Why Patriotism Matters

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For a long time, my videos were never political in nature. The whole point of my InkShard blogs is to talk about the art of writing and storytelling and novels and fiction. However, as a writer, language is everything. Words and their meaning and the use of words is extraordinarily important. As one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain goes, “The difference between the right-word and the almost-right-word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

So, although I am usually not particularly interested in discussing political topics, I have started to notice how politics frequently uses language to spin agendas and I have become increasingly intrigued by this. The manipulation of words for political gain is brilliant at best and sinister at worst. Being fascinated with the meanings of words, I recently came across some famous quotes regarding patriotism and nationalism which I found intriguing. Personally, I have mistakenly seen those words as synonyms, but they really aren’t at all.

President Teddy Roosevelt said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

Former French president Charles de Gaulle summed it up best when he said, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

But let’s respect these two words with a little more attention.

To distinguish the words, let’s look at how they are defined in the dictionary.

Patriotism means, “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty”.

Nationalism means, “the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations”.

Nationalism means you’re zealous in your support of your government and advocate your military forcing your views on other countries.

Patriotism isn’t about subjugation or violence or dominance. Patriotism is being proud of the ideals of your nation.

I was wrong in thinking they are synonyms. In fact, ethically speaking, patriotism and nationalism are antonyms.

“Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”
- Bertrand Russell

I discovered that quote when I was just out of high school. That is an interesting age in life. People tend to split into very distinctive mentalities in their late teens and early twenties. Some kids join the military and become very patriotic. Other kids begin to abhor warfare and idolize pacifism. From a sociological standpoint, it’s the first moment in your life when opinions about serious issues begin to form rifts between people who may have shared very similar values as children.

In June of 2006, Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks, was interviewed in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph and said, “I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don’t see why people care about patriotism.”

When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I would have agreed with her. I don’t feel that way anymore. But in my teens, I made the same mistake as a lot of kids: I had very liberal views. I’m ashamed of my former ignorance, but I’m man enough to admit my faults. I was naive and misinformed and thought I knew it all. I was wrong. I foolishly thought patriotism was a bad thing. I thought you should be proud of humanity and people, not pledging allegiance to nations and flags. When I was that age, I held to an idealism that we are all human beings. We should identify ourselves as human. Nationalities are irrelevant. No matter what our heritage or skin tone or language, we are all still people. First and foremost.

Years later, I realized the truth. I was mistaken.

Patriotism does not diminish our humanity. Patriotism does not prioritize nations above individuals. Most importantly, patriotism is not a willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons. Bertrand Russell was an idiot!

Patriotism means caring about your neighbors. Patriotism honors a collective brotherhood and sisterhood of citizens who live together upon the land and support and defend one another.

In my teens, I was young and foolhardy and I failed to realize the simple truth – flags and nations are symbols which represent their people. I took it all too literally. When we pledge allegiance to the flag, we are vowing to uphold the noble principals that flag represents. We honor the physical object because it symbolizes something greater. Even as a teenager, I would have thought that was a good thing. When I was a kid, I just never looked at it that way. No one explained it to me like that. I didn’t know any better.

Like most teenagers, I was too cynical. I was frustrated and angry because I saw all the problems and negativity associated with corrupt politics and shady military operations and injustices in the court system and I thought, “How could anyone be patriotic? There are so many bad politicians trying to take away our Constitutional rights and corporations who are outsourcing jobs to China or Mexico or India and throwing fellow Americans into the street. What is there to be proud of or patriotic about?”

I still see that today. As a computer developer, I see tons of unethical American companies hiring employees in foreign nations instead of hiring fellow Americans. These business owners are truly the scum of the earth; content to let their neighbors remain unemployed, just so they can line their own pockets with more money by hiring cheap labor in some third world backwater filth-hole of a country. I wouldn’t trust any of them any farther than I could spit in their eye.

When I presumed those sort of injustices had anything to do with patriotism, I was wrong. Very wrong.

Took me years to understand the simple truth. Patriotism isn’t about the politicians or the corporations or even the people of your country. Patriotism isn’t being proud of the mistakes your nation makes. Patriotism is being proud of the ideals your nation was founded upon and striving for the epitome of your greatness. Patriotism isn’t about ignoring the faults. Patriotism is about living up to the potential. In that sense, I firmly believe that despite her missteps, The United States of America truly is the greatest nation in the history of the human race. Why? What justifies such a boast? Because we are the only nation in all of human history to have defined our very existence upon the principals of individual freedom and sovereignty. No one else had ever attempted that before. Ever. We’re the only people who did that. Yes, we are imperfect. We have made mistakes. Our justice system fails sometimes. Our politicians pass unconstitutional laws. Our economic systems, repeatedly proven to be effective at self-correcting, do become tainted by greed. But our ideals of freedom and truth and justice, and a nation of the people and for the people, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, still make this a land of opportunity like no other.

That would be a great place to end this essay, but I do tend to ramble. Bear with me.

The collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City on the 11th of September 2001 was an event which made me truly understand patriotism for the first time. As I said, I’m not really interested in debating politics. Whether you believe official reports and mainstream media stories or you suspect ulterior motives and sinister conspiracies, there was one undeniable result that occurred within the psyche of the American people as a result of September 11th and that was a sense of national unity and camaraderie like I had never witnessed before. I finally understood the pride and patriotism my grandparents felt. What happened to our nation psychologically was exactly what happened to my grandparents generation on December 7th 1941.

Seeing our fellow Americans dying on live television did something to us. For the first time in my life, I saw the United States truly become united. We were no longer a nation of liberals and conservatives or blacks and whites or Republicans and Democrats. We were Americans. For the first time in my life, I felt the pride of patriotism. Because before that, all I ever saw was conflict. Bickering. Petty arguments. All the shallow and irrelevant fighting that made me so cynical against our culture. September 11th 2001 changed me forever. In the face of our shared tragedy, I saw that Americans did have the capacity to be United States. To care for each other. To support each other. To fight back when our brothers and sisters were slaughtered.

I don’t know if we were attacked by foreign or domestic terrorists that day. I don’t have those answers. But I do know, from firsthand experience, what the results were. And for me, I finally saw a glimpse of our aptitude for heroism. Our admirable ideals were manifest in the weeks that followed. Restoring my faith in humanity and making me see that this great nation fills me with an immense pride and patriotism. Because I saw how humane and caring our entire country became in the wake of that horrible day.

People all over the country left their jobs. Left their families. Traveled to New York City just to help. To volunteer. To give blood. To dig through the rubble. To do anything they could to comfort fellow citizens in need. In the weeks that followed, everyone all across the country was more kind to strangers. People spoke softer. People were more patient. More understanding. More compassionate. Because we all knew, that could have been our office. That could have been our building. That could have been you.

Seeing those people holding hands, and jumping from the windows so they wouldn’t burn to death, made us all remember how precious and fragile and sacred our limited time upon this earth really is. All we have, is each other. Caring for each other. Being decent and kind. Embracing a fellow human being as we end our lives together. Doing your best to face your death with grace and dignity. In those final seconds, you don’t care about money, or your career, or politics, or all the irrelevant social issues the media tries to make us think are important. All that matters is that this beloved quota of time we are blessed with upon this earth… is over.

After all those years, the rebellious teenager in me finally understood why patriotism matters. This is what Natalie Maines still hasn’t figured out.

Patriotism isn’t about flags or parades or salutes or national anthems. Patriotism, American patriotism, is about defending and taking pride in our undeniably noble and magnanimous ideals of liberty for all people. On occasion, we may falter, we may fail, but our principals of justice for all encompasses a foundation of ethics upon which every human being has dreamed of living since the dawn of mankind. Patriotism, especially in our great nation, matters because to exemplify our patriotism means we still have hope. We still believe in our dreams. We still strive to attain our highest truths and are beholden to personify our most righteous aspirations as a nation, as a people, and as men and women of America.

That is why every American citizen should be a patriot. Because patriotism is not about who we are. It’s about the virtuous principals we aspire to epitomize.

My fellow Americans, this is still the land of the free and the home of the brave, and here’s to our potential.