As I'm sure most folks know, I am pretty patriotic. I love this country and consider it a blessing and a privilege to be living here. I think it is the greatest nation the world has ever seen. The reason is rooted in its founding by folks, or the descendents of folks, who escaped religious and despotic tyranny in England in search of freedom. They--the Founders--then created a Constitution carefully designed to gurantee that liberty. No other nation has a constitution that compares. It has stood the test of time and protected us from the corruption and tyranny that has afflicted many another sad land.
Most people who have served their country in military service come out patriots. There is something that happens when you are in a position of responsibility for defending your country, in harms way if necessary. You come away with a connection and a lasting appreciation for your country that is difficult to achieve in any other venue.
The American fighting man has no equal in the world. His tenacity, courage and ferocity have surprised many an adversary, including Adolf Hitler and the Japanese who could not believe that their fierce and dedicated soldiers could be bested by "soft" Americans. The realization that the Americans would defeat Japan's defenders was a significant factor in their surrender. Even Saddam Hussein was surprised.
The reason for this military superiority is, I believe, because the American soldier knows and values above all else the great nation he is fighting for. A sort of kinship develops between him and his country. He is fighting for something of which he is a part, including the folks back home, which leads him to perform acts of great bravery and sacrifice.
There is one black stain on our nation that will never be erased. At the end of the Vietnam war, the soldier came home, not to appreciation from his country for his great sacrifice, but viciousness, spitting and accusations of "baby-killer". Jane Fonda was a heroine and he was the villian. This tore asunder the kinship relationship that sustained him through the horror of that war that took the lives of many of his comrades, leaving him with a sense of loss and futility that resulted in many of the adjustment problems experienced by Vietnam veterans. This must never be allowed to happen again!
I think few of us realize and appreciate what we have in his wondrous nation of ours. We are entangled in the issues of everyday life and the ridiculous at times political shenanigans. Allow me to use another's words to try to illustrate what is the basis of patriotism for me and hopefully many others.
I recently came across an editorial--unsigned--from, believe it or not, The New York Times. Of course, it was published in 1940, well before the Sulzbergers and others took the Grey Lady down into the gutter of partisanship. The Times was once the greatest newspaper in the country and perhaps the world. The following is that editorial, written on June 14, 1940 in commemoration of Flag Day, a regrettably neglected holiday.
(On a personal note. I sometimes think I'm a pretty good writer. But periodically I run across something that puts me in my place--a rank amateur. This is one of those. It says what is in my heart much better than I could ever hope to express. May it touch you as it touched me.)
What's a flag? What's the love of country for which it stands? Maybe it begins with love of the land itself. It is the fog rolling in with the tide at Eastport, or through the Golden Gate and among the towers of San Francisco. It is the sun coming up behind the White Mountains, over the Green, throwing a shining glory on Lake Champlain and above the Adirondacks. It is the storied Mississippi rolling swift and muddy past St. Louis, rolling past Cairo, pouring down past the levees of New Orleans. It is lazy noontide in the pines of Carolina, it is a sea of wheat rippling in Western Kansas, it is the San Francisco peaks far north across the glowing nakedness of Arizona, it is the Grand Canyon and a little stream coming down out of a New England ridge, in which are trout.
It is men at work. It is the storm-tossed fishermen coming into Gloucester and Providence and Astoria. It is the farmer riding his great machine in the dust of harvest, the dairyman going to the barn before sunrise, the lineman mending the broken wire, the miner drilling for the blast. It is the servants of fire in the murky splendor to Pittsburgh, between the Allegheny and the Monongahela, the trucks rumbling through the night, the locomotive engineer bringing the train in on time, the pilot in the clouds, the riveter running along the beam a hundred feet in air. It is the clerk in the office, the housewife doing the dishes and sending the children off to school. It is the teacher, doctor and parson tending and helping, body and soul, for small reward.
It is small things remembered, the little corners of the land, the houses, the people that each one loves. We love our country because there was a little tree on a hill, and grass thereron, and a sweet valley below; because the hurdy-gurdy man came along on a sunny morning in a city street; because a beach or a farm or a lane or a house that might not seem much to others were once, for each of us, made magic. It is voices that are remembered only, no longer heard. It is parents, friends, the lazy chat of street and store and office, and the ease of mind that makes life tranquil. It is summer and winter, rain and sun and storm. These are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood, a lasting part of what we are, each of us and all of us together.
It is stories told. It is the Pilgrims dying in their first dreadful winter. It is the Minuteman standing his ground at Concord Bridge, and dying there. It is the army in rags, sick, freezing, starving at Valley Forge. It is the wagons and the men on foot going westward over Cumberland Gap, floating down the great rivers, rolling over the great plains. It is the settler hacking fiercely at the primeval forest on his new, his own lands. It is Thoreau at Walden Pond, Lincoln at Cooper Union, and Lee riding home from Appomattox. It is corruption and disgrace, answered always by men who would not let the flag lie in the dust, who have stood up in every generation to fight for the old ideals and the old rights, at risk of ruin or life itself.
It is a great multitude of people on pilgrimage, common and ordinary people, charged with the usual human failings, yet filled with such a hope of a land in which a man can stand straight, without fear, without rancor.
The land and the people and the flag--the land a continent, the people of every race, the flag as symbol of what humanity may aspire to when the wars are over and the barriers are down; to these each generation must be dedicated and consecrated anew, to defend with life itself, if need be, but, above all, in friendliness, in hope, in courage, to live for.