HAPPY BIRTHDAY

by

I know I’m posting late again, but a couple of other posts have shown up lately – one from someone who doesn’t post very often – so I decided to not clutter up the blog with a mediocre and uninspired offering on my appointed day. I can be mediocre and uninspired anytime. Also, with a topic like “history,” I just couldn’t resist waiting until the anniversary of our country’s founding. The chance only comes once a year.

Two hundred and thirty years ago today, The Declaration of Independence came back from the printer and was given to the public. It was actually signed – but only by John Hancock – two days prior, and some of its’ authors thought that July 2nd should be celebrated instead of the 4th. Once the copy hit the streets in Philadelphia, however, the 4th of July took on a life of it’s own in the national memory, and that one pesky detail was largely forgotten.

For Americans, July 4th is the ultimate patriotic holiday. Unfortunately, the term “patriotism” has taken a beating in this forum lately, and I must admit that I share many of the feeling I’ve seen expressed here. Any time I hear or see any public figure – be they preacher, military commander, congressman, president, or local politician – wrap themselves in the flag to support some issue or other, my first reaction is to put my hand on my wallet. The current issue – the flag burning amendment – whether it is worthy or not, is only the latest example. For those intent on always defining patriotism based on abuses of it, I’m afraid there will never be a shortage of examples to use, mankind being what he is.

I would argue, however, that there is a kind of patriotism that isn’t the same as the blatant pandering we see too often from our elected officials and other public figures. I think it boils down to a simple love of a person for their home and way of life and the belief that both are worth preserving and passing on to their children. If that is arrogance or selfishness, so be it. No matter what you may think of the policies of the current administration – or the previous one or the next one – everything you enjoy today as an American was paid for by many nameless folks who practiced what I consider a valid form of patriotism.
John Quincy Adams, who saw the Revolution as a teenager, for a time acting as his father’s secretary on a diplomatic mission to Europe, and went on to become president is credited with this quote:

”Posterity – you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you make good use of it.”

To me, real patriotism is not a dirty word, and is fairly simple. I was given, free of charge at birth, citizenship in what I believe is, even with all it’s failings, the best country the world has ever seen, and I’ve visited a fair number of others over the last 35 years. My job, as I see it, is to sacrifice, if necessary, to see that it is passed on to those two little boys in the picture. Mikey and Jamie are my grandsons and, in 20 years or so, they can take over. For now, though, it’s still up to Dad and Grampy.

Happy Birthday USA

God Bless America

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13 Responses to “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Patriotism does take a lot of hits, and I’m definitely not sold on the idea of it being a good thing. But despite whatever problems I think America has, the founders did create a country that allows a lot of freedoms that were only dreams at the time. And I like the quotation from Adams. I hope we are making good use of our freedoms.

    (Sorry for posting on your day last week. But “History” was in my title, so… — and plus, I have no concept of time whatsoever. And also plus, it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I’d forgotten which day I was supposed to post on.)

  2. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Michael
    You actually did me a favor by posting last week. I had no clear idea of what to do at that point and was quite happy to use your book report as an excuse for a few more days to come up with something. Just because Al ask me to post on Thursday, a few Thursdays will certainly go by with nothing showing up. Unlike Al, who is a professional, I can’t always be eloquent and/or profound on a weekly basis. For instance, we’re going to Memphis tomorrow to welcome a new little granddaughter. My son and his wife are getting a baby through adoption, and the “hand over” ceremony is Friday. We’ll stay through Sunday morning, so there won’t be a post this Thursday and maybe not next. Have to wait an see.

    I think part of the reason why patriotism has taken the hits you mention, here and elsewhere, is that those who seem to believe that it is a completely negative and evil concept are being allowed to define it in those terms without any challenge. It is certainly easy – and more fun – to cite example after example of what they call “patriotism” causing untold suffering for mankind without admitting that there might be a “flip side” to the equation. The Nazi’s were “patriots,” weren’t they? Of course, but, by the same definition, so were the millions of people who fought against them. If the Nazi’s “patriotic” actions were evil – and they certainly were – wouldn’t the “patriotic” actions of those who loved their own countries and fought to preserve them against the Nazi war machine have to be seen as good?

    Loving your home, your country and supporting your way of life, including the form of government that makes it possible, is NOT, as some seem to infer, wrong by definition. There isn’t a noble concept that hasn’t been perverted by ignoble men, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the concept itself. Supporting a system that is relatively more just and fair than what had been the case is “good patriotism.” Supporting a system that is relatively more oppressive and unfair is not. In any case, the battle ultimately comes back to definitions. As I’ve said several times before:
    If only side is allowed to define the terms, they will always win the argument.

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Sorry – Should have been
    If only one side…

  4. Sandi Says:

    It’s okay to refer to me by name, Cap’n. 🙂 Like I said last week, I am aware that I am in the minority in my views about patriotism. In fact, I was at lunch yesterday with a group of coworkers, and of the six of us, only two including me are annoyed by July 4th festivities, and a few of the others were quite outspoken about how much they love America and that they believe that patriotism can be something other than nationalism. (I work for a progressive law firm, so this was a sample with only hard-core liberals). My friend Amelia, to whom I obliquely referred last week, makes that flag cake with cool whip, strawberries, and blueberries every year and loves, loves, loves to watch the fireworks.

    But given that the belief that patriotism is a good thing is so ubiquitous in this country, I think it’s quite unfair to claim that “my” side has been the only one to define the term. That is just patently untrue. That’s like saying that atheists are allowed to define the debate about God. Given that we are maybe 5% of the population and one of us could NEVER be elected to public office in this country, I think it’s safe to say that the God question is not defined by our view of it.

    I decided to present my views about patriotism fully expecting to be derided for them precisely because I know how very unpopular they are. I bite my tongue a lot about patriotism in order to go along to get along. That has had to be a way of life for me about a lot of things, particularly when I lived in Mississippi. Despite the conservative victim complex, the truth is that in most places it is people who think like me who are silenced and marginalized and not allowed to participate in the debate. I know because I lived it. So I just can’t accept the idea that my view is somehow privileged in the public discourse; that flies in the face of everything that I see each day and all the experiences of my life.

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I was struck by the same thing as Sandi, both in your post, Cap’n, and in the commentary on it. Even though the majority of opinion expressed in Sandi’s thread was anti-patriotism, that thread was one very tiny voice in the public discourse.

    Overall, America is not hurting for lack of patriotism. We’ve got it in spades. It is far and away the dominant position. The race isn’t even close.

    Supporting a system that is relatively more just and fair than what had been the case is “good patriotism.” Supporting a system that is relatively more oppressive and unfair is not.

    But that begs the question. As you keep pointing out, who defines the terms is of great importance. Your statement assumes there’s some definition of “just” and “fair” that everyone agrees on. There isn’t. Islamic fundamentalists have one definition of what’s just and fair. Western secularists have another. Chinese communists have yet a third. Christian fundamentalists have still another. And that’s just scratching the surface.

    So if patriotism in support of greater justice and fairness is good, who gets to define “justice” and “fairness?”

  6. Michael Lasley Says:

    JU — I agree about the fairness and justice. But it seems to me there should be a balance between the pride in country and the critical awareness of faults of the country. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive (and I realize no one’s said as much). And I also think there should be a way for a pacifist such as myself to appreciate the people Adams was referring to, as well as other soldiers, who have fought for our country. As always, I have no point. I guess I’m just searching for some middle ground. Mikey

  7. Sandi Says:

    I don’t have a problem appreciating positive aspects of American history and government and those people who accomplished great things. I just don’t really understand the point of attributing greatness in a nation-specific way. It seems to me that anyone from any nation who has done courageous and morally good things deserves my appreciation whether or not their actions have any effect on my life personally. By the same token, it often seems as though people say things that imply that Americans are great just by virtue of their citizenship, without necessity of having actually done anything worthy of praise. So in addition to the inherent comparative aspect, it’s the lack of appreciation for the good done by citizens of other nations and the unjustified self-congratulatory nature of the whole enterprise that irritate me.

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I think it’s entirely possible to do what you sense should be possible, Mikey, but it probably doesn’t qualify as patriotism. OTOH, maybe it does.

  9. Michael Lasley Says:

    I agree with what you’re saying, Sandi. I think we share the same problems with Patriotism. I guess I don’t see patriotism as excluding an appreciation of what other countries have done. It often does, but it isn’t a necessary exclusion. Patriotism in the context of the original post about the 4th, well, I guess I like the idea of having a day when “America” is celebrated, when the ideals of America or the founders are celebrated. That doesn’t mean not acknowledging or being aware of faults or problems. Does that make sense? (I really haven’t given this lots of thought, so I’m kind of out-of-the-earing it.) Most of the time, flag-waving for the sake of flag-waving, patriotism just for the sake of patriotism, annoys me, but I actually do think it’s a good thing to have something like Independence Day.

    Thanks for the definitions, JU. Why is it that Wikipedia has a better definition than the dictionary?

    Mikey

  10. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I’ve only got a few minutes, so pardon me if I’m brief.

    Sandi,
    If it comes to the point where comments here are meant to be personal, I’ll be gone like Joe. I’ve taken as many hits from Juvenal and others as anyone, but I don’t think he means it as a personal attack. He probably just thinks I’m an addled and misled old airplane driver who has soaked up too many cosmic rays. To be honest, I know a few others in my own family that might share that opinion. By the same token, my remarks weren’t aimed at you or anyone else in particular. My comment about one side defining the terms applies equally whether you are on the right or the left. We toss around terms like “right” and “wrong” and “fair” and “justice” while never actually defining what we mean by them. I’m not naive enough to think that we have to always agree on definitions before we can discuss something, but not knowing what each side means by its terms makes a lot of such discussions exercises in futility for both sides.

    I’ve been reading a lot about the Founders and their ideas lately. They would have certainly granted you the right to your opinion, even if it might be only 5% of the whole. I’ll also grant you that your opinion, even if it is at odds with mine, is probably more consistent and better thought out than most people’s who would be more to my side. Somehow, I tend to actually have more respect for an adversary who holds their position because of reasoned principal than for an ally who is just repeating the chant of the crowd.

    Finally, back to the subject. with apologies to Forrest Gump:

    “Patriotism is as Patriotism does.”

    Patriotism in support of “good” principals (if we can agree on what those might be) can and must be differentiated from patriotism that supports evil (if we can ever agree on what that means). I’ll be the first to admit that, in our country’s history, we’ve seen plenty of both.

    If you believe that something our country is doing is evil, stand up and say so and more power to you. Just thank God or whatever other power you favor that, 200 or so years ago, a bunch of men in powered wigs and funny looking pants risk their “lives and sacred honor” to try and do what had never been done before, and in their fallible way and imperfect world, they produced something that, in the history of manmade governments, has no equal.

    Got to go see my new granddaughter.

    All the best to everyone on “Houseflies.”

  11. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Why is it that Wikipedia has a better definition than the dictionary?

    I guess just because they don’t put the same premium on brevity that a dictionary does.

    Just thank God or whatever other power you favor that, 200 or so years ago, a bunch of men in powered wigs and funny looking pants risk their “lives and sacred honor” to . . .

    That and the Adams quote bring up an interesting point: there were a lot of freedoms in the Constitution that the founding generation didn’t sacrifice for — freedoms they put in writing, but never fought to make real. The most obvious example, especially in the context of JQA, is slavery. But there are many others. In general, the constitutional rights we take for granted today were only promises — not realities — until fairly recently.

    My point is not to denigrate what the founding generation did do, which was extraordinary. Instead, my point is that it isn’t the case (as JQA’s quote might suggest) that the founding generation fought for our freedoms and then handed them to us, complete, and we just get to sit back and enjoy them. The founders’ legacy isn’t our freedoms as a fait accompli; it’s the tension between the promise of those freedoms and the lack of fulfillment. It has been — and still is — a continual struggle to make the promises real.

    It took us almost 200 years, a civil war, and decades of struggle after that to give all our citizens, regardless of race or gender, a meaningful right to vote. John Q. and the founders didn’t win that victory and pass it down to us. They gave us the words, the ideas. We’re still trying to make them real.

    Which brings me back ’round to patriotism and my problems with it. One of them is that, by and large, those who show the most zealous concern for patriotism are the ones digging their heels in to resist fulfilling our legacy from the founding generation. It’s true of this latest attempt at a flag burning amendment, and it has ever been thus.

    If we want to celebrate the promise in what the founders did, that’s one thing.* But let’s not do it while fighting to avoid fulfilling that promise. If we do, I hope it’s understandable that some of us turn away.

    Best to you and your new granddaughter, Cap’n. And an attaboy to her new parents.

    (* I still have my previously stated objections to patriotism when defined any larger than this.)

  12. Sandi Says:

    Juvenal,

    Hear hear. I agree completely with your point about the framers’ work being ever incomplete. Also about the so-called patriotic people not being the ones to carry the ideas of the Framers to the next level. Sometimes the identity of the messenger is as important as the message in determining the meaning of something. Maybe I wouldn’t be as bothered by patriotism if it wasn’t so loaded a concept because of the people who trumpet it. Of course, the dispute about what the Framers’ ideals and vision for the country actually were dwarfs the whole debate about patriotism. There we get into strict construction, judicial activism, and a whole host of Pandora’s boxes.

  13. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Great discussion (probably because I’ve been out of town and haven’t messed it up yet).

    I’ll just chime in by saying that El Capitan published a great picture, too!

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