BushCheney has accomplished one thing that I never expected: he restored my patriotism. I thought my patriotism died in Vietnam. I returned from southeast Asia profoundly angry at my country for sending me there and disgusted with myself for passively by accepting those orders when I knew better. For the next three decades I felt no love for America. Anger blinded me to the many attributes of the United States that have been traditionally a source of our national pride. Whatever good my country may have achieved during that time was completely irrelevant to me. All I saw were America’s economic and military imperialism throughout the world, the same forces that took me to Vietnam.
But I now understand that I can still be a patriot, that I can still love my country, despite the horrible crime of my youth. Yeah, the Vietnam war was wrong for America, wrong for Vietnam and wrong for me. But a nation is a creation of human beings and, because of that human origin, America is also flawed. A patriot always hopes that the flaws are few and not terribly damaging but they exist and a patriot needs to come to terms with them. Just as few humans are characterized solely by their flaws so too with nations. But for the last 30 years, I have had great difficulty seeing past America’s great crime in Vietnam and my participation.
The reason I say BushCheney restored my patriotism is that I realized that I do still care very much about my country. Not in the sense that the United States is the “greatest” or “superior” to all others but rather that I live here. So do my family, friends and many, many other good people. I also recognize that, for all of our failings, Americans created a unique society and system of government that is well worth preserving, protecting and perfecting. Our system and values are the product of our unique history and culture but they also reflect universal truths (“all are created equal”) that offer hope to all, regardless of their circumstances. Not at the point of a bayonet but rather through the force of our ideals. That’s what American patriotism is all about in my opinion.
My anger and alienation abandoned a potent symbol and perspective to truly malevolent forces. By rejecting patriotism, I left it to others who would use it in pursuit of distorted ideas and ideologies. I had to reclaim patriotism in order to save my country. I could not oppose BushCheney’s disastrous wars unless I cared about America. Without patriotism, without a concern for my country, its people and its future, why would I care what happened to it?
Traditionally, American patriotism has been framed in the words of Stephen Decatur’s famous toast: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong." Decatur’s words reflect a newly born nation, struggling to assert its independence in a world dominated by established powers. Another view of patriotism was stated by the German-American statesman Carl Schurz: “Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.” Schurz spoke about 60 years after Decatur and had served in the Civil War. By this time, America’s independence was no longer at risk but the nation’s ability to cope with difficult issues was more than evident.
Following Schurz’s lead, I recognize a patriotism that is informed and understands America’s greatness, flaws and contradictions. For three decades I have been unwilling to say “I love America” because I believed that statement meant endorsing all actions taken in her name. Now I know that I do love America, the nation where my family found life and (some) economic security, the nation founded upon the highest ideals of human thought. Because I love America I am willing to protect her and, most important, to work toward “the more perfect union” for which the Constitution was created . That is why I believe it is my obligation to oppose BushCheney and his corporate handlers who would create an America that is a mere shadow of the ideals one which this nation was founded.
Thanks to BushCheney, I can now recognize myself as a patriot and proudly speak on behalf of the America that I love.