Sunday, June 10, 2007

Not Programmed For Patriotism

Except for first grade, all of my education was obtained through the Catholic parochial school system -- which, in the 1960's and 70's guaranteed a solid foundation in academic subjects, plus religion. Somewhere along the way, a sense of American patriotism was shouldered aside by those religion classes and the pervasive Catholic culture.

In my Dominican grammar school in Reno we had plenty of statues of Mary and various saints (our own folk heroes), but I don't remember any pictures of dead Presidents glowering down upon us as they did on my public school friends. We pledged allegiance and Sousa-marched into the classroom every day, and history, social studies and American government were of course part of the curriculum; but, the emphasis throughout grammar school, high school and college was given to Christian Catholic citizenship, not American citizenship.

My parents struggled as young adults through the Great Depression and WW II years, then joined the post-war struggle for the new American Dream of prosperity, security and comfort that was finally within reach. Achieving that dream consumed them and millions of other Americans. My memory may be off here, but I don't recall any instance where patriotism played a role at home, other than the mystical elevation of FDR to equal rank with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There were no flags raised high on the Fourth of July or Memorial Day (actually Decoration Day then), and we stood curbside at parades mainly for the bands and cotton candy.

What did profoundly influence me were the Vietnam War years, when the U.S. government became an adversary and young men and women died for no apparent good reason. Since then, which has been my entire adult life, we have been exposed to so many failures and so few triumphs of government that "patriotism" seems almost senseless to me. In fact, it seems to be in large part responsible for the pickle we find ourselves in now.

Please don't misunderstand. I value the concepts expressed in our Constitution and certainly appreciate our freedoms and much of our way of life. I respect and honor those who have fought in brutal wars to ensure those freedoms, and those who are willing to do so today and tomorrow. It's just that patriotism wasn't a part of my early family programming, nor of my education. I don't get chills with the Star Spangled Banner, and I don't understand the phrase or the philosophy of "my country, right or wrong."

I'm not alone in this situation as a decline in patriotism has been noted and commented on for years, despite upsurges in emotion around times of crises, such as the 9/11 attacks. I wonder if those of us who do view the state of the nation without the filter of patriotism see the problems we face with more clarity than those who hold the more traditional view.

Consider the machinations of all three branches of government, with the never-ending corruption on both sides of the aisle, the weight and power given to lobbyists, the universal resistance to election reform, the manipulation, the deals, the dishonesty, the spin instead of truth, the endless posturing and meaningless compromises -- how does any of this promote "patriotism?" And still there are those who revere every facet and action of the government, who fight for the status quo and who label any kind of dissent or demonstrations for change as "un-American."

I see the government as it should be, as it should act, as it should function within its carefully-crafted and time-tested foundation and structure, yet I see the government fall short -- not sometimes, but nearly every time, as it remains bogged down in process instead of energetically working to achieve its promise of greatness.

I don't understand those who wave their flags and champion support for a government deep in failure on both foreign and domestic fronts. If patriotism is defined as "a fervent love of one's country," wouldn't the more patriotic response be to see, demand and effect the changes that are so obviously needed?

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