Patriotism?

From dictionary.com:

patriotism: devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.

Tomorrow is the 9th anniversary of the most brutal terrorist attack on American soil in our history.  Every year at this time, emails and posts flood our inboxes and Facebook walls with fluff messages about “Never Forget”, often backed by some overused Lee Greenwood or Toby Keith song, reminding us about “patriotism”.

9/11 is this decade’s “JFK assassination”, “King assassination”, “RFK assassination”, “John Lennon murder”, etc.  What I mean by that is that it’s one of those things where everyone instantly recalls where they were when they heard the news, not to mention the horrific images associated with it, that were replayed over and over and over again on the news shows.  Everyone remembers the feeling of helplessness, fear, sadness, and anger they felt that day.  Speaking only for myself, I know I will never forget it.

I’m going to confess something that will probably anger a lot of people: I don’t want to relive it.

I remember 9/11/02, the first anniversary of the attacks.  I was working at USBank, and several people at the bank wanted to participate in the national moment of silence remembrance ceremony they were showing on TV.  Myself, I chose not to participate, partly because everyone else in the drive-up that day was going to and it wasn’t like we could just close it down for 15 minutes- SOMEONE had to take customers.  But mainly it was due to the fact that I didn’t want to relive it and see those images in my head.

Don’t get me wrong- I did and still do weep for the thousands of people whose lives were lost in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, and their surviving family and friends, as well as for the firefighters, police officers, servicemen and women, and other citizens that were injured or killed trying to rescue people or to simply just clear the debris.  I can’t even begin to imagine the pain the victims’ families must have suffered.  I am blessed in that I was lucky enough not to have any friends or family who perished that day.  But I choose not to relive that day and go through those feelings every year.  It’s not that I’m cold and heartless, it’s that I believe we as a country need to move on.

My thought is this: let the people who were directly involved in the attacks- the victims’ families and the survivors- have their ceremonies and reflections.  To me, they deserve it, not me.  Again, I count my blessings that I did not lose anyone dear to me that day.  It does not mean I’m shrugging off the memories of the victims or that I “love America” any less than does someone who actively participates in the 9/11 remembrances, it simply means I take some pause and understand what the date means, and I move forward.

After the 9/11 attack happened, we started a war that had absolutely nothing to do with anything even remotely resembling “retribution”.  For nearly nine years now, men and women have died fighting a war that never should have been started.  Essentially, it has served as nothing more than added body count.  Iraq and Afghanistan are no more “free” from their previous way of life than they were before this happened.  We simply sent husbands, wives, parents, children, and friends off to be injured and/or killed under the guise of “patriotism”.

Here’s MY definition of “patriotism”: devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty, as mentioned above.  But with this caveat:  (See also: acceptance of those whose views differ from yours)

In other words, I believe in the Constitution of the United States but also that it is an imperfect document and is- or at least SHOULD be- evolving.  That’s why there are amendments (i.e., changes) to the Constitution.  For a perfect example of that, look at Amendments 18 and 21.  I believe in my right to bear arms, but also in your right to want to ban guns.  I believe in my right to freedom of religion.  I also believe in your right to yours.  If the two religions don’t mesh, that’s fine.  We should both practice our religion without trying to impede the other’s right to do so.  I believe in the right of free speech but also in that of yours, even if you are saying the opposite of what I am saying or if it is something with which I do not agree.  I will never forget my brother’s words of wisdom in this regard: If you don’t support freedom of speech for those people and ideas you find repugnant, then you don’t support freedom of speech at all.  I agree with that 100%.  He adds that, under that same principle, it is also everyone’s right to “ridicule the fucktards that spew stupid ideas”.  I agree with that 100% as well, though I don’t really understand what is gained in doing so.  What good comes from the ultra-right condescending to everyone else for not being as righteous as [they believe] they are?  What good comes from the ultra-left for constantly needling those on the right for being so self-righteous (i.e. I get it- liberals think Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are idiots.  They’ve long established that.  I can’t say I don’t at least partially agree with that, to a certain degree.  But enough already.  Though you’re well within your right to do so, PLEASE give it a rest.)?

We as a nation need to stop looking at entire groups as “good vs. evil”- the concept of which is entirely subjective based on each individual’s beliefs- and consider each person as an individual entity.  Being Muslim doesn’t automatically make one a terrorist.  Being Christian doesn’t automatically make one a self-righteous Bible thumper.  Being black doesn’t automatically make one a thug or a criminal.  Being white doesn’t automatically make one a racist.  Being conservative doesn’t automatically make one a “whackjob”.  Nor, to be fair, does being liberal.  I could give more examples, but I hope you get the idea.  Look at people as individuals, not as a skin color or social, religious, or political ideology.  I am a white conservative Christian that has some very serious philosophical disagreements with the typical “conservative” or “Christian” set of ideals- specifically, what qualifies one as “conservative” or “Christian”.  But that’s an argument for another time.

There is apparently a pastor in Florida that is waffling on whether or not to burn the Quran.  I don’t know what he intends to solve by doing so, but it is his right to do so, even though, to me, that sure doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to do.  It is, however, also every American’s right to burn Bibles.  My opinion is that burning the American Flag is wrong, but I believe that it is every American’s right to do so, no matter how deplorable I find it to be.  I believe abortion is wrong but, if for no other reason than because it is legal in America, I respect every woman’s right to get one, no matter how despicable I believe it to be.  I believe in gays’ and lesbians’ right to be married, but I also respect those that don’t believe in it, even the ones that don’t really seem to know why they don’t believe in it- or are at least unable to adequately and rationally explain why.

My America is not about everyone believing one set of ideals and banishing (or worse, killing, as they do in some countries) those who don’t fully believe in that set of ideals.  My America is about acceptance and tolerance.  Acceptance and tolerance of those with opposing views than yours.  Acceptance and tolerance of those with different lifestyles than yours.  Acceptance and tolerance of those with a different skin color, religion, or ethnic heritage than yours.  Acceptance and tolerance of those who try to stomp your viewpoints, as well as those who try to stomp you for stomping theirs.  That’s a two-way street, my friends, and it can be, will be, and does get driven both ways all day long.  ACCEPT it.  You have the right to your beliefs, but the other guy has the right to disagree with them, you have the right to disagree with his disagreement with them, etc.  I’d like to think we can all just accept it without having to actually do the back-and-forth “I’m right, you’re wrong” thing ad infinitum and ad nauseum, but that’s an extremely tall order and I know that.

The point of all of this is that the concept of “patriotism” goes far deeper than the display of an American flag, or participation in a yearly outpouring of sentimental “USA! USA!” propaganda via email and Facebook posts.  REAL patriots don’t NEED these emails and such to kickstart their patriotism.  REAL patriots love their country every single day, even if they don’t necessarily love their President, their Congress, their government, or whatever the case.  That is part of the beauty of America:  We the People elect our officials.  Based on each individual’s beliefs, sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it way wrong (it is impossible to make every American citizen “happy” politically; people need to understand this), but the fact that we have the right- and the responsibility- to choose our leaders is one of the most fundamental and most fundamental rights we possess.

I support anyone who willingly sends or receives the “Never Forget” emails and Facebook posts, be it for 9/11, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, or any day, but understand that my declining to forward the email or put the post on my Facebook wall is in no way indicative of any disregard for the men and women we’ve lost (not just on 9/11 but in any and all wars in which this country has participated) or of any absence of patriotism in my heart and mind.  It simply means I choose to feel and to display mine in a manner different from the way you choose.  Thank you for thinking enough of me to include me in the email or Facebook post request, but I ask that you don’t automatically tag me as “unAmerican” if I respectfully decline to forward the email or to make the post on Facebook.  I think it’s up to me to decide whether I want to “show my patriotism” in that manner or not.  There is no way in heaven or on God’s green earth that I can or will ever forget the events of September 11, 2001.  I don’t need, nor do I want, some email or Facebook post to remind me how to be an American.  I also don’t need you to wag your finger at me and tell me how “unAmerican” you think I am or how much I “obviously” hate America for not passing on the email or Facebook post.  I am every bit the “patriotic American” that anyone else is, I guarantee it.  I love this country and I challenge any one of you to prove otherwise.

Whichever god you worship- and even if you worship no god- God bless America and God bless all Americans.

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2 thoughts on “Patriotism?

  1. Johann, I must agree with much of what you stated in your essay, but do disagree on just a few points. It doesn’t matter what they are, because one of your main points is we don’t have to always agree to get along. We can always discuss our disagreements, but it is usually fruitless to argue the points, because in most cases, neither one is going to change the other one’s mind. It is my right to disagree and your right to disagree with my disagreements.

    Bottom line…well stated.

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