A word on Scottish American Culture and the Military

As mentioned below, I was at the Scottish Games and Gathering this weekend. I do have a Scottish heritage, but only a little. My family is an eclectic mix of nationalities, including German, English and (don’t tell anyone) French. But it is amazing just how much my small Scottish heritage has influence me and so many like me.

It is no secret to anyone who has studied the demographics of military service that the South is overrepresented in the military. It isn’t surprising in the least to learn that many of the hundreds of thousands of Scots-Irish who came to America settled in Appalachia and the South. The Scots have for centuries had a warrior culture. Through much of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, the Scots-Irish were the shock troops of the British Empire. And many of the Scots-Irish immigrants to our nation, while eagerly adopting an American identity, held on to many of the tenets of their culture- a rugged individuality, a fierce attachment to personal weapons, distrust of central government, a strong sense of duty to their community, and a fine, sometimes over-pronounced sense of personal honor. These traits were so deeply ingrained in their communities that to a large extent they inform these communities to this day, regardless of the heritage of the individual members. Many of these traits are conducive to seeing military service as an honorable profession. This isn’t to say that someone without this background will not make a good soldier, or choose not to serve. Nor is it to say that all Americans with a Scots-Irish heritage will serve or view the military kindly.  It merely points to a propensity.

Virginia Senator James Webb and I don’t agree on much, politically. He’s a former Reagan Republican who has gone over to the Democrats. He has taken political positions with which I disagree rather vehemently. Having said that, he also wrote a book several years ago that shed a great deal of light on the influence of the Scots-Irish immigrants on our culture. I would heartily recommend that anyone with even a passing interest take the time to read “Born Fighting.”

In many of the places I travel in real life, people (especially younger folks) who learn of my military background look at me like I’ve got two heads and three eyes. They just can’t comprehend what it might be like to serve. That isn’t the case at the Scottish Games. While veterans may not have been in the majority there, there were a heck of a lot of them, to the point where my meager contributions to the national defense were utterly unremarkable. Very often at the games, you’ll see a gentleman (or even a lady) who wears his kilt and a khaki shirt with his ribbons and qualification badges from his time in the service. It is so common,  I didn’t even think to get a picture of someone attired that way. There’s even the Scottish American Military Society.

I find it interesting that in these times where “Diversity” is seen as a noble goal for its own sake, and the celebration of virtually every ethnic heritage is mandated by law or proclamation, little attention is paid to one of larger influences shaping our culture. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the adoption of Scottish culture to the exclusion or denigration of any other, but a little recognition would be nice.

The Caledonian Club

I spent the weekend up in Pleasanton, near San Francisco, at the 143rd Annual Gathering and Games of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. For those of you who don’t know it, Caledonian is Scottish.

This is my first time at these games, but I’ve been going to the Games in Costa Mesa and Pomona for a few years now. I still don’t have a kilt, but I’ll get around to it one of these years.

Most of the folks attending have some Scottish heritage, either by blood or marriage. All are welcome of course. Indeed, while most of the attendees are caucasian, it isn’t the least unusual to see blacks or asians wearing their tartans with pride.

A word on tartans. Each clan has its own tartan, and in fact, most clans have more than one. My own clan, Buchanan, has 18 recognized tartans. I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing most of them, but I still see some that I would never have guessed as Buchanan. It is traditional to wear your kilt in your clan’s tartan. If you don’t wear the kilt, then wear at least some item of the tartan or at a minimum, wear a t-shirt proclaiming your clan. Buchanan’s main tartan is below:

The rule of thumb is that any person wearing your tartan is your “cousin.” You can walk up to a total stranger and say “Hello, Cousin.” The rigidly enforced rule in my clan is that there is no shaking hands in our family. You have to hug. That’s great when meeting women for the first time, but no so much for the guys. Each clan also runs a small booth at the games, which gives you a place to drop off backpacks or to sit for a spell and to catch up with friends. Everyone Buchanan who came to our booth got a small dram of very nice Buchanan Single Malt Whisky.  Not a bad way to start the day.

The games are a very family friendly activity. You don’t have to keep an eye on the kids. How weird is it that the safest place to take your kids is a gathering of Scotsmen with swords, knives and booze?

Here’s just a taste of some of the photos I took:

Did you think you were going to get out of here without bagpipe music? No way! I love the pipes!


And a wee bit of highland fling, with pipes.


UPDATE: How could I forget to mention, yes there was plenty of Belhaven ale. Quite tasty. Just the thing on a hot day. And at our clan dinner, we had a dram of 100 year old Buchanan whisky. Not bad at all.