“A patriot wraps himself around the flag to defend it; a scoundrel wraps it around himself to defend himself” -Anonymous
I’ve grown to enjoy the day when we celebrate another year in the history of our nation. I like walking down to the park, listening to the music, watching the multitude of flags flying from car hoods and childrens’ hats and marching bands. I like watching my kids run around while the band plays our national anthem.
I especially love the giant flag cake.
It’s a big deal when the cake arrives. It arrives on its own special car, at the end of a parade of old-fashioned cars, and is big enough to feed several hundred patriots.
There’s something special about celebrating the place where you live. It’s a small portion of a day where one can proudly say “this place is a good place to live. And for that, I’m thankful.” This is what we call patriotism.
Patriotism: The academic edition
In our current reality, patriotism has become closely intertwined with images of battle, conflict, and supporting our troops. Being a patriot conjures up images of flags waving in the background, with immaculately-trained troops going to battle against an invisible enemy. I can admit it, I’m a war aficionado.
Given the choice of learning about history, or the history of warfare, I’d default to the latter. I enjoy learning about the weaponry and the political maneuverings of warring states. I’ve even spent time in Israel studying the details of modern and historical warfare. Not that I’m a gun nut (or even remotely so), but the details of history are fascinating to me.
Call me a war geek.
It’s not my fault, really. As a young child of about eight, my brother and I discovered my grandfather’s naval uniform in a trunk, tucked away in the basement of his house. Inside this trunk were things we had never seen in real life. A naval uniform, complete with a hat, sat neatly folded in the bottom of the trunk. A few bullets, the size we had never seen, had been collected. There were newspaper clippings of men in uniform standing aboard a ship, saluting perfectly.
It was as if we had stumbled across a family treasure. What had my grandfather done while in this very uniform? What lands had it seen? What sort of battles had it been a witness to? How had my grandfather felt while he was wearing this uniform?
It wasn’t until later in life that I rediscovered this passion for history. In university, I was forced to take a class called The Violent Century: a Look at Historical Warfare. I begrudgingly sat for three hours as a professor ranted about the details of modern combat between nations. However, as the semester wore on, there was a growing problem.
I was hooked.
The brilliance of my professor was found in his recounting of the historical record. It wasn’t about dates. It wasn’t about accomplishments. It was about the humanity behind the history. What were soldiers thinking when they first donned their gas masks and engaged the enemy? What kind of emotions took hold when a fellow soldier was killed by an invisible sniper? How did it feel to live in the trenches of the Second World War? Even more recently, how does our country engage in conflict and how does it affect the family life of soldiers?
My experience with guns and conflict and war have been limited to two venues: an exercise in academics and through the lens of CNN. I am limited to the snapshots of war – another soldier killed, a military exercise over there, a soldier returning home.
Patriotism: The human edition
I recently had the experience of encountering a soldier in full uniform. On the news that night, I had seen that one battalion had returned home after serving on a tour in Afghanistan. Immediately, I wanted to approach him and thank him for what he had done for my country. I mean, when we’re talking about patriotism, these people are on the front lines of the definition.
Being a patriot is literally defined as one who loves and defends his or her country. Regardless of your opinions on the current wars raging across our world, there are men and women, fellow human beings, fighting in the wars that we watch on our television screens.
I walked past the soldier.
Either out of embarrassment or timidity, I didn’t say anything. I’m not sure I would know what to say, except a stumbling “thank you.” This has been the extent of my experience in patriotism. And yet the news has brought to me an entirely new perspective on patriotism and war. Recently, on a few major news sites, there have been a regular occurrence of men and women returning home from the war. Soldiers returning to their families.
The best images have come from inside classrooms. Dads and Moms, dressed in fatigues, surprising their young children by coming home early. Inevitably, the child breaks down in tears, runs to Mommy or Daddy, and weeps uncontrollably into the uniform of their country.
Well, color me patriot.
Strip away the flag-waving politicians and the loud military music and our nation is about people. It’s people with families and friends, individuals who have chosen to serve in a way that our country calls them to. Dads who have daughters and sons waiting at home — daughters with bright futures and sons with developing potential. Mothers who have the invaluable gift of nurturing and loving.
If becoming a patriot is to love one’s country, despite its flaws and mistakes, then by extension, it means loving the people that are part of that country. And, despite the fact that some of those citizens cut me off on my way to work this morning, there is something great about being able to celebrate our nationality together. It is wonderful to be free to let our kids run around while our national anthem plays. It is a gift to lay in a park, listening to music play from a community band, to enjoy the celebration of another year in our nation. It’s incredible to be able to wave our flag and think about the blessed life that we are able to take part in, to say ‘thank you’ to those soldiers in uniform that pass us on the street.
And, of course, to eat flag cake.