None of what I say about soldiers intends to demean their sacrifice or their intent to serve their country. If anyone can be said to have earned citizenship, it is our combat soldiers. On the other hand, it may well be fair to say that most of them didn't know what they were getting themselves into -- in part because they were and are too often lied to and abused by politicians, many of whom never saw a day in uniform. Case in point: the Republicans, responsible for $800 billion dollars in war debt (so far) and responsible for two unnecessary, useless wars, and responsible for sending thousands of our soldiers to death, severe injury, severe psychological trauma, have recently blocked a one billion dollar jobs bill for returning veterans, claiming it's not paid for. Oh, but it has been paid for, in coin that the Republicans will never understand. The point, though, is that the actions of the Republican leadership is an abuse of the soldiers.
Aside from soldiers, nobody born here is asked to take a test for citizenship. There is no test for patriotism, for love of country. In fact too often those who do most love the country are those who are most derided and demeaned by so-called patriots. I mean those who take a serious interest in civic affairs, who dare to speak in dissent from government policies, who dare question the myths and propaganda spewed out by politicians and pundits. Who loves their country the most -- those who work at knowing and understanding the facts and truths about their country, or those who have done nothing but be born here and have simply assumed that they are therefore real Americans, with all the privileges thereof?
Most people fall into the latter category. To them I'd say that the lowliest immigrant who applies for citizenship and studies to pass the citizenship tests and meets not only the requirements but negotiates successfully, perhaps after several tries, the bureaucracy of immigration, is more worthy of being called an American and a patriot than vast swathes of the people who were born here.
A patriot might be the kid who decides to join the military, not as a career choice, but because he has read our history, because he has read our military history, because he has researched the contemporary issues of his time and sought to understand them, and concluded that the virtuous path for him to take would be to sign up. A patriot might be the kid who has done the same work and concluded that the current political situation calls for dissent and resistance to the calls of politicians for more soldiers, and becomes an active dissenter. Neither of those two people should have their love of country questioned.
A patriot might be a woman with a family, called to jury duty, who, instead of complaining about it, does her research into the legal system and the place of juries in her contemporary legal framework and in the history of the country, and concludes that she should accept jury duty as a responsibility of citizenship. And a patriot might be her opposite who has done the same study, and determined that the jury system needs to be questioned and perhaps changed, or that the people in charge of it are treating the system with contempt and need to be changed. Both may be considered to love their country.
Blind faith in the leaders and institutions of the country is not love of country. It is the antithesis of patriotism.
Ignorant belief about American history is not patriotism. It is the opposite of love of country.
Waving a flag or wearing a lapel flag pin demonstrates nothing besides blind faith or ignorant belief.
Shouting "We're the greatest nation on earth" while waving the flag, literally or metaphorically, demonstrates nothing but an ignorance of facts and an unwillingness to consider the actual history of the country and its place in the world.
Disparaging others because they are black, or white, or red, or yellow, or brown, or gay, or straight, or male, or female, or speak with an accent, or are immigrants -- disparaging other Americans because they are different demonstrates a complete failure to understand America and its founding ideals.
Ignorance of our history, ignorance of how we became a nation, of what was the intention of our nationhood, of how we have acted in the world and at home, willful ignorance supplanted by willful acceptance of falsehoods, that should be disparaged, discouraged, and corrected.
It is not enough to call yourself a patriot because you love your country. Ignorant love is not real love. When you pursue knowledge of your country, of its history, of its intent, of its actions in the world, of its actions at home; when you look at the facts and the messy truths and accept them; when you choose to make your country better and when you act to make your country better from a sense of concern and compassion and understanding, not from a sense of unfounded pride, not from bigotry, not from hatred, not from fear; when you care more for your fellow Americans than for your bank account or your possessions; when you don't shrink from civic duty, whether it is jury duty or military service or paying taxes, whether it is honest dissent or reasoned civil disobedience or calling out the false patriots in power: then you can begin to call yourself a patriot; then you will have discovered what it is to love your country.
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