Following the contentious Presidential campaign and stunning election result, family members and former friends may find themselves arguing their conflicting concepts of patriotism. Webster’s Dictionary defines a patriot as one who loves, supports, and defends one’s country. Interestingly, a second definition of Patriot is the proper name of a U.S. Army aircraft missile. Was this name chosen by the Army to equate patriotism with military firepower? I guess that’s the “defend one’s country” part. Is it then unpatriotic to prefer peace?
Debates surrounding the American military are particularly heated on social media. The recent appointment of a Marine General who has been quoted as saying, “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight…It’s fun to shoot some people. I like brawling,” as the new Secretary of Defense, prompted many comments from like-minded keyboard warriors. I posted a cautionary, “Wait until he sends your sons and daughters to be killed in his war campaigns.”
That was enough to warrant replies accusing me of ignorance and treason. My father was a paratrooper in WWII, my uncles served in the Pacific, cousins were killed in action in the Philippines and Normandy. Friends died in Vietnam, and those who returned were damaged. I am grateful for their sacrifices and for the service of all personnel, but I do not want a warmonger administration or military to perpetuate more killing.
Another kind of powerful military support for our country occurred recently at Standing Rock, North Dakota, when a group of U.S. veterans joined the Native Americans to protest the oil pipeline construction. The veterans then participated in a forgiveness ceremony, apologizing for the atrocities committed by the military against Native people since the country’s founding. This act of humility and courage came from those who understand well the human toll of war.
It also expands the definition of patriotism. Among civilians, controversy about patriotism has even permeated professional sports with San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick’s quietly taking a knee during the National Anthem. The uproar was such that you would have thought he had mocked the disabled or made vulgar remarks about women or not paid his taxes. On the contrary, Kaepernick recently pledged $1 million dollars to charities that support youth and social justice in the Bay Area, Milwaukee, Dallas, Chicago, and New York.
I always stand for the anthem, but I don’t condemn Kaepernick’s choice because I have not lived the life of a black man in America. He is Constitutionally guaranteed the right to peacefully bring attention to the historical oppression of blacks in this country. Actually, I think the first verse of “America, the Beautiful” is a better choice for our National Anthem, praising the beauty of the land and speaking of brotherhood instead of bombs bursting in air
Symbols can also be triggers for patriotic division. The President-elect has proposed taking away citizenship from anyone who burns the American flag. While I would not torch the flag, the Constitution and Supreme Court recognize this act as a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment, and it does not allow the government to expatriate Americans against their will. However, the President-elect would deny this freedom under the guise of patriotism. This sounds more like the totalitarian repression our democracy supposedly fights against.
The campaign pledge to make America great again drummed up feverish nationalism. The promise to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants suggests that the dominance of white Americans will restore greatness. This rhetoric certainly emboldened the KKK and prompted an increase in hate crimes against minorities across the country. However, the local economy won’t be so great if Mexican agricultural and service workers are forced to leave. I don’t anticipate white Americans picking grapes or changing the beds at hotels or raking leaves in the yards of the privileged.
There is no turning back the clock on America’s constantly changing demographic. Unless you’re a Native American, you are a descendant of immigrants, but now that you’re here, you want to shut the door? The noble experiment of America is a country made up of different races, different cultures, different religions, different people. That’s the America I’m proud to be part of.
Sadly, the only time in recent history I can recall the country feeling unitedly patriotic was in the days following 9/11. Too bad it takes a terrorist attack to quell the infighting. I will continue to stand for the National Anthem and fly the flag for the 4th of July and Veterans Day, but I will also show respect for the rights of others not to do so.
That’s my definition of patriotism.