My Great-something Grandfather & Patriotism

My great, great something grandfather came to this country on a ship from Germany  He went from Germany to Rotterdam and boarded a ship for America called MINERVA.  On board he met the gal who was to become my great, great something grandmother on that voyage.  They arrived in Philadelphia in 1767 and were married.   He wasn’t in the Americas long before the people decided to revolt and create a revolution. He enlisted in the Lancaster County Militia and became a drummer boy in the American Revolution and achieved some fame as “The Drummer Boy of the Conococheague “.

So my roots in the US, and my loyalty to the principles on which our country was founded run deep. Which is why the current state of affairs is so painful.

“Patriotism” and how you define it has become an issue in the current presidential campaign in the US.  TIME Magazine has an excellent article on “The War Over Patriotism” . . .

Obama’s election would, like Kennedy’s, represent a triumph over past prejudice. The election of an African American, like the election of a Catholic, would be a sign that America is–as Michelle Obama implied–a different and better nation than it was before, one more worthy of the patriotism of all its citizens. Liberals are more comfortable thinking about America that way: as a nation that must earn its citizens’ devotion by making good on its ideals. For conservatives, the devotion must come first; politics is secondary. But for liberals, patriotic devotion without political struggle is often empty. Liberals think lapel pins are fine if they inspire Americans to struggle to realize the nation’s promise. But they worry that those symbols can become–especially when wielded by people in power–substitutes for that struggle and thus emblems of hypocrisy and complacency . . .

When it comes to patriotism, conservatives and liberals need each other, because love of country requires both affirmation and criticism. It’s a good thing that Americans fly the flag on July 4. In a country as diverse as ours, patriotic symbols are a powerful balm. And if people stopped flying the flag every time the government did something they didn’t like, it would become an emblem not of national unity but of political division. On the other hand, waving a flag, like holding a Bible, is supposed to be a spur to action. When it becomes an end in itself, America needs people willing to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and remind us that complacent ritual can be the enemy of true devotion.

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving. And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong. The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

And no matter how they define patriotism, Americans should tremble before suggesting that any fellow citizen lacks it. Obama’s original mistake was not in declining to wear the flag pin but in saying he had stopped wearing it because he saw “people wearing a lapel pin but not acting very patriotic.” And that’s what makes his current adoption of the symbol so shrewd. By opposing the Iraq war in the fevered year after 9/11–when some Bush supporters branded doves unpatriotic–he has already expressed an understanding of patriotism particularly beloved by liberals: patriotism as lonely dissent. Now he is expressing an understanding particularly important to the conservatives he must court: patriotism as symbolic devotion.

McCain has bucked his side as well. He has refused to bash illegal immigrants. He has championed national service, an idea generally more favored by liberals, which helps Americans devote themselves to their country without donning its uniform. And by crusading against Washington corruption, he has acknowledged how defective American democracy often is, something Reagan, with his airbrushed patriotism, rarely did.

So is wearing the flag pin good or bad? It is both; it all depends on where and why. If you’re going to a Young Americans for Freedom meeting, where people think patriotism means “my country right or wrong,” leave it at home and tell them about Frederick Douglass, who wouldn’t celebrate the Fourth of July while his fellow Americans were in bondage. And if you’re going to a meeting of the cultural-studies department at Left-Wing U., where patriotism often means “my country wrong and wronger,” slap it on, and tell them about Mike Christian, who lay half-dead in a North Vietnamese jail, stitching an American flag.

And if anyone gives you a hard time, tell him he doesn’t know what true patriotism is.

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