(Note: I submitted this essay to the UT San Diego newspaper just prior to the holidays, as a part of a 'contest' to see how locals defined Patriotism. I did not win, nor was my entry published.
But I think it worth noting that most of the entries were from small children. That is great and I enjoyed their take on the subject. But I must say, it did not make me feel real good about how our children are growing up; they are overly concerned with themselves and what makes them 'feel good.' No once did I see any reference to any obligations that go along with their 'love' of country, parents, and schools.
My sense is, that our public schools are so obsessed with pushing self esteem, diversity, and understanding, that any notion of self sacrifice smacks of nationalism/militarism and is therefore taboo.)
This whole discussion has come on the heels of a number of proposed legislative efforts to limit or eliminate the few minutes before school for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance...
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As a little guy, I stood every morning with my hand over my heart to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It made me proud I was lucky to be born American. As I grew I wondered if children in other countries practiced similar rituals everyday? I knew one thing for sure, their country didn't provide 'Liberty and Justice for All.'
None of it really meant much to me until I joined a Little League team and before every game we sang the National Anthem and recited the Pledge. When we took the field, I felt a sense of pride and was inspired to play hard to try to win every game. Not to 'beat' my opponent, but to reaffirm my dedication and brotherhood with my teammates. They were my second Family.
Our Family has always been extremely close. I knew if it ever became necessary, I would lay down my life to protect my Mom and Dad or my brother. No questions asked, right or wrong, I needed to be there for them just as they had always been there for me.
During the Vietnam conflict I was of draft age and I wrestled with the moral dilemma of sending young men to battle indigenous villagers in the jungles of their backyard. But one thing kept coming back to me: I respected those who chose to go. They were my brothers and, right or wrong, I needed to be there for THEM, as I am sure they felt, they were being there for ME.
Subsequent life changing events, marriage and children, my mom and my best friend both succumbing to cancer in midlife, brought my worldview into focus. My immediate family, my teammates, my American citizenship, they were in effect, all the same thing. It was just a matter of scale. My allegiance, and my sense of responsibility, were interwound around my need to belong. To be Family.
To the best of my knowledge, a sense of belonging is as basic a human need as sex. It is a fundamental drive that functions as a survival mechanism, promoting things like self sacrifice which ultimately supports the greater need. It is what separates civilized societies from barbarian tribes.
Patriotism could just as well be called Familyism, because that is what it means to me.