The Patriot.01 – A Patriot’s Baseline
The year I came into the world (1951), America was awash in patriotism. Our soldiers and sailors, marines and airmen had, just a few years earlier, returned home from delivering decisive victories in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of WWII. We had not only trampled our enemies under our feet, we had extended the hand of help to them as they sought to rebuild. America’s post-war treatment of our defeated foes truly exemplified the words of Alexis deToqueville, penned nearly 120 years earlier.
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
We did not enter the war as an empire builder. We joined the fight because we were attacked by Japan, and because we wanted to help liberate millions from the tyranny of Hitler’s Third Reich War Machine. Our motives had been good, our military men and women exemplary, and our victory absolute. We were proud.
As a young school boy in the 1950’s, patriotic songs were a regular component of our school-day experience. Posted on our classroom walls, along with the Ten Commandments (mentioned previously), were cardboard images of George Washington, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, and other great historic American figures. Our school textbooks contained stories of the American Revolution, of the Founding Fathers, and the story of how they created our new nation. We stood proudly every morning, placed our hands over our hearts, faced the flag, and pledged our allegiance to this American republic. America was loved.
We sang of the “amber waves of grain,” and we watched black and white movies that transported us to America’s heartland, to the “fruited plain” also referred to as the “bread basket of the world.” Other films took us to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, The Great Lakes, The Mighty Mississippi, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the “purple mountain majesties.” In the classroom, the blessings of God upon our bountiful land were taught and received.
As a young man, I was told that in America one could aspire to great things and, because of the unique kind of liberty we enjoyed, if we worked hard, there would be nothing we couldn’t achieve if we set our minds to it. We had won the war. We had strung the continent with rail lines, and our trains carried us just about anywhere we wanted to go. Our big cities lit up the night with Edison’s miracle incandescent wonder. Beautiful colored neon was now all the rage (side note … if you were not alive in the fifties and early sixties, you missed the neon age. No photograph, no movie, no verbal description of that marvelous phenomenon will ever capture what could only have been experienced with the naked eye. If you missed it, I’m sorry. There is nothing like it today). The construction of our nation’s Interstate Highway System was well under way. We had launched satellites, then monkeys, and then men into space. And televisions! Wow! Was there anything we Americans could not do?
These experiences, and many more like them, framed my young understanding of patriotism. For years, they served as my measuring rod. I would suspect that most readers born in the same era as me hold similar sentiments. Together, my childhood, youth and young adult experience of American life became the baseline by which I measured the patriotic quality of the statements and actions of others.
Like many, my patriotism was tested in the late sixties. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and subsequent outbreak of riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Chicago riots at the Democrat National Convention, cut sharply against my understanding of American goodness. Through all of these trials, these radical, cultural shifts, I held firm to my youthful, 1950’s-style love of country and the patriotic fervor I knew as a young man.
These last few years however, as I have become more reflective, more philosophical perhaps, I have desired to know and understand patriotism on a deeper, more honest level. Do I still love my country? You bet I do … very, very much. But have age and experience tempered my youthful, patriotic zeal? Yes, to some degree.
My patriotic baseline is changing. My ’50’s and ’60’s patriotic measuring rod is morphing into something more authentic, based less on feeling and more on reason.
This short series, The Patriot, will take us on a journey from my own, early, personal patriotic baseline described above, through what I hope will be a more accurate, reasoned and authentic understanding of patriotism, and then through a collection of patriotic aberrations and misfires, and finally into what I believe will be a fresh and invigorating understanding of what it means to love and support one’s country for the right reasons. The goal of all of this is to establish an authentic patriotic baseline that will be a more accurate measure of true and genuine patriotism.
On Friday … Love Of Country.