The Fourth of July, with its fireworks, neighborhood parades and cookouts, offers a much needed respite from the “bombs bursting in air” of our domestic political wars. As we take a day to honor our country and gather with family and friends, it’s also a useful time to consider the concept of patriotism, which seems to have, unfortunately, become part of these political battles. Below are a few thoughts on patriotism. We’d love to also hear yours.
– Samuel Johnson was right that patriotism can be the last refuge of a scoundrel, but it doesn’t have to be. When used to attack those who oppose a particular policy, such as the use of military force, patriotism is bad. But seeing the good in America and being inspired by our accomplishments is not.
– In our “me”-based identity wars, where disagreement is often viewed as a personal attack, it’s vital that we hold onto the elements in our collective lives that make us think of the greater “we” instead. Honoring our country does that.
– Love of country is not the property of one political ideology or party. The United States belongs to all of us, from those whose ancestry goes back centuries to those who just arrived.
– The United States is and always has been great, but it also is and always has been deeply flawed. That is the dichotomy that we must live with. America was founded on ideals that took individual freedom to new levels, but our country was also built at the expense of Native Americans and enslaved Africans. Our ideals are our glory and our exploitation our dishonor. We have to own both.
– Now, more than ever, we need a renewed effort to look for things that unify rather than divide us. Love of our country, with all of its warts, can help.
It’s OK to get a lump in your throat as you remember the historical miracle that was our country’s founding and survival or to be a bit corny in singing the old patriotic songs on July 4. If we really hear the words in these songs, hopefully the verses will help eliminate our “versus” mentality.
Here are stanzas from two of our most beautiful songs:
This land is your land,
This land is my land,
To the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest,
To the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Happy Independence Day, Alexandria.