The video begins with images of the smoke-filled streets of New York on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and then moves into the bustling rooms of polling places. Finally, viewers see countless rows of graves of soldiers who fought and died in battle. Produced in 2002 by the Committee for Citizen Awareness, “Patriotism and You” was recently distributed to private and public high schools in Columbia. The schools have not yet decided whether to show the film.
The 26-minute film explores the role of patriotism in America, according to a news release from the group. It features former Secretary of State Colin Powell talking about the obligations and benefits of patriotism in America and shows how people can express their patriotism in ways such as running for office, enlisting in the Army, helping others and, most importantly, voting.
Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia is the sole sponsor of the film for the Columbia area. Patrick Lee, chief executive of the center, is featured in the beginning and end of the film.
“This movie provides a lesson of civic and personal responsibility,” Lee said. “I think it’s trying to teach young people what American patriotism is all about.”
That message, however, isn’t as clear to some viewers.
“If we take it at its face value, it’s a civics lesson,” said Charles Timberlake, an MU professor emeritus of Russian history. “Or it can be seen as a recruitment film in this country where we don’t have a draft. Embedded in this film are allusions to the military, that the ultimate act of patriotism is to fight in war.”
Phrases in the film such as “patriotism is respecting authority” and “we should manifest a unity of philosophy, especially in time of war,” provoke different reactions among viewers that appear to fall along party lines.
“It’s poorly done in terms of mixed messages,” said Bill Wickersham, adjunct professor of peace studies at MU. “I mean, don’t tell me to push my politics aside and join hands in support of activity I don’t believe in.”
“There are a whole lot of glittering generalities,” he said. “It’s a display that conjures emotion and deep feeling and would lend toward super patriotism. A question I would ask about this film is: What if you dissent from our foreign policy? Are you asked to love our country’s actions?”
Lee said he thinks “Patriotism and You” helps clarify for young people the importance of patriotism in a time of war.
“The youth is inundated with media about how the United States responded to war, and I think this video cuts through the commentary of the media,” he said. “It’s a matter of how we want our kids to grow up in this country. We want the youth to be passionate about America’s freedoms.”
Images and references to World War II, Vietnam and the war in Iraq appear throughout the video and raise questions about what patriotism means in America.
“Too many people insist that patriotism is ‘being on board’ with the leaders of this country,” said Robert Collins, a professor of history at MU. “Patriotism needs to be better served; the definition in this video is too simple.”
Because the video has been distributed to public and private high schools in Columbia, teachers will have to decide whether to show “Patriotism and You” during class time. Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the schools will use only resources that fit into their current curriculum. Individual schools will decide whether the video would enhance classroom objectives and goals.
“I think the video is worth classroom time if students and teachers are allowed to criticize it,” Wickersham said.
The Committee for Citizen Awareness issued a news release on “Patriotism and You,” but would not comment further on the film.
“I think there are a lot of things about our society that we should cherish and affirm,” Collins said. “Healthy patriotism shouldn’t fall into that error of equating disagreement with a lack of patriotism. On the other hand, it’s also a mistake to denigrate patriotism out of hand as ignoble or mere ethnocentrism.
“We have to steer through those mistakes and find a middle ground. Where do we think the wise middle ground lies?”