Democratic Underground

On Patriotism
September 18, 2001
by Athlien

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Late on Tuesday afternoon, I experienced a new emotion: patriotism. As a young American, I never felt this before, this strange swelling sense of pride, of national identity and commonality. I've grown up thinking of patriotism as something sort of quaint and old fashioned, a feeling which is exclusive to an older generation. Patriotism is also something I identified from a distance as dangerous, an emotion which is easily exploited and manipulated to cause people to do things they wouldn't normally do. In my ignorance, I looked down just a little bit on people who identified themselves as "patriots" - I didn't understand what they were getting at, but it didn't look like anything positive to me.

All through this week I grappled with this new feeling, trying to identify it and understand it. First it seemed like pure and simple pride; watching the news and seeing countless people trying to give blood, rescue workers who risked their lives for the sake of others, and a myriad of small human gestures of kindness and support, I felt so proud of those people that it was nearly inexpressible.

Later, I realized, it wasn't just pride. I loved these people too, for standing together in the face of adversity and showing the best of human nature instead of the worst. In the days that followed, I heard more accounts of nastiness, of meanness and cruelty. However, these few sad and pathetic people who have allowed their better nature to be subsumed by blind anger are the exceptions, and my heart fills with love and pride again to hear people condemning the actions and words of those who have responded to last Tuesday's act of hate with more hatred.

Along with love and pride, I have a new sense of national identity. I am an American, and that really means something to me now. It does not mean, as I feared it might before I understood patriotism, that I feel anything negative towards the rest of the world. This strange new feeling isn't exclusive - it's inclusive. By finding an individual spirit of commonality with my fellow Americans (and I never thought I'd use such a phrase), I find myself even more moved by gestures of support from overseas. I am deeply touched and grateful that we are not alone in this time of need. Not only do we Americans suddenly find ourselves standing together, but the rest of the world stands with us.

I don't know if my newfound patriotism will last. The thought of war, especially a prolonged war against targets we haven't even identified yet, scares me very much. I feel that some sort of action is necessary in reaction to the disaster on Tuesday, but I honestly don't know what that action should be. I have a lingering sense of doubt that our leaders don't really know what it should be either, and that we are moving swiftly on a course that seems best to most, but may not be best in actuality.

Even with all these doubts and fears, I hope my newfound patriotism will linger. I'm surprised by it, delighted to find that I am proud to be an American, that old phrases which seemed cliché before strike a chord with me now. I am not blinded by my burgeoning love of this country and the people in it - I can still see the ways we can go wrong, the ways we have gone wrong, and the traps and pitfalls which some may blindly fall into. I hope others will let their love of America show while keeping their eyes open for trespasses upon the freedoms and the spirit that makes America great. This is a time for vigilance and support, for unity and cooperation without blind allegiance to leaders; after all, that's what America is all about.