According to the American Heritage Dictionary, patriotism can be defined as :love and devotion to one’s country”. This seems a broad enough definition for a word that is often used by people, but seldom closely examined. One person’s practice of patriotism might be regarded as treason by another and visa-versa. In modern day America it is assumed that to be patriotic is a virtue, especially in times of national crisis. This paper will look at the uncertainty surrounding what the word actually means in reality.
On 9/11/2001 the USA was attacked by terrorists and for a time afterwards it became very fashionable for people to fly American flags, to flag stickers on their cars with “we support our troops” on them. But can this really be regarded as “love” or even “devotion” to one’s country. It might be argued that it is very easy to put a sticker on one’s car: it takes a few second and then the person can forget about it.
If this is what it means to be “patriotic” then it doesn’t seem to mean very much at all. Other definitions of patriotism include support for the government’s policy of the time.
Thus those who supported the Vietnam war were regarded as “patriotic” (good) by the Nixon administration and those who did not were regarded as “unpatriotic” (bad). But the majority of Americans came to oppose the war, and so was the American government actually unpatriotic through going against their wishes? The question needs to be asked of what a “country” is.
If a country is made up of the people who live in it, which seems a sensible definition, then it is patriotic to support what the majority of them support. This definition of patriotism will thus change with the changing opinions of the people.
At one moment it may be patriotic to support a war (when the majority support it) and at another unpatriotic (when a majority are against it). If country is something more than just the group of individuals who happen to be citizens of it then patriotism can be extended even further. If a country is an idea, then the post unpopular ideas might be regarded as patriotic. Defending a country may take vision for the future. Thus environmental groups might be regarded as patriotic because they seek to preserve the American landscape for future generations. It becomes clear that the word patriotism means a myriad of different things.
This is not a bad thing as it shows that there is a variety of ideas, as is necessary within a free society. Often people accuse others of being “unpatriotic” simply because they disagree with what the other person is saying. This is a bad trend within the country. It shows a very narrow point of view and definition of patriotism. What happens if an opinion changes in the course of someone’s life, as often happens? Patriotism should be defined in as wide a way as possible. It is in fact unpatriotic to suggest that other people do not love their country because they differ with you on some issues.
This is especially the case in a country that prides itself on being free and democratic. Freedom depends upon the ability to accept opinions that differ from your own and to respect those people who espouse them. There are of course certain acts that in fact are unpatriotic. For example if a person decides to join army of another country in order to fight against the one he was born in then that is unpatriotic. Not caring about one’s country either way is also unpatriotic. A lot of people live within their own small worlds and do not think that their country effects them.
In their day to day lives this may be true, but it is not the case when something important happens. Thus when you are attacked in a foreign country the first instinct is to contact your embassy. As your country looks after you, so you should look after you country. This may seem a difficult idea much of the time as people tend, quite naturally to be involved in their own lives. This is a good aspect of living in a free society: patriotism is not forced upon you. A person can decide to be patriotic or to be unpatriotic depending upon their point of view.
Accepting that choice is a form of patriotism in itself. To conclude, patriotism is the love of country. This love may be expressed in many different ways. For one person it may be serving their country in the armed forces, for another it may be teaching children so the country’s future is assured. For another patriotism may be making sure that the country lives up to its principles even in the most difficult times. All these different people show patriotism and they should respect the different definitions of others as they would want to be respected themselves.