Kim Pleticha is the editor of a small parents' publication in Austin called Parent:Wise, and I recently picked up a copy while waiting for an appointment. (Unfortunately, the current issue has not been posted online as of today.) I was surprised and delighted to find an editorial on True Patriotism that summed up and amplified many of my own vague feelings that somehow get stirred up on the Fourth of July. I do love this country, and I love it because of my reverence for the courage, wisdom, and supreme humanity of the men who risked their lives to create it. That those same men would be appalled by the pseudo-democracy emerging in the last couple of decades (and the last six years in particular) brings me little joy. However, Kim Pleticha has some wonderful musings on what it means to be patriotic today.
She began the piece by taking on the common lament that our media is responsible for our sorry state of cultural and historical awareness:
But in blaming the media, we may as well blame ourselves. The media program TV for us: news ratings are broken down into 15-minute intervals, which means media corporations know almost exactly when you (or the person with the Nielson box) switch off the TV. If you aren't interested, the media aren't interested, because they can't sell ads and pay for programming if there aren't any eyeballs on the screen. If Paris Hilton draws more eyeballs than the War on Terror, then Paris Hilton gets more airtime. It's simple economics.
She then goes on to address the role that parents play in educating informed citizens within a culture of ignorance and apathy:
If we give [our children] the impression that apathy is OK, that understanding their basic Constitutional rights is unimportant, that not paying attention to the world around them and their place/responsibility in it is perfectly acceptable, then we have nobody but ourselves to blame if we lose the freedoms we currently take for granted.
And on to the meat of the argument:
Embracing patriotism should not be confused with espousing nationalism, which Albert Einstein once called "the measles of mankind." Paatriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first, former Prime Minister of France Charles de Gaulle said. The distinction is important. Patriotism is rather like a parent's love for a child: you may love your own child above other people's children, but you also love other children and want the best for them.
When you look at it that way, you understand that true patriotism is not limited to any one political party or set of beliefs; neither should it be ignorant nor blind.
President Teddy Roosevelt said patriotism means standing by the country -- not by a public official. Most important, Mr. Roosevelt said, "it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth."
So that is what parents must do. We must teach our children not to take lightly this country's freedoms, nor ignor its transgressions. We must educate them about the legacy they have inherited: the brilliant and, yes, the base. Navigating the future requires knowledge of the past.
Words to live, and teach by, Kim! Well said.