Back when I was in high school, a local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group held an essay contest with the title, “What’s a Patriot.” I wanted to enter the context, but it was for graduating seniors and I was a junior. Yet, I thought about that question for many years.
Recently, I thought long and hard on it and wanted to offer my opinions on the issue. First, years ago, I saw the movie “Sergeant York”, starring Gary Cooper. I remember seeing York struggle with the conflicts, within his mind, between devotion to God and loyalty to his country.
His commander pointed out that being an American carried a heavy burden, the old “freedom isn’t free” speech. York had to make a choice: stand with his fellow soldiers and defend the rights of all or deal with the guilt of not doing his duty to his country. Yet, doing his duty meant a direct conflict with his religious prohibition against the taking of human life. In the end, York decided to serve and did so despite the fact he hadn’t quite figured everything out in his mind.
His internal conflict got me thinking. Often, we consider the greatest sacrifice a soldier can make is giving up his life for what he believes. Now, I see that’s not the case. No, the greatest sacrifice of all is a soldier giving up what he believes in to defend his country. The death of an idea, a belief, a deeply held conviction, makes mere mortal death seem easy. York made that decision: he fought, he killed the enemy and he did his duty.
Today, I see many people claiming to be patriots. Yet, I don’t see them as equal to York. No, what I see are whiners!
I see people wanting to graze their cattle on public land, yet not pay grazing fee, and then they claim to be real Americans. Their supporters point guns at law enforcement officials! Is this the act of a patriot, to defy the law?
Calling a law unjust or wrong is fine; people do that all the time, but the question is larger. How do you fight a bad or wrong law? We are a nation of laws; we believe in the rule of law. If a law is wrong, you “fight” in the courts or the legislature to change it. You bring the issue to the public’s attention, and you strive to change things.
That’s the act of a patriot.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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