Is it love for one’s country?
Is it buying a dozen roses or a box of Ghirardelli chocolates? Hopefully you don’t think that.
Americans are constantly parodied for being so patriotic. We’re proud of the good ole U.S. of A, damn it, and we’re not afraid to let people know.
Me too. I’m known for giving American flags and pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution to foreign friends as gifts (sorry, guys). I’m a proud member of the Sons of the American Revolution. My dad served two tours in Vietnam. And I believe Rick Monday is an American hero for his flag-saving play in center field in 1976. If you still aren’t convinced, read what I wrote about American exceptionalism here.
But have we become superficially patriotic?
On Memorial Day, we’re supposed to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. I love that tradition. We may not always fight the right wars, but we should always honor those who stand up to risk life and limb for our goals as a nation.
Over the past decade or more, I’ve seen a lot of patriotic fervor spring up. After 9/11, my church began an annual tradition of lining a stretch of road with American flags every September 11th. Almost all American politicians now sport the obligatory American flag lapel pin. And in the past several years, communities across the U.S. have taken to putting miniature American flags and wreaths in veteran cemeteries and other places of significance to American military history. A “flag garden” which first appeared on Boston Common on Memorial Day a decade ago has since been replicated in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, and New York.
These are wonderful gestures, but they are not substitutes for real service. Do they really honor veterans, or is it just the quickest way to feel good about ourselves without actually doing something meaningful?
Volunteering has been on the decline in America for some time now. So has charitable giving. If that isn’t alarming to you, it should be. America’s small government model only works because we have an educated populace that understands the need for everyone to pitch in, lest the government have to step in and do the work for us.
How much time and money is spent every year planting flags and hanging wreaths that wind up in a dumpster a short time later? I’ve never seen it quantified but it must be significant. Might that time and money be better spent doing service to our fellow man? Might our servicemen and women past and present be better honored through service to our fellow man?
The next time you’re feeling especially patriotic, try volunteering at a food pantry or a shelter for people who have been abused and abandoned. Join Habitat for Humanity and start building houses. Donate blood. Pick up trash. Send a care package to troops stationed abroad. Play cards with old folks at the local retirement home.
Whatever you do, do more than just a symbolic gesture. Make your country a better place to live. Happy Memorial Day.