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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Will the real patriots please stand up?

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Will the real patriots please stand up?

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Will the real patriots please stand up?


Teachers train students to evaluate ideas by comparing and contrasting. There seem to be several strongly-contrasting ideas about what patriotism is, so let’s compare them.

Everybody seems to agree that waving and saluting a flag is patriotic. So is praising troops, singing certain songs, and setting off fireworks. I’ll agree that all of that is very nice. Symbols stand for things that have real meaning and showing respect for those symbols is not entirely without meaning. But, what else do you stand for? What personal actions and sacrifices are you willing to take as a patriot?

One vision of patriotism is standing together with existing compatriots to fight against a common enemy. Yes, that is always a good idea. We are, by definition of being “us,” inherently good. And, everyone else is an enemy and therefore always bad. Show these patriots an enemy and they will rally together, crying “death to (whomever),” shaking their fists, and even gunning up to go attack someone. Man, now THAT’S real patriotism.

A first priority for this kind of patriot is to protect their country from foreigners – people who surely want to overrun them or just somehow run them into the ground. Let’s see, that could include
anyone with a different skin color, racial heritage, policy, national allegiance, religion, language, or just holding different ideas. And, in this vision of patriotism, the threat doesn’t even have to come from entire other nations; it can come from people, for instance, who want to immigrate (like our great grandfathers did) to take our jobs. There are as many threats and enemies as one can invent. And, they’re all out to do “us” harm in some way.

Would it be patriotic to feel empathy for and look out for the needs of others? Was it patriotic when my grandparents gave produce to their neighbors during the Great Depression and offered sandwiches and odd-jobs to men traveling through town, looking for work? Is it patriotic to contribute to a bake sale, buy a student’s fundraiser ticket, volunteer for a good cause, or shop at the town’s grocery co-op? Is it patriotic to willingly pay your fair share of taxes to support the common needs of our communities and national commonwealth?

The first vision of patriotism has us joining together to fight a common enemy that someone has led us to fear. The alternate vision of patriotism has us joining together to contribute to the common good of others that we have personally decided to love. This better kind of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to one another as citizens of the same community, nation, or planet. Instead of fear, loathing and hate, this better kind of patriotism requires compassion, cooperation, collaboration, commitment, and even compromise. American patriotism lies more in the impulse to build up the entire population than in the bitter defense of partisan ideologies and interests. Real patriotism is embodied by “we are in this together,” not “us vs. them.”