For God or Country? Violet Evergarden and Divided Allegiance

You may not have realized that Veterans Day this year was an especially significant one, marking the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. I usually don’t think much of the day, honestly—I thank my father for his service, post a grateful message on Facebook, and then the day pass, but perhaps because of commemoration last year, I thought a little more on it, and especially about the patriotism I feel towards my country. Those feelings aren’t as pronounced in me as they once were, whether because of the state of divide currently in the nation or—and I think this more likely in my case—I don’t constantly pull in patriotic ideas as I once did. I grew up as a military brat and frequented army bases, so love for my country was in the very fabric of my youth. But when I moved away from parents and military installations, I saw my patriotic furor start to slow. I still identify as a proud American, but I’m certainly not as fiercely loyal to my nation as I once was. I don’t think that’s altogether a bad thing, but it is a little confusing.

In the Netflix series, Violet Evergarden, the title character walks a similar line. Modified and trained to be a loyal soldier, once the war (styled after WWI) ends, Violet learns to adapt to civilian life. It’s not an easy adjustment—as for many soldiers, the subtleties, customs, and casualness of civilian life are lost on her. However, one challenge she doesn’t have to deal with is in shedding her national identity—it was given up long ago when she decided to fully move over from one allegiance to another, from that of a combatant for her country to identifying instead as Gilbert’s “dog,” the personal weapon to Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. Love for country, if there ever was any (and also depending on how you would define the concept, which the series goes into in great detail), has been replaced by love for a person, and not just love—loyalty, dedication, and allegiance.

As a Christian, my allegiance is to God first, but there was a time where I was confused…where does allegiance to one’s nation fit into my identity? Like a dual citizenship, could I show allegiance to both God and country? Was I making my country an idol? That discomforted me, because I didn’t want to think that all I grew up valuing had to be dismissed on account my faith. I wasn’t ready to let that go.

But that thought offered some insight into my shortcomings as a child of God, into my inability to worship him alone. I find it compelling how easy it was for Violet to make such a decision. Certainly, her life before Gilbert was terrible and so maybe it wasn’t as hard for her to let that go…but then again, maybe it was difficult. Raised in a servile manner, brainwashed to be a dog of the military, it couldn’t have been easy to untrain Violet’s mind. But the Violet we see throughout the series has shifted her dedication entirely.

Gilbert treats Violet with kindness. He tends her wounds and teaches her, giving her value as a human when before, she was only a weapon. He even gives her a name, one that demonstrates that only is she beautiful as a flower, but she is beautiful to him. He’s given her meaning and entrusted her with his love—having received these wonderful gifts, Violet would betray her country for him in a heartbeat if he asked her to.

I wonder…would I do the same for my love?

Thankfully, I’m not being asked to do so, and, as I matured, I understood the idea that my allegiance to God trumps all other allegiances, meaning I could still be loyal to my country, still treasure it, but not above all, not above God. My ultimate allegiance is to Christ, he who gives me a name, who treats my wounds, who sacrificed himself that I might live. My hope is that I’ll cherish those gifts, that I would treasure Christ as he has treasured me. And in doing so, if push comes to shove and I have to choose between two masters—which increasingly becomes a possibility in this fragmented country—that I’ll be able to demonstrate that like Violet, my own allegiance is ultimately undivided and I really only have one master, and one love, after all.

Featured art by Nagu (artist allows reprints)

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

8 thoughts on “For God or Country? Violet Evergarden and Divided Allegiance

  1. Thank you for this article. It was rather thoughtful, and I can appreciate the intellectual legwork you describe you went through to synthesize a belief on ethics and priority.
    I was in a similar situation growing up where I believed in a “love it or leave it, for my country right or wrong.” mentality.
    As I grew up and studied history of course one learns that one’s country and God aren’t always on the same side, so likewise I had to realize which had to come first. My problem I ran into as I grew up was where to draw the line and make a decision. This is one of my favorite theological realms of inquiry as it deals with politics and ethics of warfare, and one can exhaust days thinking about the nuances of each individual war. If I may, I would like to piggy back on your article a bit and express some of my thoughts on where the line comes in. If my nation is in the wrong, how much do I resist its actions? Is every citizen guilty by proxy if they do not resist an unjust government? How culpable is a janitor for aiding and abetting a foe? Is there such thing as excessive force in a justified war?
    God of course commanded the Hebrews to go to war and even exterminate some very awful people in the Old Testament. It even says that God is a man of war directly in the text. Of course we must not think of us Christians as by nature warlike as God is also the God of Peace, and we should be expressing love to everyone rather than hatred. Any actions of judgement take in our lives must be with us in clean conscience for the purpose of correction primarily or to prevent greater evils or in self defense.
    Governments throughout the years who get themselves into wars attempt to similarly justify their actions with the concept of “Causus Belli”. It is the idea that a war is justified for enacting for a given reason. Of course sometimes these are flimsy or outright immoral reasons, but at least there is a reason stated beyond the wrath or greed of the attacking nation.
    One big question Christian philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas and beyond have struggled with was “When is a war justified, and when is it not?” This it a bit too long of a question to answer in a comment section, and this post is already far too long, so I won’t address it, but it’s something I really enjoy exploring and I’d gladly discuss the concept with anyone any time.

    1. Thanks for the commentary, Tyler! I appreciate you digging into this all a bit deeper. They’re important questions to consider because they push us to think about our faith, what we hold dear, and how we interact with the world. Living in a country that is relatively at peace, we’re not often confronted with these quandaries, so we it’s helpful to try to find opportunities to consider them.

      I like the example you brought up about the culpability of a janitor. I worked for years as the director of an agency that worked with genocide education, and we were very much trying to educate about personal responsibility and the role of bystanders. That work part of my life made me think more about my character and integrity, and I think moved me to be more a man of faith, who lives more according to scripture rather than only saying that I do.

  2. I grew up a military family context that was similar to what you describe, and I have likewise grown less “patriotic” with time. I still appreciate America a great deal and consider myself greatly blessed to have been born here.

    One of the factors that has shifted my view is other patriotic people – excessive rah rah rah Murica sentiment in others has made me more leery of patriotism. Example: Colin Kaepernick and Kneeling-gate. Whatever the merits of football players kneeling, it’s just a song about a rectangular textile. Yet I’ve seen Murica!!!11 folks seemingly enraged and appalled over this breach of etiquette, as if it’s just the worst thing ever and anyone who does it must be totally horrible. I mean, it sounded like some people felt a god was being blasphemed. The last presidential election contributed this concern about nation idolatry – I remember people talking about how I had to vote for a certain candidate, no matter that individual’s faults, because saving Murica was more important than refraining from actively helping an immoral leader rise to power by voting for that candidate. Oh, and this candidate was God’s chosen means of saving America, and faux or would-be religious leaders even compared this person to various Bible characters. Connected with all of the above have been various other incidents, such https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVBpMC6HxBc (rightly mocked by the ever-clever Babylon Bee at https://babylonbee.com/news/dozens-accept-america-lord-savior-first-baptist-dallas-service ). Collectively, such things have made me more concerned about not making an idol out of America. A god made of fabric is no better than one made of wood or stone or gold, and while I appreciate America deeply, I never want that to result in a level of reverence that only my Creator deserves.

    Separate and apart, I came to realize as I studied the Bible that patriotism never shows up as virtue. Not once does God condemn someone for the sin of being unpatriotic, Paul doesn’t say that the fruit of a Spirit-filled life includes patriotism, and sometimes people who betray their country are held up as righteous examples of trust precisely because of their unpatriotic acts. Rahab and Ruth spring to mind: the one essentially betrayed her city-state to the enemy, while the other disowned her nation. In Jeremiah 21.8-10, God essentially calls on people to turn against their country: “And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says Yahweh: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war.'” I don’t see how see how “patriotism” or devotion to country has any place in this paradigm, which makes loyalty to country seem a lot less important.
    Third, I’ve always hated the stories where the hero is given some sort of sadistic choice to save their wife (or even serious love interest) / child / family OR a bunch of other random people, and the hero chooses to save the many. I want to shout ばか at them (as an anime character would put it). No no no no no no no no no. After the Lord Jesus himself, one’s highest possible loyalty in this life should be to one’s spouse – the person for whom one has sworn the most binding of oaths of faithfulness before God. Parents don’t make vows to their children, but it seems self-evident that parents have an immense duty to their children. And if someone’s loyalty to their girlfriend falls short of their sense of obligation to a bunch of strangers, how can she possibly hope they be loyal for the rest of their life? Nope, intimate familial relationships come first. Something I’ve come to believe more recently is that loyalty to friends and loyalty to one’s congregation also trump loyalty to country. Part of this is where my research comes into play: through 150 year old letters, I’ve seen the human cost when loyalty to family and country come into conflict. I’m not saying that volunteering for military service is wrong, just that it poses thorny challenges to one’s primary loyalties, and that I think people often chose wrongly.

    1. I think you are correct on this, Jeskai. I’d say someone should hold true to Godly principles above anything else on earth. If a country is founded on good principles, it’s fine to believe in them and the original spirit of the ideals, but we can’t excuse actions of individuals who act against those principles just because they claim to be on the same side. Of course this doesn’t mean revolution, but we ought to reject taking actions that would violate our disown our faith.
      Likewise if in a democracy, when judging between two naturally flawed individuals, it should ideally be a practical decision rather than popularity contest or voting against someone you hate.
      There was an article from Tim Carney recently that touched on this phenomena. It comes at this issue from the opposite angle though because sadly I don’t think people with this kind of mindset are in the majority these days. People are more likely to drop out of church than reject their country or their favorite politician to the detriment of their own community. They still claim to be Christians even though they don’t act the part.
      Interesting that you come up with a Sophie’s choice between random people and a spouse here. I would think the family is the ideal decision too. I personally don’t put any ethical impetus or weight on someone for choosing between two lives as all lives have value to God, and he doesn’t quantify our value since normally if given the choice, a person would save both.

  3. My pleasure. I could talk for days about it.
    One of the things I think a lot of people lose sight of in war is seeing it as a conflict of people groups rather than a conflict of ideas or purposes. Of course wars can be started for ethnic differences, but often times they end up just being massacres. Once you lose sight of a war goal (or fail to define one from the beginning) you really get lost in an ethical swamp, and people all through the chain of command will start losing their sense of morality and discretion. War is meant to be a means to an end, not the end in and of itself; to right a wrong when the other side refuses to negotiate and abandon an inexcusable wrong they are committing. All actions should be in pursuit of that end goal and then a normalization of relations afterward. Compare France and Germany after WW1 with America and Japan after WW2.

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