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Extended Definition - Patriotism

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The United States is presently at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where American troops are fighting and dying. At home, cars and homes display solid yellow or red, white, and blue ribbons that call for Americans to "Support Our Troops." It is patriotic for Americans to support their daughters and sons fighting in a war, but this patriotism does not mean that Americans must blindly support the decision to go to war. Being patriotic means that Americans must do the opposite: they must question their government. Questioning the government, voting, and respecting the rights of others are what make true patriots in a democratic society; whereas, blind following of one's government creates dictatorships.

The United States government is not perfect, as evidenced by its history. For example, the government sanctioned the institution of slavery, denied women the right to vote for nearly 150 years, and prolonged a war in Vietnam that the government leaders knew they could not win. Fortunately for the United States, in each of those cases, there were patriots who spoke out against what the United States was doing and brought about change. Without the abolitionist movement in the early nineteenth century, slavery may have existed far longer than it had already been allowed. Suffragettes from the late seventeenth century through 1920 gave women political equality--at least on paper. In more recent times, the protests of the 1960s finally led the United States to negotiate a peace long enough to get its troops out of Vietnam.

The above examples illustrate true patriotism. The government was wrong in its official positions, and the people who opposed those positions were right. Had those right-minded people not openly voiced their disapproval of what the government was doing, our history would not reflect the democratic principles it so publicly espouses. For a democracy to work, its citizens must keep informed and vocally express their approval and disapproval. The United States government should not proclaim that protestors are not patriotic. By their very act of thinking independently from the government, they are being true patriots.

People who agree with a government's actions are patriots as well--so long as their agreements are based on how they analyze what the government is doing and base their agreement on thought and not on blind obedience. For example, patriotic proponents of the war in Afghanistan base their support on the need to eliminate Al Qaeda and not on simply accepting that the war is correct because government leaders say it is. These supporters for the war are doing so because they have analyzed why American troops are fighting there and have decided that the government is right. Patriotism is based on analysis and reasoned thought; it is not based on blind obedience.

Questioning the government is one part of the definition of an American patriot; a second part is taking that analysis of the government and acting on it through voting. To put it simply, patriots vote. However, voting, for the American patriot, is not simply casting ballots; it is knowing about the issues and then casting ballots. To vote for Democrats or Republicans simply because the voter has always voted for that party or because the voter's family has always voted for that party is not being patriotic; it is again being blindly obedient. Voting requires knowledge of the candidates, knowledge of the issues, and ultimately an understanding of one's own stand on the issues. For example, in 1948, Thomas Dewey was predicted by nearly all news services to win the Presidential election over incumbent Harry Truman. However, when election day was over, Truman had won by over 2 million votes. What the news services did not realize was that the United States was full of patriotic Americans who thought about their votes and did not simply follow trends. Truman, a supporter of stronger civil rights legislation and fighting communism in Eastern Europe, won because Americans thought about those issues and voted accordingly (Blum et al. 772).

Voting is a patriotic act, but most patriots go beyond voting and actively participate in the elections by campaigning for preferred candidates or issues. Active involvement in elections by patriotic voters creates a stronger base for candidates, who otherwise have only themselves and paid staff on which to depend. American patriots are people who work for their country's good based on what they see as good for their country. Thus, when California citizens campaigned for Barbara Boxer in 1992 for the United States Senate, they were actively working for increased funding for crime prevention and paramedic training, two issues about which Boxer has been actively vocal ("The Issues" n. pag.). These people were telling the rest of California that they believed that Boxer's work for these issues would make a better California and United States. Just as patriotic soldiers volunteered for the Continental Army in 1774 to create a new nation that



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