Patriotism is more than a lapel pin (video)

These days we see a lot of people sticking American flag pins in their lapels and proudly, publicly, proclaiming their patriotism. As though wearing a pin were all it takes. True patriotism, like so many other character traits, is more a matter of what you do when no one is watching. Like the young man in this video:

36 thoughts on “Patriotism is more than a lapel pin (video)

  1. For me, the title of your post pretty much puts into perspective this man’s personal act. Being a veteran I often find myself critical and even at times disgusted at many of the superficial acts of patriotism displayed by some…. and I’ll just leave it at that.

  2. Yes, an interesting story.

    The U.S. flag is a particular design made of cloth and used as a symbol of broad unity and cultural identity for our country. As such it is most prominent during times of war or the threat of war because it represents determination to sacrifice individual interests for our collective safety and continuation of our way of government. However, there has always been a tendency by many to confuse the object with the symbolism. One reason for that is the care our military takes, properly, to imbue the troops with a passion to hold that symbol in a high state of veneration.

    In wartime, as Ben Franklin is thought to have said, ” . . . we must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately”. Consequently, desecration of the symbol is the equivalent of disavowing unity, hence the mandated reverence for handling. This is a near religious thing – “desecration” is a verb that has mostly religious connotation. But some people mistake the object for the symbolism.

    The Oregon man did society a favor by preventing the flag (which, by the caption at the top of the clip, had been blown off its pole by the wind) from being seen in a disrespectful state, but I can’t escape the irony here. Even as society venerates the symbol, one part of a major political party has undertaken to treat the other party not as people with different opinions but as enemies. And that is the opposite of unity.

  3. Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I have very mixed feelings when it comes to the things people think of as “patriotic.” But, as cynical as I’ve become, I was quite moved by what that man did…

    1. Well, I’m older than that, and my ideas of patriotism are very old-fashioned. Any good citizen should have picked up the flag and treated it with respect. Fewer would have known how to fold it properly (I know how, but the results lack military precision). I would view with distrust anyone not moved by this man’s actions.

      1. Sorry PT. I think we both share similar feelings on the matter, but what some people have said and done while waving one of those “symbols” have left me feeling very distrustful.

        1. More than just some people. A lot of people. But what ticks me off even more than that is their also claiming that somehow it makes them more patriotic than I am. Or you are.

        2. @ Izaak and PT,

          Your discourse on patriotism causes me to reflect. There is a reason, other than physical health and agility, why it is natural to select young people to fight wars. It is because they have not yet experienced the reality that bad things can happen to them and have not thought deeply about political issues.

          Similarly, there is a reason why we call war-fighting “defense”. Since WW II, the connection between war-waging and actual defense has become ever more tenuous. Now, with a professional military that borders on the mercenary, it is historically easier and more expedient to order military actions, hence, two unnecessary and misguided wars. Patriotism is still an element in serving, but one that is increasingly subordinate to travel, adventure and training.

          A military career still entails risk and sacrifice, particularly relative to family separation, so respect is justified. On the other hand, I submit, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order for those who propose using military force by wrapping themselves in the flag to justify it. It happens too often.

          1. Well said Jim. I would add that, rather than become the leaders of the future we’d hoped for, those who’ve survived seeing their brothers thrown away for political expediency often return as exactly the opposite…

          2. “”When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis

            (Had to get that into this discussion somewhere.)

          3. I’m not sure how having an all-volunteer army made the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan any easier to start, or any more likely. Bush would have started those wars regardless of whether the army consisted of volunteers or draftees. (To the extent that we went into Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden, I initially agreed with the move. But we were wrong to stay there once bin Laden left.)

            And I think patriotism is something larger and more noble than just our military and whatever wars it fights. I have great respect and appreciation for those who serve, but soldiers are no more patriotic than their families who sacrifice and support them from back home. They are no more patriotic than our public servants or our everyday citizens. Patriotism has more to do with the country as a whole and pride in being a citizen and pride in what the nation represents. It’s not “my country, right or wrong” but rather “my country” and a feeling of pride, love, and a willingness to support and defend it (although we may disagree about what that involves).

            Those who stick flag pins in their lapels and strut around talking about what patriots they are are no more patriotic than citizens who work quietly every day without public acknowledgement or visibility — like the man in the video who drives his route every week, improving his little part of the nation … and occasionally stopping to pick up, fold, and return to its owner a lost flag.

          4. PT, I agree with your comments on patriotism but must take exception to this small part:

            I’m not sure how having an all-volunteer army made the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan any easier to start, or any more likely. Bush would have started those wars regardless of whether the army consisted of volunteers or draftees.

            The source of manpower for those wars was, unprecedentedly, from the Reserves. Had there been an attempt at conscription, I believe the public would have rebelled. (Alan G’s take on it is correct in my view.) Conscription is a messy and inefficient process in which commanders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with people who don’t want to be there. That was true even in WW II but much of it was hidden from public view. Calling up the Reserves bypassed the problem and for the hot part of the wars it worked brilliantly. But the cost was terrible – multiple year-long deployments, family separations, and a huge percentage of PTSD cases.

          5. I’d forgotten the calling up of the reserves, yet another reason why those wars infuriated me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not what the reserves are for. They are supposed to be kept here at home, to bolster defense when needed or to aid in the case of natural disasters, etc. And then there were all those extended deployments when troops deserved to be rotated out. Lots of luck getting people to join the reserves now.

          6. Right, about the Reserves. But, I don’t think there’ll be a recruiting problem for them. We’ll be out of Afghanistan this year, thanks to OB. Also, it’s a commitment thing. They go in young and green for travel and adventure. The more time they have in the more they get promoted (or booted out) and first thing they know, they start thinking about that early retirement. This winnowing process beats the tar out of the draft but unfortunately it makes war ever so much easier. And efficient, as in “shock and awe”. I predict this is the model for the future and if we get another cowboy in the White House, watch out.

          7. I was just thinking that after what Bush did keeping the reserves in the Middle East for so many rotations, people might be less inclined to sign up for what used to be guaranteed stateside-only service. Bush reneged on keeping them in the states, and then he reneged on the understanding about when they’d get to come home.

    2. You all know this conversation has a lot of tentacles…. right?

      Now it seems the “in” thing to do these days is to thank our military personnel for their service and all that they do. That civic duty (or perceived act of patriotism) has pretty much evolved from the shame that has been levied over the years regarding the National treatment of those who served during the Vietnam War. As far as I’m concerned it has reached the point where there is about as much sincerity behind the statement that there is when a store clerk tells me to “have a nice day”.

      And what about ‘draftees’ and those that were drafted into the military as compared to those who volunteered for the military? What’s patriotic about being drafted? In Vietnam over 17,000 of the 58,000 killed were draftees. Did they serve and subsequently lose their lives under the umbrella of patriotism or were they simply victims of the draft?

      In World War II the movies we all have seen time and time again shows our citizens clamoring to enlist in the military after Pearl Harbor and beyond. But the numbers reflect something a bit different. Of those who served between 1941 and 1945 there were some 10 million, about 40% of the total who served during the war, who were draftees. Were they patriots or simply victims of the draft?

      Please do not misunderstand or misinterpret my comments here. I am not disparaging those who have served in the military via the draft or otherwise. I have proudly served with both the draftee and the volunteer. I am however bringing them into the conversation for the sole purpose of defining how we perceive what is meant by an act of patriotism.

      And how can we leave Edward Snowden out of the conversation. Over the past months he has dominated the topic of patriotism. Is patriotism something that we can touch and feel or is it much more elusive to our recognition? Perhaps that answer is actually found in the selfless act depicted in the video that started this conversation.

      1. As you might have noticed, I’m having a helluva time trying to define my idea of patriotism. But as the saying goes, “I know it when I see it.”

        It’s occurred to me more than once, especially since Vietnam, that there is a distinct difference between draftees and volunteers. I found it particularly sad, for example, that so many in Vietnam were victims of the draft, sent unwillingly to an unnecessary war they didn’t want to fight. Despite that, most served honorably. Yet they were reviled when they got home, as though they had willingly gone to fight the war our government forced them to fight. I detested that war and the government that got us into it. I demonstrated against the war. But I never once turned on the US soldiers who fought that war. After all, it wasn’t their choice. Even enlistees don’t get to choose their wars.

        That’s one reason I still tend to thank military men and women for their service. (That and because my dad and older brother always did, and both were in the service.) I genuinely do appreciate it and the sacrifices they’ve made. I’ve read in recent years, however, that it makes many of them uncomfortable and they’d prefer I didn’t do it, so now I try not to.

        I’m unsure how to react to an all-volunteer army. No doubt patriotism drives some to enlist. But I wouldn’t call it patriotism for those who enlist just because they need a job, or for those who want the education benefits, and certainly not for those thugs who might think it would be cool to get paid to kill people. I wouldn’t call patriotic those for whom the military is just another job.

        I have mixed feelings about Snowden. I’m grateful he exposed the abuses he exposed; they’ve been a big topic ever since, as they should be. And I can understand his fleeing the country. He might well be dead now if he hadn’t. But is he a “hero”? Was he being “patriotic”? No. There’s something dishonorable about breaking rules and laws, exposing secrets, and fleeing the country. Not to mention that he’s been holed up in Russia. Perhaps against his will. Perhaps not. I really don’t know what to think.

  4. I am a “second-class veteran” who served two years in what the American Legion defines as peacetime and thus refuses me membership. Units I was in were blends of RAs (enlistees) and USs (draftees). I think each group learned from the other and the result was an Army that was a much better reflection of American society than what we have now. I don’t recall draftees shirking duty because they hadn’t chosen to be there. They were just as patriotic as the other guys, and perhaps more so. Some volunteers hadn’t chosen to be there, either. The guy who slept three feet from me in the barracks for several months got there because a judge gave him a choice between service or the slammer. Most RAs signed up for the money, or the minimal security the Army guanteed them (known as” three hots and a cot”).

    One of my part-time duties was taking soldiers convicted of various offenses from their court martial location to jail (the stockade). In nearly two years, I never was assigned to take a draftee to the stockade. Every single convict was an enlistee. That should tell you something about the virtues of the two groups of soldiers generally.

    I sincerely believe that George W. Bush would have had a very difficult time invading Iraq had our Army had a significant proportion of draftees. Moms throughout the land would have raised political hell. Afghanistan is a different story altogether. Most people, I believe, thought we were right to go in there forcefully. The mistake was staying around after the regime that supported terrorist attacks on our country had been removed.

    1. Well isn’t the American Legion hot stuff, distinguishing between the guy who served in peacetime and the one who served in a war. How do they define “war” anyway? Is a “police action” a war? Did we ever formally declare war in Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? What about the guy who served in “war time” but was stationed stateside for the duration? Do you have to have been shot at to qualify for membership? Do they accept both enlistees and draftees? I’m not impressed by a group that creates second-class servicemen because there didn’t happen to be a war at the right time. You served; you were away from your home, family, and job for x number of years, at the beck and call of the US government. It’s not your fault there wasn’t a war.

      Yes, I’ve wondered if “enlistees” wouldn’t include a lot of undesirables who couldn’t get a normal job, or were too lazy to go to school, or who just hoped for a chance to be a legalized thug with a gun and a uniform. Not to mention “the service or the slammer” dude.

      I’d have thought among draftees there’d be a lot of really resentful people who “shouldn’t be here.” But I probably have a lot of misconceptions about the service, since I’ve not had any close connections to it.

      1. I’ve written quite detailed posts on the American Legion-second-class soldier matter. Most who first learn about this register disbelief. But it’s true. Anyone interested can go to my blog and simply type in American Legion to see those commentaries.The situationt is personally even more disgusting because my father and at least two uncles were lifelong Legionnaires.

      1. Phone calls. It took weeks (I threatened to blog with pictures for every day that poor thing draped there…in the rain) Then we had to poke them to pull it all the way to the top …it took a few extra tugs for that last 3 inches – but really. Such an attitude of disrespect…and they want more money?

        1. That story makes me very sad. Kudos to you for going after them and being persistent. Honestly, don’t they teach anyone flag protocol anymore? I learned all that stuff in grade school. In regular class. Not in the scouts or anything special.

          1. I’m not even sure there are flags in classrooms any more. They certainly don’t all stand around the flag pole outside elementary schools every morning and watch the flag go up. We always though that was cool and couldn’t wait until we were in 6th grade and could have a turn. So much has been tossed aside. (and the test scores still were better then and continue to slide downwards)

          2. Well, with no flags in classrooms, there’s probably no Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I read somewhere that “forcing” kids to say the pledge every day was too doctrinaire and too much like pledging fealty to Hitler or something. Thus politically incorrect. Thus no longer done in some schools. It’s no wonder nobody at that Post Office knows or cares anything about respect for flag and country. They’re just lucky they live in America where they are allowed to be disrespectful jerks if they want to. Generations of Americans before them died for that flag and to give them that freedom. The very least they could do is put up a new flag, even if they have to buy it themselves.

... and that's my two cents