I believe, as I write this essay on September 11, 2006, that many Americans have forgotten how to be truly patriotic. “Patriotism light” troubles me. “Patriotism light” is my pejorative way to refer to people whose so-called “patriotism” consists mostly of slapping an “I Support the Troops” or “God Bless America” magnetic ribbon onto their cars or over-sized SUVs.
I have news for these people. Patriotism is not about public displays. It is about deeds. Here are some of my deeds to express patriotism. I invite others to join me:
1. Vote! It is no coincidence that our general elections are held in the same month as Veterans’ Day. Brave American war dead lie in graves…in Normandy…at Pearl Harbor….and in many other places, near and far. These people died fighting to preserve our right to live in a representative republic. One of our most cherished American privileges is that we regularly select and peacefully replace our political leaders. I believe it disrespects the memory of our military dead to fail to regularly vote. Voting is the linchpin of our republic. There is no better way to honor those who have been wounded or died, at war or in military training accidents, than by voting. Whether your vote would agree with or cancel mine, I implore you: Register, and vote! Your right to vote was purchased with the blood of patriots…I think of them as I vote.
2. After you vote, communicate with your elected representatives! Let them know how you believe they should represent you! And let them know you will work to replace them if they fail!
3. Support the troops! You contribute money to the USO like me, you can buy a returning soldier a meal at the airport, or you can help make the life of a soldier’s stateside spouse easier. Whatever you do, whether or not you share my belief that the war in Afghanistan is just, but the war in Iraq is mistaken revenge, those uniformed Americans who serve at war did not get the opportunity to pick the conflict in which they serve. Our Regular Military, Reserves, and National Guard place their lives both in peril and on hold while they leave behind jobs, families, and other cherished comforts. Johnny Cash provided a great example, as an anti-war American who nonetheless entertained the troops in Viet Nam. He said, in “Singin in Vietnam Talkin’ Blues”: “For ever last one of them that’s over there, Whether we belong over there or not, somebody over here loves ‘em and needs ‘em.”
4. Volunteer! America has plenty of needy people. Whether your talent lies in tasks like helping elderly citizens prepare their tax returns, helping storm refugees re-settle and deal with loss, or removing litter from a stretch of roadway, get out there!
I believe that when anyone asks who can make our society stronger and more patriotic, the answer is the person is looking back at you every day from your bathroom mirror.!
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