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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Veteran’s Day and Patriotism: Sunday musings…11/12/2023

My Dad was a patriot. So was Beth’s. For any disagreements either man may have had after his years of service were long past, both men really did believe that the United States was a country that deserved the support afforded by patriotism. To be sure, both of our Dads had periods where they were more than a little unhappy with those who may have been running the country and how they were doing it–not surprisingly for those who knew them, these periods rarely coincided for both men–for the most part they found much more to be worthy of their support.

I don’t remember my father-in-law’s “origin” story as well as I do my Dad’s. Lifted out of the trades track in high school and placed in the college prep course by a guardian angel teacher, Dad went to UNH on a 1/2 football scholarship. Without the other half of a scholarship Dad pretty much starved. He dropped out, joined the Army, and then after his tours in Korea he mustered out and headed back to college. He landed at UVM with a 1/2 football scholarship and the GI Bill in hand. In stark contrast to these heady days of NIL payments for college athletes Dad still needed to take a part time job as a short order cook in his first two years of school to be able to afford to eat. He retained equal parts proud to have served, and grateful for the support given to him for that service.

The simplest and most accurate definition of a patriot is one who loves, supports, and defends his/her country. Full stop. Patriotism of this sort is quite different from the false patriotism manufactured by, say, Vladimir Putin, whose call for a return of Russian glory is more about self-interest than fidelity to his motherland. In a country such as the United States (or Canada) that lacks the advantage of shared ancestry and history that extends to the beginning of civilization, patriotism is often demonstrated by its smaller alter ego “civic duty” or devotion. In the absence of ancient commonalities a citizen must consciously choose to seek to come together with his/her fellow citizens as a concrete manifestation of patriotism.

How do we do this? How do we encourage a greater degree of patriotism from a broader swath of American citizenry? I think three simple things would get us off to a good start. First, let’s stop giving a free pass to people who are enjoying all of the benefits of citizenry and yet miss no opportunity to denigrate all things American. You know who they are. The so-called cultural elite, especially those in the academic community who never miss a nit to pick, always on the side of putting down America and things American? Blowhard politicians at every level of government who can barely muster a kind word for the country they supposedly serve? There’s a difference between constructive criticism in an attempt to promote a better country to love and an open contempt for not only country but the very idea of love and support for your country.

Why should these people be our national thought leaders if they care so little for our nation?

By the same token, too much emphasis is placed on issues and ideas on the margin at the expense of elemental, more global ones. Take, for example, the Pledge of Allegiance. Why is it an issue at all whether or not the words “…under God,…” are in our national declaration of fidelity to country? The Pledge is a declaration of our patriotism, our love and support for our nation. This would constitute such an overwhelming majority of the purpose behind the Pledge that we should relegate the distraction of the debate on these two words to the periphery of the discussion where it belongs. We ought neither to allow ourselves the luxury of such selfish discussions, nor others the privilege of driving discussions away from the importance of such a primary issue, patriotism.

Lastly, we should return to a time when each of us made it a point to think of the success of our country as something to which we, as individuals, must attend. Pride in nation and sincere hope for national success must no longer be something looked down upon, but rather something that each of us learns and practices. Our leaders must begin to work toward more than their own self-interest and that of their peers, but also to that of country.

For the rest of us, it is enough to look at our own little parts of the country and make whatever small effort we can to make them just a tiny bit better. We should call out those who seek to tear down our nation and make them uncomfortable in that effort, just as we should lift up those we see working for a better, more unified whole. Patriotism is neither trite nor trivial. All it might take is to think for a moment before you act or speak about being a patriot, of supporting and loving and defending your country when you do so, even if you truly believe that what you are doing or saying is to right a wrong.

To those who have served, and to those who serve today, I leave you with a tiny prayer I heard first from Beth: May peace find its way through your courage.

I’ll see you next week…

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