Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Modern Patriotism

I'm in the midst of writing/planning some other posts right now, but this one has been heavy on my heart since Independence Day and then was brought back to the forefront of my mind during the Olympics these last couple weeks, so I wanted to take the time to write it when I finally had a moment to blog.

Does it seem like patriotism has gradually been becoming hollow?  Sure, folks are happy to don red, white, and blue tank tops, set off some illegal fireworks, enjoy a Budweiser out of a can covered in stars and stripes, and pose (disrespectfully) for photos with the American flag draped over their shoulders.  Even so, I don't think that we have the same deep pride for and loyalty to our nation that was once such an integral aspect of our country's culture.

Please don't think I'm writing this from a "holier than thou" perspective; I've owned my fair share of over-the-top flag themed outfits and been to more than a couple parties that used the excuse of celebrating the good old U.S. of A. to allow for debauchery and good times, and I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing.  But what I DO think is shameful is that some of the same people who start the "U-S-A" chant (in their American flag Chubbies shorts and "Suns out, guns out" cut-off shirts), are the ones who the next morning will talk about how divided, imperialistic, racist, privileged... the list goes on, just fill in the blank, America is.

I've actually seen people wear shirts that read, "Back to Back World War Champs," and I will admit to having chuckled at the sentiment in the past, but as I have gotten older, become a parent, and altogether grown more aware and observant of the world around me, I can't help but notice the concept of patriotism and America's role and responsibility in the world morph into a punchline.

Earlier this summer, the Mister and I watched (me for the 1st time, him for the 1,000,000th time) "Band of Brothers," a mini-series based on Stephen E. Ambrose's book of the same name that tells the true story of one unit of soldiers' experience in Europe during WWII.  These young men, most of them around 18 to 25 years old, saw their friends killed and maimed, lost limbs, lived in constant fear of being shelled or shot, even stumbled upon concentration camps they didn't know existed.  They saw and experienced things that couldn't be unseen or forgotten.  America didn't sit by and idly let Hitler take over Europe; these soldiers, some by choice and some because they were drafted, protected the futures of not only their children or Americans but the futures of people all over the world.  Then each of them who survived, after sacrificing his well being and state of mind, was expected to return to normal life and continue to work hard and be the backbone of his family without missing a beat.  And they were just a small sampling of veterans of one war.  Every past and present soldier, marine, and sailor is proof that America IS great because of the burden our service members are willing to bear every single day for people, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, that they have never met.

Soldiers today continue to be willing to protect and serve a whole nation even though they make up less than one percent of our population, all while being told what they are doing is wrong, corrupt, unneeded.  No matter what politicians' motives are, I can guarantee individual soldiers aren't fighting for control of oil or money or land.  They're leaving their families behind for the freedom and rights of people in our nation and all over the world and for the men and women who serve next to them.  On the civilian side of service, major international charities like The Task Force for Global Health and Direct Relief International operate out of the United States, along with U.S. arms of other groups like Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF.  Not to mention there is an unending list of charities and nonprofits that serve those within our nation.  All of this service to others, both military and civilian, is a defining piece of America's identity.

So, no matter how each of us feels about capitalism or race relations or the current shitty politicians from which we unfortunately have to choose, we should make an effort not to be disrespectful toward the men who died or lived through Hell so others could have the write to vote and live the way they please and say what they believe.  And we must always remember the men and women who still do sacrifice every day for this country and its people.  When we trivialize patriotism we trivialize them.

When I was growing up (I say this like it's been decades since I was in grade school, but it wasn't very long ago at all), Civics and Social Studies curricula focused on America's strengths.  We had a class every semester or school year that was partially dedicated to learning about our government's brilliant system of checks and balances, the slightly complicated method our nation employs for turning bills into laws, and the benefits of a representative electoral system that allows people with strikingly varying opinions and cultures to live as one people and have a part in their nation's affairs.  We were taught that it was important and truly incredible that 50 individual states could operate with some degree of sovereignty and have their own governments but still stand together as one country that represents Hawaii's people in the same way as Missouri's.  We were encouraged to appreciate our "melting pot" culture and to celebrate the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.

Sure, some of the education of my youth had a hint of American propaganda to it, but, as long as the information is true, I believe there is nothing wrong with instilling pride for one's nation into the hearts of children.  Men and women have had a distinct honor and possessiveness associated with their land of birth for thousands of years.  It's human nature to think the place you call home is better than any other in the world.  Of course, there is no need to have a ranking of "the best countries on earth."  I think it's suffice to say that America is great and one-of-a-kind without yelling, "America is superior to all other nations," from the rooftops. And, don't get me wrong, we learned about our society's flaws in school too, both those in our history and those we're still trying to overcome today.  My college U.S. history and government classes delved even deeper into these flaws.  I think it would be safe to say those classes even focused on them.  And it's important to be aware of our nation's shortcomings, past and present, and to contribute to dealing with and rectifying them.  But I'm concerned that the education of our youth today focuses more on the dark spots than all the positives.  Not to mention the negative information that floods our newsfeeds and TV screens concerning politics and foreign affairs.  It seems that if true patriotism isn't taught in the home it may not be learned anywhere these days.  Even worse, our youth may grow up with disdain or embarrassment associated with their home nation.

Recently, I had a conversation with my husband and in-laws concerning whether we thought we would have been Loyalists or Patriots during the Revolutionary War.  I came to the conclusion, based on how much of a rule follower and Constitutionalist that I am, that I probably would have been a Loyalist.  I would have felt an attachment to Great Britain and a desire to do what I was "supposed" to do.  This realization made me appreciate the bravery of the Patriots even more.  They believed so much in the rights of each person living in the colonies that they were willing to die to have their own government.  If our forefathers were here today, they would probably interpret some of our words and actions as saying to them, "Your sacrifices actually made us overly privileged in comparison to the rest of the world, so we don't really have much appreciation for what you did for us anymore."  Or, "Yes, we have a right to free speech, and that's great, but sometimes we offend others with our words and opinions, so free speech actually may be a detriment to our society."  America is not evil because we have "more" than some other nations; it just means we must give more. To whom much is given much is expected.

To those who truly do think America is evil, power-hungry, self-obsessed: please live elsewhere.  I don't mean that in a mean, grumpy, sarcastic way.  I mean it seriously.  Why continue to give your tax dollars to a nation that at its core disgusts and angers you?  This is the 21st century; you can move to Europe or Australia or South America.  Or just scoot across a border to Mexico or Canada.  You can find a way to afford a one-way plane ticket, bus ride, or cab fare.  But you probably won't leave.  And that in a way proves there is really nowhere better to live, other than your idealistic idea of Utopian society that I think every preteen science fiction novel has proven probably wouldn't be all that great anyway.

On the other hand, if you're like me, you may believe that God chose this piece of land and each person who has ever lived here and ever will for a high purpose and responsibility.  And you may not believe that, and that's okay... because this is America.

But please don't let politicians, people with hate in their hearts, or terrible news stories define a whole country.  And next time you're yelling "'Merica!" mean it.  Or, better yet, ask a veteran to tell you stories about his deployments, or take the time to teach a child the Pledge of Allegiance. When you're at a sporting event that begins with the national anthem, pause a moment to appreciate it and ponder the significance of the ritual.  I know I'm a little weird for always getting teary eyed during the fireworks on Fourth of July, but if you really stop to think just how lucky we are to live here and what our nation represents, you may find a tear in your eye as well.  And like I said, I'm not saying any of this from a soapbox.  Nor am I going to throw out my "I heart America" t-shirt.  Because I do heart America, and I mean that with every fiber of my being.