Patriotism: The Word and the Act

December 2, 2007
By Dominic Ottaviano, Glendale, AZ

“Patriotic” is a word that holds different meanings to different people, but its exact dictionary definition is to be “inspired by love for one’s country.” To some, this means supporting your country and its government in all its endeavors. While to others, it is a responsibility thrust upon them, by their passion, to prevent or to fix the problems of a country. To me, being patriotic is the moral obligation to determine whether your country is going down a wrong or right path, and then act accordingly.

After September 11th and the terrorist attacks, the words “patriotic” and “war” seemed to become intertwined with one another, for whenever one was mentioned the other would arise. There were these seemingly un-patriotic people that were actually protesting the war. If you claimed to be against the war, you were marked as un-American; if you were patriotic, then you had to be pro-war. This was all happening at the beginning of my adolescence, and I was confused about the whole situation, to say the least. I could not figure out which side was truly patriotic. Was it the side that loved its country so much that it willed to have the fiends behind the attack on the World Trade Center pay in the currency of blood? Maybe patriotism lay with the groups and assemblies of the people that loved its country so much that they did not want to spill the blood of countless American soldiers on a trifle thing such as revenge or something so ridiculous as oil. After a lot of time thinking about it, I began to understand these things more, I realized they both were patriotic. Though their ways of expressing their love for America were very different, they both were inspired by love for their country.

The closest thing to a meaning of “patriotic”, that I can provide, is the duty for a citizen to decide for himself whether the road a country is going down is right or wrong, then to do what he believes is right to help his country. Like the pro-war people that truly believed America needed to go to war, or the protesters that thought the war was a bad idea and tried to prevent it from occurring. When it comes to patriotism, there are many shades of gray.

Something that is just as important as knowing the meaning of a word of it important, is knowing exactly what a word does not mean. Often times being patriotic is implied or inferred as blindly following the government, and to accept what ever it does. It is also believed by some, that if you don’t agree with a country’s actions, then you are not patriotic, but this just isn’t true. For example, when the draft was instated during the Vietnam War, those that did not wish to fight and tried to escape were labeled un-patriotic or cowardly just because they didn’t want to fight in a war they did not agree with. Dieing for ones country was praised as being incredibly patriotic, but isn’t living for a country more patriotic? How is dieing in a war you don’t believe in patriotic? Even if you don’t oppose the war, wouldn’t working and supporting the countries economy be far more useful? Being patriotic has nothing to do with sacrificing your self, or any other altruistic act.

“Patriotic” is truly a word that has many different meanings to many different people, and who is to say one person’s interpretation of its meaning is wrong or right? Though some interpretations are usually more broadly accepted than others, it is a personal belief and should thusly be respected by others. To some, patriotic means fighting for a countries honor or protection, to others it means trying to prevent a country from performing a grievous error. In all reality, words mean what the speaker believes them to mean.

The power of words is actually quite astounding. Words such as “patriotic” or “patriotism” can drive people to war or bring together the citizens of a country depending on how they are used. Words are truly a powerful thing. Someone once said that, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This is an understatement. The pen can convince people to wield the sword; a speaker can bolster a nation to take arms against an enemy. It is all in the power of words, and “patriotic” is certainly one of those words that can turn a country to war.

Though protesting may not seem patriotic, it is in fact one of the most patriotic things a person can do. Protesting is merely a group of people so inspired by love for their country that they are more than willing to say when a country has done something wrong. They say what needs to be said, using words to try and guide the country back to its correct path. Like a parent that lectures a child after the child has committed wrongdoing, protesting is a necessary act to keep a country in line. Just like those that use words to bring a country to war, they use words to keep a country from entering war or other such acts.

While given the chance to really think about the word “patriotic” it made me realize the power of words, and the harm of using them incorrectly. Words can be used to monger the idea of war by some, but at the same time be used to better a country and its people. Words are extraordinary and the meaning of words should not be taken light heartedly.

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