Patriotism entails criticizing the government
Daily Kent Stater
During the past year there has been a lot of talk about patriotism. As we all display our American flags (often incorrectly) and cheer America on in the fight against terrorism, there has been a lot of debate about what patriotism really means.
Notice that the definition does not include words like government or flag. It only refers to the country. It also does not include the word hate, only love and devotion.
Yet of late all these other words seem to have been added to the definition of patriotism in the minds of citizens. One cannot be patriotic if one disagrees with the government. One cannot be patriotic if one burns the flag or flies it upside down.
In order to be patriotic, you must hate those who do not agree with our government, or those who aren't in our country.
These definitions are not true patriotism. Our government is not our country and neither is our flag. Our country stands alone, independent of these other things. Our flag is only a symbol, granted it is a very powerful symbol, but it is still a symbol nonetheless. Although the government runs our country, it cannot stand alone. It relies on the consent of the governed. If there is one object or organization that can be defined as our country, it is our constitution.
Our constitution creates and defines our country. It gives the values that we as Americans should hold closest to our hearts. Our government can change, our flag can change, but only the entire country working together can change the constitution. Our constitution creates our most sacred values like freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. These are the ideas that give birth to "love for or devotion to" my country. These are the things that make me feel patriotic.
Our flag is a symbol of our freedom. That freedom includes the right to fly the flag upside down or even to burn it. The code for displaying the flag states that the flag should only be flown upside down "as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property." Many people feel that our freedoms are in a state of "dire distress," not by planes flying into buildings, but by our own government. When they burn the flag, they are not saying that they hate our country. They are saying that they believe our own government is destroying the freedoms that our country holds most dear. They believe that our freedom itself is indeed burning.
Our freedom of expression gives us the right to question our government's actions. Citizens who blindly accept the battles we are fighting are not exercising that right. Many seem perfectly happy to take that right away from us. This is not patriotism. To not exercise the rights that make our country great is to risk losing them. The patriots are the ones fighting for the ideals for which our country stands, not those mindlessly bobbing their heads in agreement.
Whether you agree with the government's actions or not isn't what is important. It is the questioning itself. I do agree with some of the government's actions, and I disagree with others. But it is the fact that I am actually forming my own opinion that makes me patriotic.
The next time someone talks about patriotism, take a moment to stop and think about what the word really means. You may find patriots in places you did not expect.
This column first appeared in the Sept. 19 edition of the Daily Kent Stater, the campus newspaper of Kent State University. It is reprinted here courtesy of U-WIRE.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, September 20, 2002