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In the Name of Patriotism This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     On television, billboards, and bumper stickers, the same concept is reiterated and effectively ground into the national consciousness. The McDonald’s value meal set against the backdrop of the American flag, the yellow ribbon magnet attached to a pick-up, and the National Anthem sung before every NBA game all parade the same declaration. In nearly every speech President Bush makes, he exploits the same theme, and a controversial law swiftly passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks even employs the concept’s name. The most cited - and misunderstood - idea in America today is patriotism.

Some Americans, under the impression that opposition to the war and hence government policy is inherently destructive, have censured others for opposing the Iraq war, dubbing them unpatriotic. Such castigation, however represents a logical fallacy with which most Americans unfortunately concur. Many citizens are under the impression that patriotism is a love of the government and its policies, yet such a notion is entirely false.

It is true that patriotism involves love of country and likewise some degree of trust in the system of government, but unconditional love of the regime is not patriotism but blind ignorance. On the other hand, dissent is the conviction to stand apart from the crowd and declare that the government is mistaken, that it should be reformed for the good of the people. Dissent is constructive criticism by those who work for national improvement rather than blindly cheer the President’s every move. Dissent is the ultimate demonstration of patriotism because it requires courage, fervor, and substance; likewise, the muffling of dissent shows lack of concern for the overall well-being of the country.

So it is ironic that those who censor most often do so in the name of patriotism. It is ironic that those who rush to buy a three-dollar “Support Our Troops” magnet for their vehicle are often the most ready to condemn dissidents - yet the least ready to enlist or find ways to better America.

Patriotism is not just raising an American flag on your porch or buying a bumper sticker, it is a conscious state of being. Love of country is not a single, superficial act but an all-encompassing feeling, and that love is demonstrated in the willingness to sacrifice oneself for certain ideals.

Through years of watching the news, I have discovered that the most rebuked people are also often the most dedicated to our nation. Many Republicans like Rush Limbaugh have reprimanded Cindy Sheehan, dismissing her criticism of the President’s foreign policy as unpatriotic. However, Sheehan is one of the most patriotic spirits I have ever witnessed. The mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq, Sheehan camped out at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas to demand an explanation for her son’s death. She wished to know not how he died, but why. For a month she waited, vowing not to leave until the President granted her a face-to-face meeting. When she finally left, it was to follow Bush to the capital. She continues to insist publicly that the President explain to her the cause for which her only son died.

Once a mother who entrusted her child to the government, Sheehan is now an anti-war activist having gone through the thought process essential to upholding democracy. Her mind open to the faults of the government, she is now fighting to ensure that no other mothers lose their children for what she views as an insufficient cause. Her dissent is part of what makes America so wonderful, for it preserves the active dialogue essential for democracy to function. Once this fire of national discussion is doused, the government will no longer bear any semblance of popular representation, and the nation will be in grave danger. Tyranny is an ever-looming threat, and once we become too passive to recognize this devil, we will find ourselves caught in its embrace. Hence, it is thanks to patriots such as Cindy Sheehan who have dared challenge the regime that keep the United States a democracy granting a voice to all.

However, citizens are not the only ones dedicated to national betterment. Public officials can be patriots too, and Barack Obama is arguably the most admirable. While most politicians are selling their agendas to corporations that sponsor them, Obama has remained loyal to America herself. In his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama addressed the too-often avoided dilemmas facing our nation: universal tolerance and opportunity, key elements of the American dream. Instead of squandering national airtime calling his opponents “girlie men,” he dared address plights few politicians have had the courage to pursue. Armed only with passion and devotion, Senator Obama fights poverty and intolerance, and for that he is a true patriot.

Unfortunately, patriots must often deal with the irrational fear a corrupt government strives to instill in the populace. Often in times of war, the citizenry is tempted to unite behind the government in the name of patriotism. Nonetheless, such “patriotism” is false when it does not involve contemplation, when it not only refuses to actively uphold the American dream, but in fact undermines egalitarian ideals including tolerance, hope and democracy. Blind support of the administration supports not democracy, but tyranny, and scolding those willing to spark a discussion of policies is not tolerant but dogmatic.

Since our country was founded on certain ideals - namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - a love of country is identical to an embrace of those ideals. Thus, although the government condones the death penalty, the opponent of any termination of life is still a patriot. Also, even though the government is seeking to amend the Constitution to prevent homosexuals from pursuing marriage, the opponent of such an amendment is also a patriot. A patriot will always be the opponent of the government on some issue because, as James Madison elucidated in his Federalist Papers, a government created by men for men will always be flawed - but it is the pursuit of ideals higher than men that makes nations great.

So as advertisements and politicians continue to exploit the American flag and the concept of patriotism for their gain, true patriots will stand up not quietly but asserting their cause. Cindy Sheehan will continue to protest before the White House; Barack Obama will continue to plead with the U.S. Senate, and hopefully we will at last come together as a nation of patriots to address the true dilemmas facing America.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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