(Originally posted on "Coming To Terms..." July 4, 2008)
Today is Independence Day. The day we Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence—our first step toward becoming a sovereign nation. Not a difficult thing to celebrate. Our founding fathers were a brilliant, driven group of men. They had it in their heads to wrestle their freedoms out of the hands of an absentee monarchy and command their own ship of state.
It was a logical and progressive thing to do, to throw off the chains of an obsolete, distant government—one which was unfamiliar with and often contemptuous of the special needs of its subjects settled halfway across the globe for more than a century. It made much more sense to create a seat of government for this land on this side of the Atlantic. Yet, even considering these things, it was a difficult and eventually a bloody undertaking.
Patriots won us our independence and put us on the road to becoming the country we are today. We bought our independence with blood, we bled to keep it. Our willingness to spill blood—both ours and others’—took us from sea to shining sea, and it nearly tore us in half. A hundred or two hundred years ago, it might have been necessary to pour out blood to preserve and protect the freedoms our founding fathers spelled out in The Declaration. There were plenty of forces in the world for whom success of a nation which trusted the people to choose their leaders and form their government was a dire threat. We needed patriots who were willing to fight and die for that freedom. We needed the concept of patriotism to flourish far and wide in the land, in order for the people to stand behind, and continue to fund and send forth, those soldiers and sailors charged with the protection of our freedoms.
But here in twenty-first century America, “patriotism” has largely lost its purity of purpose. We don’t use the word to describe an abiding love and concern for our country and its revolutionary concepts of freedom and government by the people. We use it to defend indefensible acts—like our president choosing to invade and destroy another country simply because he could. Acts like waterboarding and other forms of torture. Acts like not prosecuting a private citizen in Texas for grabbing his trusty shotgun and killing two men who broke into his neighbor’s empty home.
We use the word as a weapon of fear and hatred. We throw it in the faces of those who disagree with our personal politics. We use it to measure the worth of the guy next door, and he generally comes up wanting. I have never lived through darker days than the tenure of our current commander-in-chief, days when people actually feared to utter criticism of our government and the direction it took us in the aftermath of 9/11. One stunning attack on our homeland was enough to cause us to renege on the freedom for which so many patriots had fought and died on so many battlefields. “We’re afraid,” we cried. “Protect us and you can take our freedoms.” And the administration was happy to oblige. Surely patriots were spinning in their flag-adorned graves…
So who can blame me, now, if I hesitate to snatch up the banner of “patriotism” and wave it over my head today? It looks like something that fell out of Pandora’s box. It’s ragged and putrid and covered with blood. Yet, I should shove it under my neighbor’s nose and growl, “Love it or leave?”
I love this country. I love her diversity, I love her beauty, I love what she still stands for, in most of our hearts, despite the direction in which she has been dragged for the past several years. I love that she has been a noble force in the world, and she can be again. I love that there is still hope in our hearts that the next administration to whom we entrust the wheel of the ship of state can steer her gently but confidently back toward her original worthy course.
And I love that, because of the freedoms for which American patriots have fought and died for centuries, I can declare that I’ll take a pass on waving the beaten-up scrap that passes for patriotism today…until the shining banner of the genuine article is available once again.