Patriotism Comes in Many Forms
I believe that patriotism comes in many forms and that it can be patriotic to criticize our government.
I grew up believing, as many of us do, that giving your life for your country is the ultimate expression of your patriotism. I grew up respecting and admiring those who fought to protect both Mexico, my native country, and America, my adopted country–from the boy soldiers of Chapultepec to the Marines who fought on the Shores of Tripoli.
At 19 I enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Viet Nam War, in part, to fulfill what I believed to be my patriotic duty. However, less than a year after I enlisted, I heard about the Kent State shootings. I was extremely distressed because my best friend was one of the millions of protestors who was willing to risk his safety to protest the Viet Nam War (not at Kent State, but at the University of Iowa). I knew my friend loved America every bit as much as I did. It didn’t make any sense to me that he and other good people like him could be beaten, imprisoned, or shot to death simply for peacefully protesting the war and criticizing the administration. I believed that kind of thing happened in dictatorships, not in America.
Not much later, I read a quotation from Steven Byington that goes as follows: “It can never be unpatriotic to take your country’s side against your government; it must always be unpatriotic to take your government’s side against your country.” These words resonated with me regarding what it means to be patriotic: that those who criticize our government are also patriotic. These words also helped me understand and even welcome all forms of peaceful civil disobedience against the war. And I did not interpret this as a failure to support me and my fellow Marines and soldiers fighting the war.
When you engage in peaceful civil disobedience or otherwise criticize our government because you believe it is acting in an unconstitutional or illegal manner, or is simply making unwise decisions, I believe you are no less patriotic for doing so. Throughout our history, our government and its supporters have frequently derided as unpatriotic those who criticized its policies, particularly in wartime. Opposition to the Viet Nam War, particularly anti-war demonstrations, was tantamount to treason in the eyes of many. During the last eight years, many derided as unpatriotic those who criticized or spoke out against the Iraq War and the so-called “War on Terrorism,” particularly the extension of the President’s powers. Consistent with my belief formed nearly 40 years ago, I respect and admire, and do not question, those critics’ patriotism.