WhatIKnow@aarp.org

What I Really Know

About Patriotism

Essay for AARP

What I know about Patriotism I learned from my family and community and not from our society as a whole.

I grew up during the Vietnam War, probably the most challenging time for a patriot, since Revolutionary War times.  Amidst all the flag waving was a clash of anti-war protests on our universities culminating in the tragedy of Kent State.  Amidst the bumper stickers of: “America: Love it or Leave It”; “My Country, Right or Wrong”; “The Silent Majority Knows the Right Thing to Do”; “Hippie, Yippie, Zippie: Go To Hell”; “Vietnam Vets are not Fonda Jane”; “Hanoi’d with Jane”; there were the peaceniks saying we were in an illegal war because it was not declared by Congress and we attacked the North Vietnamese gunboats in their own territory to start it.  War protagonist LBJ bowed away to the two ‘peace in our time’ candidates Hubert Humphrey and Nixon.  A dark horse emerged, RFK, stating he would end the Vietnam War immediately and he was sure to be President.  Bobby was assassinated for this “unpatriotic” stance.

In 1968, I watched John Wayne in the movie “Green Berets” and I thought we just weren’t fighting hard enough and if I joined the Army I would make the difference.  My dad who was a sergeant in WWII told me never go into war as an enlisted man, go as an officer and you will have more effect on it.  So I applied to West Point; long story short, the war ended before I had a chance to prove my patriotism.

Patriotism was tearing the country apart and both sides thought they were right.  They were.  Patriotism takes a healthy dose of public discussion in your home community before the consensus is made nation wide.  Patriotism is participation in democratic processes and honoring our country for being on the moral side.

Patriotism tore the country apart for decades, with neither side being able to understand the other.  The roots of this struggle surfaced in McCain versus Obama in 2008 when many of the old Vietnam bumper stickers resurfaced.  It was if we had a Civil War Part 2.

If my right to free speech ends at your nose, my right to patriotism must also end there.  Patriotism is learned through history, and those that forget it are doomed to repeat it.  Patriotism is a gift, a love of country, we all can and should share.

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