The Nature of Patriotism

By John J. Hopkins | Jul 4, 2009

With the 4th of July weekend Holiday now coming to a close, on this the most patriotic time of the year, it seems proper to ask the question - what is the true nature of patriotism? Along with fireworks, pork steaks and beer, some introspection on the 233rd anniversary of the founding of The American Republic seems to be in order.

Patriotism - like former Supreme Court Justice Stewart's analysis of pornography - may be difficult to define, but we know it when we see it.

Flags waving, bands playing, speeches made, salutes given and returned, these are all tangible symbols of patriotic fervor. But are they imprecise and imperfect? Is the nature of the noblest of emotions - the heartfelt devotion to the Country and the principles upon which her foundation rests - embodied in less visible, less acceptable forms of behavior?

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." This quote, inaccurately attributed to Thomas Jefferson, came into vogue during the early days of Iraq War II, its actual author being unknown but regularly credited to liberal playwright and activist Howard Zinn.

The phrase was vocalized rationalization for opposition to the policies of the Bush Administration, as if such was necessary. In the heady aftermath of 9-11, dissent became MIA. The desire for unity in the face of unparalleled terrorist action stifled the voice of those opposed to the military option. While I believed then and still believe in the righteousness of the Iraq War - as recent history has shown in vindication - to oppose any governmental action in a peaceful, respectful manner is indeed the essence of the American experience, revolution and rebellion being its surrogate fathers.

The document signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 was nothing short of an act of open defiance to the Crown, a symbolic and actual one fingered salute to the ruling Establishment. From this seed, the tree of Liberty sprouted, nurtured always by the right of the citizenry to vocally dispute any governmental actions, rights specifically protected by the 1st Amendment. Such a blessing indeed shields the right to disagree, to dissent, to dispute the official line. It is wasted, it is diluted when the press become co-opted, become no more than designated cheerleaders for the party line, become so enamored with the current occupant of the White House that they fail to be the watchdog that the Constitution both allows and in fact compels.

As we speak, there is a hint of the "highest form of patriotism" blowing across the Nation in the shape of the so-called Tea Party movement. Named after the famous Boston Tea Party of "no taxation without representation" days, its members are rebelling in classic fashion against what they perceive to be encroaching socialism, fiscal policies that program long term disaster and the apathy of the mainstream media.

Ridiculed by commentators on the Left and insulted with ad lib comparisons to porno movie scenes, the Tea Parties actually reflect the essence of a free Republic - the right, indeed the duty, to petition for grievances. They deserve not sneering mockery, but respect, as respect for traditions, coupled with a knowledge of the history of such freedoms is the core of true patriotism.

So little is either known or cared about the history of dissent, either by choice or by indifference. This point was made clear at the most recent Alton block party, with the band "4 by 20." An excellent cover band for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, at the end of the night they played the song "Ohio," one of the greatest Rock protest songs of all time. If you were alive in May of 1970, you remember and relate to the words of ... "four dead in Ohio," and the plaintive, funeral like cords. If you were not, you simply danced up a storm to the music, as if it were another Michael Jackson tune, and were amused by that old fat guy in the back, doing the up - raised fist, power salute with his Bud Light.

Every Sunday during the summer, Haskell Park on Henry Street is home to an old fashioned band concert. The music can be heard down the street, and on our front porch, where we sit and listen, both enjoying a glass of cold white wine and I get to smoke a cigar. More oft than not, we have the pleasure of the company of one of Alton's finer couples, Ed and Patty Morrisey. At the concert's end, the National Anthem is heard, and we stand. Our gesture of patriotism, our gesture of respect. No prompting, no witnesses, just four Americans silently being appreciative.

Were it so easy, were it so broad.

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