With Memorial Day approaching, these thoughts come to my mind.
Last July 4th, I was watching the news and they were doing one of those pieces in which they went around the country and showed different celebrations from different locations. It was totally predictable what was shown. There were parades and fireworks and outdoor concerts from every nook and cranny of the nation. And of course the underlying theme of each of them was patriotism.
As I was watching, it occurred to me that the moment patriotism is mentioned in this country, an orgy of martial music, fireworks, veterans marching (or as in one case an elderly WWII veteran riding as the parade’s Grand Marshall) and speeches about supporting our troops begins.
Now don’t get me wrong. As a Vietnam veteran, I have no particular problem with any of the things that I’ve noted. But for some reason, at least from my observations, that seems to be where patriotism celebrations stop. Other official patriotic holidays we celebrate each year are Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, Armistice Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and Flag Day. Of course Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day are both specifically focused on our soldiers while Armistice Day and Pearl Harbor day are focused on war. Flag Day, much like Independence Day, is a day of general patriotic celebration, but is typically celebrated with focus on soldiers, veterans, and war.
But patriotism, in my opinion, is more than supporting soldiers, veterans and war. Here’s a one question test. No fair looking. “When is Constitution Day?”
The answer is September 17. The day officially honors the ratification of the United States Constitution, which was signed into law on September 17, 1787. But when was the last time you or anybody you knew celebrated it?
Unfortunately our meaning of patriotism has been shrunken down to only include military meanings, worshiping the flag and the National Anthem. You might argue that we don’t worship our flag. If you believe that, then why do we say that some people desecrate the flag? Have you looked up the meaning of desecrate lately? It means to “violate the sacred character.” A piece of cloth is not sacred. It may be loved and revered, but it is not sacred unless we worship it. We worship what or who is sacred to us. Sacred is a religious term, not a secular one.
But there have been many fallen patriots that were not in the military nor were they elected to public office. Here is a list. It’s not meant to be exhaustive. In fact it doesn’t even approach it. Some of these you will know but most you probably won’t. And if you want to know who they are, you’ll have to look them up for yourself. It will be a great way to learn about our history as well as an expanded view of patriotism. The list will begin with three of which you should already be aware.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Medger Evers
- Malcolm X
- Allison Krause (not who you think)
- Jeffrey Glen Miller
- Sandra Lee Scheuer
- William Knox Schroeder
- James Chaney
- Andrew Goodman
- Michael Schwermer
- Pillip Layfayette Gibbs
- James Earl Green
There are hundreds, if not thousands of others. If any of you know a person or people who should be added to the list, please list them in the comments section.
Here are some other questions with patriotic irony attached to them:
Question: What very popular patriotic song was written by an American communist?
Answer: This Land is Your Land was written by Woody Guthrie whose most memorable songs were written in the 1930s and ‘40s. When one read the lyrics of his body of work, the love of his country becomes obvious.
Question: What militarily focused American patriotic song was actually a re-write of an Irish anti-war song?
Answer: When Johnny Comes Marching Home, the joyful, upbeat and up-tempo song of the celebration of soldiers returning triumphant from war, was originally a very old Irish anti-war song called Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. This original version had the same tune, but was sung very slowly, as a dirge and in a minor key. The story in the lyrics is told from in the voice of the young wife of a returning soldier who crippled not only physically, but emotionally and physically in a war in Ceylon.
- What is the irony of the current version of the Pledge of Allegiance as it relates to the person who wrote the original?
What we now call the Pledge of Allegiance was first written by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Christian Socialist who believed in a strong separation of church and state. In 1892 he was chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education of the National Education Association tasked developing a program for public schools’ the quadricentennial Columbus Day celebration. The program was structured around a flag-raising ceremony. He wrote the Pledge for school children to recite during the ceremony. This is what he wrote:
I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
He wanted to add the word equality, but he knew the state superintendents of education were opposed to equality for woman and African Americans.
In 1923-24, the National Flag Conference with the American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution leading the way changed the wording from my flag to the flag over his protests.
In 1954 the UN Congress, after a pressure campaign by the Knights of Columbus, officially added the words under God. The surviving members of his family were convinced he would have been strongly opposed to it.
A Socialist, who was also a Christian minister, and a staunch supporter of the concept of a wall Constitutional wall separating church and state, wrote the Pledge that has evolved into what it is now.
We need to rethink exactly what patriotism is and celebrate it in all of its forms, not just war.