Blind patriotism does not improve America, action does

May 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Commentary, Opinions

by Mike Courson

I was recently at a baseball game, and when I did not place my hand over my heart for the Star-Spangled Banner, a nearby gentleman asked me if I was unpatriotic. He could not have known his question would kick off a series of questions and tirades inside my head.

To begin with, there is the issue of placing the hand over the heart for the National Anthem. This used to be reserved for the Pledge of Allegiance, but in the past few years, has worked itself into the ritual of opening athletic events. As part of me feels that empty symbolism is one reason nothing useful gets done, I am not ready to comply with this extra requirement.

Then there is the much larger issue of patriotism. What exactly is patriotism? Is it blindly supporting a cause or an idea? Or is it trying to better a cause or an idea, even if it means judgment and criticism of said idea? I promote the latter.

Patriotism is kind of an outdated concept for me. It reeks of the same nonsense that comes out of the two political parties. To suggest a mandatory allegiance to anything is against every tenet of a nation that believes in freedom of thought and speech. Whatever happened to principle?

That said, I understand that the United States is among the best places to live on the planet. Is it the best? I cannot say as I only read about other countries, but it can be assured that the French, or the English, the Canadians, or a host of other nationalities do not regret where they live. To love where you live, and to support it, is natural. Ever notice how your favorite team never gets the calls at a basketball game? It’s always the other team’s fault. Amazing how that works.

To assume America is infallible because I live here is plain irresponsible. For wealthy white men, the history of this country is something to behold. For minorities, including women, and the poor, it is something else. Though this side of history is kept out of our schools, Howard Zinn spells it out in the classic A People’s History of the United States. Sadly, A Patriot’s History of the United States was recently published because, for some reason, we would rather try to recolor history than learn from it.

I am well aware of this country’s past, but it is the past. We can learn from it, and we can fix the future. Right now, I work two jobs. That means lots of taxes, and one would think nice health insurance. To the contrary, something as simple as a broken bone would completely deplete my bank account. Should I be proud of a nation that cannot care for it’s workers? No, I want to fix it. And I don’t want to fix it for just me. I want to fix it for all Americans. If I were born 1,000 miles to the south, I’d want to fix it for Mexicans. Wanting to improve life has nothing to do with being American and everything to do with being human. Holding a concept like a country over the actual people that make up that country does not seem so admirable when applied to actual life.

The medical system is but one system that needs fixed. Our court system is a mess. Our education system does not compare to most industrialized nations. Because our government has made us so cynical, we have one of the worst voter turnouts in all world democracies. I think we all know about the economy. All of these things can be fixed, but not by pretending America is perfect and calling anyone who disagrees unpatriotic.

Fortunately, a few people have stuck their necks out to effect change. Cesar Chavez fought for workers and is rarely mentioned in the classroom. John Lennon faced deportation to stand up for peace. Bill Maher lost one of the smartest shows on television over an opinion, and the talented Dixie Chicks lost their careers. Before all that, Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience on the principle that the truth, not an idea, is what we should follow. Over 100 years later, the greatest American of all, Martin Luther King, Jr., used Thoreau’s ideas to peacefully change the nation in very violent times. He was assassinated, not thanked, for his efforts.

I was bothered by the man’s question, but not because I value his opinion of me. Not because I am wrong either. His question merely served as a reminder that change is so difficult because people cling to ideals rather than the truth. Ideally, American is the greatest country in the history of the mankind. The truth is, we will never get there when we start believing that.

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