instance, to some sort of --- I don't know, let’s think of something --- let’s say, some sort of demo against our selling killing weapons to Saudia Arabia, to be used in bombing the shit out of Yemeni villages, killing thousands of mothers, children and civilian non-combatants?
Ron had recovered his sangfroid, with the appearance of these officials intent on giving me hell. “Well, let’s just say, we honour your achievement as an 88-year-old in showing the way to those young runners,” said Ron. “But really and truly, we didn’t realize that though you are a remarkable physical specimen for your age, you have the mental capacity of a centenarian, at best. It is part of the package that a champion has to be sound in body and mind, so ---- wait for it, I have just heard in my earphone that you have been disqualified by Canadian team leaders, who have disowned you as an evil influence on the Games, and on all youth around the world.’
With that I am hustled out of the studio, handed over to the local constabulary, and placed in a locked cell until I could be put on the plane out of the country the next morning.
Well, it’s only a daydream, of an event where all these young people do their stuff, but leave all their goddam flags at home. What could be more subversive than that? No wonder I ended up in jail.