When did it become unfashionable to be openly patriotic? Did I miss a memo? After WWII, Americans were showered with flowers and kisses as they helped liberate countries and concentration camps throughout Europe. To this day, America is the first place the world turns to when disaster strikes or despots rage out of control.
American taxpayers feed more starving people worldwide than anyone else in the world. That’s a fact. We do that. American citizens. With our hard-earned money. Yet, we are often vilified. I wonder what would happen—and I’m not suggesting this is a good idea–if we stopped aiding the helpless, defending the weak, freeing the oppressed, or protecting our citizens and others around the world. Would those who receive our aid continue to bite the hand that feeds them? I honestly don’t know.
I am proud to be an American. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. I shouldn’t feel defensive when I make such a statement, as if I am identifying myself so that the rest of the world can hang a target around my neck, but I do. My son plans to study abroad next year, and my husband and I have repeatedly warned him to blend in with locals. We don’t think it’s safe for him to stand out as an American. We fear for his safety. Isn’t that sad?
I occasionally feel like I have to justify my patriotism to others. I haven’t always felt like this, but I do now. When I fly the stars-and-stripes from my porch (a normal-sized flag for a private residence; I’m not stringing up a flag more suitable for the Super Bowl, I assure you), I am sometimes asked by joggers or walkers going by on the sidewalk in front of my house why I’m doing so, as if the custom is somehow dated, passé, or quaint. I feel the need to cite a socially acceptable reason for flying our flag—the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or some other “official” holiday—as if it’s unseemly to be openly patriotic on an ordinary day.
This questioning reminds me of the folks on television who say, “I support the troops!” followed almost immediately by a criticism of the commander the troops follow, our government in general, the country as a whole, large segments of our population, or our way-of-life in this part of the world. These statements are thinly veiled insults, like the follow-up to, “Bless her heart” or “no offense, but . . . ” which, as everyone knows, is code for “I’m about to offend you.”
I’m unabashedly proud to live in this country. My hope for everyone else in the world is that they, too, can live in peace and safety in their own parts of the world like I do in mine. That’s what we all want, regardless of place of birth, religious affiliation, history, government, or any other variable, isn’t it?
The success our country and people have achieved isn’t some sort of cosmic accident, happy circumstance, or lucky break, you know. It’s self-determination that was hard-won initially, later overcame the loss of over 600,000 of its own citizens in our Civil War, and eventually resulted in a country that has ended up on the side of right more times than not.
Sure, our country is still a work in progress. It has flaws, like our record with regard to civil rights for Native Americans, African Americans, and gay Americans. There is no question about that, but it’s still the best place for an average person to live on the planet. I’d infinitely rather be poor here than poor almost anywhere else. When did we become reluctant to brag about that? We don’t build fences to keep our citizens here, and there’s always a long line to get in.
The circumstances of one’s birth do not define one’s destiny in this place. Ironically, this is one of the few places in the world where you can legally protest, sue, and generally talk bad about the government and all its minions. You can even re-write our laws, elect new leaders, and continue to scream and rant without fear of death, torture, or being tossed on the nearest plane to nowhere.
Americans occasionally learn the value of that privilege the hard way—by attempting to do the same thing while visiting or working in foreign countries. Not every country can handle criticism. It doesn’t take long to figure out that nowhere else is like America. It’s the greatest nation-state experiment in modern history.
We often take our liberties for granted, I think, the same way we know we will have water when we turn on the tap and electricity when we reach for the light switch. I am reminded of this reality, our “normal,” when I see news coverage showing citizens in far-flung places clamoring to be heard, to have their votes counted, to participate in their own government, and to secure the same basic rights for themselves that we enjoy.
It amazes me in the twenty-first century that there are still many countries in the world where women are not allowed to drive, where a son is worth more to a family than a daughter, and where citizens do not have the freedom to worship (or not worship) as they choose.
The rights we take for granted are still battleground issues around the world. I can’t imagine living in a society where a woman’s rape could bring dishonor to her family or where children are conscripted into war. What is considered civilized or barbarous is a matter of where one is born, what one believes, and who is in charge. That’s not okay with me. Might does not make right, or at least it shouldn’t.
I wonder if I would have the courage of the patriots throughout history, people in every country and every culture who risk everything to make their dreams the new reality. I am grateful to those from my own country who have gone before me to secure the rights and privileges I enjoy and for those who work to ensure their survival to this day.
When I see our flag, my heart never fails to swell with emotion. I get a lump in my throat, and I don’t care how cheesy that sounds. I can easily imagine the desperate faces of individuals from all over the world who searched desperately for a glimpse of our flag to know they were safe, or home again, or about to begin a new life.