The Pride Of A Nation
It was hardly the kind of thing wars have been fought over. It was an angry, childish attack, an impulsive bite at the shoulder of an opposing player. No penalty was called - the referee was looking the other way - but the only way the video could have been more clear would be if he had drawn blood. That Uruguayan forward Luis Sanchez did not draw blood from Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini plays no small part in Uruguayans’ desperate defense of their star player.
At first, Sanchez’ defenders blamed the Italians, who flop shamelessly, Chiellini being one of the worst offenders. It’s an understandable defense, but then there’s that video. Nobody bought it, so they turned to attacking the British tabloid press, who love tearing people down and anything involving biting even more, but, again, there was that video.
If this seems strange to you, it shouldn’t. This is the World Cup, a sporting event that may well have eclipsed the Olympics in worldwide prestige. This is the star of the Uruguayan team, a global ambassador for the country in a very real sense. Denial was always going to be the response. It must be a lie, because if it isn’t, who are the people of Uruguay? Are they a nation of biters? Of cannibals? Are they a nation to be laughed at? They have their pride, and when it comes to pride, an absurd lie will always be preferable to a humiliating truth.
The thing about pride is that it’s personal. We take our individual humiliations and fears and give them power over us by attaching them to something bigger than ourselves. That gets us in all kinds of trouble, sometimes with far greater consequences than a World Cup match.
One hundred years ago today a man let his pride drive him to commit murder. It was an angry, childish attack. It was impulsive. Few if anyone saw it happen, but there was no doubt he had done it. In fact, he told anyone who would listen.
The man was a Bosnian Serb. The man and wife he killed were the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Bosnia was a part. To him, they represented an insult to his pride, a target for all of his life’s failures. He had reduced his choices to living with humiliation or seeking the instant gratification of an assassin. To absolve himself of his crime he wrapped himself in a Serbian flag.
And then millions died, killed by weapons and disease, killed by the pride of their own leaders who could not back down from promises made that they knew they should not keep. Pride led nations into war, and pride drove decision-making once they got in.
Today, that murderer is a national hero in Serbia. There are statues of him in Serbian Bosnia. Twenty years ago, when Bosnian Serbs were killing Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims, his bloody example was one they aspired to. He represents national pride to a people who have lived in the shadows of other nations, people who have lived in poverty and who have had to watch other nations rise above them.
Today, one of those more powerful nations, the United States, is considering whether or not to reenter a war it started in Iraq. That war was sold on national pride, just as reentry is being sold on protecting that first lie. Just as war in the Balkans spread, war in the Middle East now threatens every country on Iraq’s borders. This is where national pride ends.
We don’t have to worry about that with Uruguay. They’re just contending with national embarrassment. For now, Luis Sanchez has been suspended. Suspensions end. His professional team, Liverpool, will probably take him back. He’s only 27, so his national team will surely take him back. In a few years, if people even talk about what he did at all, it will be one of those things where even his most ardent supporters will admit, “Yeah, he did it,” and then change the subject; the ones sickened by it will only shake their heads and do the same.
And we’ll be grateful for it. We should be.
- Daniel Ward