Modern Patriotism in the U.S.A.
If I were to ask you to close your eyes and picture someone who is patriotic, what would you envision? For me, I picture a middle aged man with a beer belly, sitting in a folding chair on his front lawn, a plastic U.S. flag clutched in one hand and a rifle in the other. I’m not entirely sure why this specific image comes to my mind, but I do know that part of the reason is because the face of modern patriotism is crafted and reinforced to look a certain way. It is my belief, however, that patriotism comes in many forms and should be recognized as such.
What is Patriotism?
According to the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from 1941, the definition of Patriotism is the following: “Love of country; devotion to the welfare of one’s country.” And, according to the 2008 edition, the definition was reduced to: “Love for or devotion to one’s country.” I think it’s interesting that they removed the part about the welfare to one’s country. Apparently you don’t have to care if it’s doing well, you just have to love it. But I find this definition lacking the full scope of modern patriotism. In my mind there are two kinds of patriots today; the blind follower and the silent observer. The blind follower is someone who loves America because it’s America; everything about it is the greatest in the world. These ‘patriots’ get the most face time in the news because they tend to yell the loudest. But I have a news flash for them; America isn’t perfect. It has a shady past and corporate hang-ups in the present. I always laugh when a politician goes out of their way to say how great America is; their job is to fix the country, not tell us everything is fine. But the blind follower needs this reassurance that their country is flawless and is most often seen waving/wearing ‘American’ flags.
The silent observer is the kind of person who watches the evolution of their country, and has moments of pride when the government, or its people, does something right, and moments of shame when they do something wrong. Rarely, however, do they wear their patriotism on their sleeves. Now one might make the argument: I love my country, but not my government, thus separating the two. I can understand this viewpoint because you could look at your fellow citizens and see them helping the homeless while your representatives in the government sit on their butts. It’s hard to differentiate, however, because the government has played such a large role in this country’s existence. Whether you like it or not, our government represents a very large part of our country because it’s what allows the things we love to be possible. But this article is about patriotism; let’s take a look at some of the different aspects that have been assigned to this term.
Men and Women in Uniform
One of the most common images of patriotism is a man or a woman in uniform. Military garb is at the top, but police, firefighters and medical workers are all regarded as patriotic, at least in image. There is nothing wrong with this image, considering these people are all serving their country in one form or another. But let’s stop and think about this; while the uniform may represent service to our country, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person wearing that uniform is patriotic. In fact, that person could hate our government and other aspects of our society, but they’re working the job because it pays well, or because it helps people. Similarly, someone who works for a private company and has no uniform can be very patriotic.
This is similar to the idea of wearing the U.S. flag on your shirts, hats, pants, contacts, finger nails… etc. Just because you wear something traditionally associated with patriotism, doesn’t make you patriotic, it means you want people to think you are patriotic. You might then need to ask yourself what is more important; loving your country, or making sure other people know you love your country?
America is not just the United States
Many things are described as ‘American’, like, for example, apple pie, baseball or gun ownership. While these are all images commonly associated with our past, I don’t feel like ‘American’ is the best word to describe them and the reason is because the United States is part of North America. North America also has Mexico and Canada among other countries and territories. So by our logic, Mexican food and Canadian hockey are also American. Just because we are a super power doesn’t mean we ‘own’ this continent. We are called the United States of America; we are the U.S. that just happens to be on an American continent. So it seems presumptuous to call things American when we are not the only ones living on an America (not to mention the entire South American continent below us!)
Unless you’re Native American, you’re an immigrant, or the descendant of an immigrant. Too often do U.S. residents think themselves to be pure ‘Americans’ while those crossing the border are invading their territory. What ever happened to the U.S. being a melting pot? What happened to that dream of immigrants entering New York Harbor with the promise of a better life? Have we really become a country that says “go away, we’re all full up”? I understand the worry that immigrants are taking jobs over unemployed U.S. citizens but there are two things to consider with this argument. The first is that more often than not they are getting jobs we don’t want. Many modern day U.S. citzens feel entitled to a certain wage and benefits when they get a job. And they should have the rights to a good job, however immigrants aren’t taking away high paying jobs with benefits, they’re taking the lower level grunt work that no one else will do. Now you might then ask, why don’t the people hiring them increase the job’s benefits and then give it to an U.S. citizen? The answer is because it’s cheaper to hire an illegal immigrant than it is to hire a legal citizen. So from a business point of view, the immigrants are a great investment. If this is the case, then who is at fault here? The immigrant who gets the job or the business man who decides that hiring an illegal alien is a better idea than paying a U.S. citizen their fair share? This then leads me to the second thing to consider about loss of jobs to immigrants; we’re in greater danger of losing our jobs to oversea people, than we are immigrants in our own country. At least the illegal aliens are in the United States, but with the way companies ship jobs overseas, we’re losing it to people we will never see or interact with at a much faster rate. In my mind, that is a far greater offense, and once again it boils down to the greed of Corporate America.
The English Language
There is frequently an argument that foreigners who visit and live in the United States should be forced to learn the English language. It is our primary language and I can understand why people should learn it in the interest of communication. However, I don’t think that letting other languages take hold in our country is a bad thing. In fact, it encourages new cultures and broadens the knowledge of our children who are exposed to it. If there is a Spanish translation on a sign, don’t freak out and here is why; English is the biggest mutt of the language world. You may believe that speaking English is ‘American’ but in reality, we’ve contributed very little to it. The word Patriot alone has origins in French, Latin and Greek (source: Dictionary.com). I read in a book once that the English language is like a thug that takes other languages into the back alley, beats them up and then steals vocabulary out of their pockets. And it’s true. Did you ever stop to think why it’s proper English to say ‘went’ as the past tense of ‘go’, instead of ‘goed’? The proper past tense of most words is to add an ‘ed’ at the end, yet our language is filled with irregular words like that. Now, it is true that all languages are bound to have irregular words (I struggled with the Spanish ones) but when you add those on top of all the words English has stolen from other languages, you’ve got something that is extremely difficult to learn and impossible to assign to a specific culture or country. So calling it ‘American’ to speak the English language is false, not just because Native American language was here first but because so much of our language comes from other sources that we have no right to claim ownership of it. Anyone who studies linguistics knows how screwy English is, and anyone who studies a second language, is thankful they learned English first.
Who really is a patriot?
You might be wondering where I’m going with all of this; what’s the point of trying to tear down traditional patriotic concepts? I’m not trying to tear down anything; I’m trying to put it in perspective. I think part of the reason I’ve been frustrated in the past with the idea of patriotism is because I was frustrated with the image that had been forced upon it. My point in all this is that you can still be patriotic even if you don’t fall into the molds of what has traditionally been viewed as patriotic. You don’t need to brandish the U. S. flag, or speak English or believe in god to be proud of your country, and you can be proud of your country for entirely different reasons than your neighbor. Your neighbor might feel a sense of patriotism when the U.S. goes to war, while you might feel it when U.S. citizens protest that same war. Patriotism can’t be owned any more than North America or the English language can. So, if you’re like me, don’t feel un-patriotic when you think that ‘under god’ should be removed from the pledge of allegiance. Don’t feel unpatriotic when you disagree with your government, and don’t feel unpatriotic when you say the U.S. isn’t perfect. It’s not perfect, and those who think it is are doing a disservice to our country. We can always improve, and improving our lives, and the lives of everyone around us, is probably the most patriotic thing you can do.