I’m on the tail end of the baby boomer crowd, a bubble of increased population that our nation enjoyed at the end of World War II. That makes me a part of one of the last segments of our society who spent at least some part of my day, for the first three or four years of school, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing a patriotic song or two. On the good days we got to sing “From the Halls of Montezuma”. I never knew what that song was all about but we boys really liked that one. Our schools no longer allow these things to occur at our public schools.
During these same formative years, I also remember my mother praying at the side of my bed at night for our service men to come home safe from Vietnam. I also witnessed the uprisings of the sixties on our 16 inch black and white TV. Hippies burning flags, putting daisies in gun barrels. I remember owning my own pair of red white and blue pants with peace signs trailing down the sides of both legs. I remember too, blue jeans with peace sign patches covering holes from playground accidents.
Later, I played high school basketball and stood on the out-of-bounds line with my teammates in a neatly formed row and looked toward our flag with my hand over my heart as our national anthem played. Looking back, I think that out of all the moments of the game I may have loved that moment best. Everyone stood in quiet anticipation of the upcoming game and we all let out a celebratory yell when it was over. While we stood divided by our team allegiances, race, religion, the types of cars we preferred, we did hold one commonality; the love of our nation.
As an adult, patriotism seems more and more ambiguous. We have exercised our right of freedom to the point where most of us have very little in common. We stand separated by education, labor union orientation, ancestry. Even in our own politics we have difficulty. Democrats and Republicans often further separate themselves as left wing or right wing. Most of us are Protestants but we must take even that further. Baptist, Methodist, Church of God, Nazarene, Old Regular Baptist, etcÃ¢Â?Â¦ I once read that there are over 300 different Baptist denominations alone.
So what is this patriotic unity that we feel? Is it the fact that we pay taxes to the same governmental agencies? Is it in the fact that someone we once loved died, or was willing to die, in a military conflict or police action in defense of our nation? Or are we unified in that we all want to protect our belongings from some outside threat? I would guess that for our unthinking public, patriotism is little more than a matter of geography. Our country won their loyalty by virtue of their being born here.
I believe however that part of why we should feel united because of our nation’s history. Even if you are an immigrant citizen, you had to learn who our forefathers were and what they sought to accomplish and you had to swear an oath to love and defend our nation. But the more important consideration is what our forefathers were willing to sacrifice. They did their job magnificently. Today we are so blessed that we don’t even have an understanding as to why they would willingly give their lives for only the prospect of the freedoms and prosperity that we now enjoy. Most of us have not traveled abroad and have little appreciation of our blessings.
I would like to think that there are many American’s who would sacrifice themselves like those brave passengers aboard the plane downed near Pittsburgh on September 11, 2001 and yet many more who would risk their life against some tangible threat to their immediate family. But I often wonder how many of us would give the supreme sacrifice in the name of patriotism. A very old and dusty concept that through the exercise of that which was afforded us we have somehow diminished.
True patriotism is born from sacrifice. That kind of sacrifice is something I secretly long for but at the same time am thankful that I have not had to endure. Ultimately, I guess I am patriotic because I’ve had a great life. All that I know and hold dear is inside this great country. Everyone I’ve ever loved is either here or has died here. My father fought in WWII, his father before him in WWI. Therefore, in defense of all that I know and love and out of respect for my ancestry that believed that the continuation of our form of government and our way of living was greater than any one individual life, I choose also to love, honor, and if called upon, to defend my country.