Patriotism shouldn’t be questioned, just taught

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:44 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

This presidential campaign, particularly the period leading up to and including Independence Day, has seen the issue of patriotism showcased, drawn and quartered and pursued to the cube root. We have been assured by one faction that failure to wear a flag lapel pin is unpatriotic while the other extreme ridicules this flag placement as false or “jingoistic” patriotism.

One individual who overtly scorns adorning one’s lapel with the American flag is syndicated columnist Robert Scheer, who can be found in the pages of both our daily newspapers. Writing that “we are drowning in the impostures of pretended patriotism,” he implores us to remove the American flag and replace it with a lapel button from Chevron or Exxon. Mr. Scheer’s idea of a true patriot is one who is imbued with an undying hatred of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

I use these examples merely to illustrate the silliness of this debate. Whether one exhibits symbols on his or her clothing, automobile or residence has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism. Accordingly, the fact that one of the presidential candidates initially eschewed wearing of the flag and then later reversed his position may call his judgment into question but cannot and should not purport to be an example of a lack of respect for the country.

Webster defines patriotism as “love or devotion for one’s country.” A literal interpretation of this devotion can be found in the paraphrasing of Stephen Decatur’s “My country, right or wrong, my country,” a phrase considered quite controversial by those who see it as a whitewashing of history. However, I do not see this ideology as an exoneration of all sins but rather an acknowledgment of reality. Take, for example, the marriage vows as an analogy ­— for better or for worse, in sickness and in health — ergo, one does not discard the baby with the bath water.

Patriotism is also a bit like religion. One may keep it private or wear it on one’s sleeve. I would no more presume to question one’s patriotism than I would religion. I may disagree or fail to understand; nevertheless, both are individual freedoms to be practiced as one chooses. To be sure, I have issues with the antics of Code Pink: Women for Peace at the extreme left and with the filth spewed by the Rev. Fred W. Phelps Sr. and his followers at military funerals. I also believe that Americans who burn the flag to be several french fries short a Happy Meal. That we have an inalienable right to make fools of ourselves is not in itself an invitation to do so.

One display that most troubles me is the difference in the respect shown the national anthem and the American flag during rendering of honors today, as opposed to that observed during my generation. We were taught at home and in school to stand and place the right hand over the heart during the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. The utter disregard for this procedure by at least half of the population is not unpatriotic but rather indicates that no one has taken the time or effort to teach common courtesy and respect for the ceremony.

I shall share with you excerpts from a letter I received from one who came as an immigrant — legally, I hasten to add.

“I am an immigrant and I am an American, no hyphen, no double country. Just American. My papa was a US veteran, who served with honor as a member of the Philippine Scouts, earning the WWII Victory Medal. He dreamed of coming to the United States but that was cut short by his death on Christmas Day 31 years ago.”

“I am living his dream — in a free society in a country which he served side by side with the American Liberators against the Japanese oppressors in the Philippines. This is America where I vow to continue my papa’s legacy to live free under the American flag and the Constitution. This is the legacy I am proud to bequeath to my son and my daughter and to my students. Long live the Republic of the United States and democracy.”

We who were born here tend to take freedom and our unlimited opportunities for granted. This lady understands the difference. We can all take a lesson from her unabashed patriotism.

J. Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. E-mail him at


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