Expressions of Patriotism

By Fincher, Megan | National Catholic Reporter, July 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Expressions of Patriotism


Fincher, Megan, National Catholic Reporter


What comes to mind when you think of the word patriot? George Washington crossing the Delaware River. a Union soldier tapping on a timpani, or dusty American soldiers huddled in trenches? For most Americans, the word patriot probably does not conjure up images of peace activists throwing blood onto nuclear facilities, black men and women refusing to get up from segregated lunch counters, or journalists exposing classified government documents. But should it?

During his 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech titled "The America We Love." He reflected on the meaning of patriotism, and even though he mentioned flag-waving and military sacrifice, Obama also took note of U.S. dissidents.

"Precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy," Obama stated. "When our laws. our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism."

NCR posited two seemingly simple questions to a group of U.S. activists, each of' whom has years of experience resisting militarism, war and violence: What is patriotism, and are you patriotic? David McReynolds. an activist since the 1950s, explained, -Old radicals usually try to avoid these tricky questions!"

Following is a sampling of responses.

David McReynolds, 84, worked for the War Resisters League from 1960 until his retirement in 1999. On Nov. 6, 1965, he was one of five men who publicly burned their draft cards at New York 'S Union Square. merely three months after the United States declared public draft-card burning a felony In 1980, McReynolds became the first openly gay man in US. history to run for president of the United States, representing the Socialist Party USA.

What is patriotism?

At 84, and having been active for many years in the War Resisters League and the Socialist Party particularly in the struggle to end the Vietnam Wan I've had much reason to think about the meaning of patriotism. My primary allegiance is not to the United States but perhaps to my own immediate community here in the Lower East Side [of Manhattan], which I can "touch and feel." It is impossible for me to feel either "loyal" or "disloyal" to the United States. There is so much good in our history that I affirm, and so much evil, which I must oppose, that I think the best definition of patriotism is loyalty to the human race, under constant threats of war and environmental devastation, not to any single nation state.

Are you patriotic?

My life has taken me to so many different countries, each with its own values, so I want to affirm loyalty to that greater community.

Tom Cornell, 80, is a 60-year veteran of the Catholic Worker movement. Cornell is co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi USA. He is a former member of the executive staff of Fellowship of Reconciliation, as well as a former executive committee member of the War Resisters League and the Workers Defense League. In July 1963, Cornell led what many call the first American protest against the Vietnam War He called for the public burning of draft cards at New York's Union Square in 1965.

What is patriotism?

A sentiment of identification with fellow citizens seeking to serve their best interests in the context of the universal common good.

Are you patriotic?

Yes, in my own terms, I am patriotic. But I cannot be proud of broken treaties with the native peoples or of slavery. I cannot be proud of the economic exploitation of blacks, immigrants and workers in this "filthy rotten system." I cannot be proud of the elaborate fabric of lies that portrays this country as "the best ever" And I cannot be proud of our interminable wars!

Rosemary Maguire Thompson. 61, is currently executive director of the P Francis Murphy Initiative for Justice and Peace in Baltimore, and is passionate about ending human trafficking Thompson lived and worked with the United Farm Workers, has worked with both Plowshares' Jonah House and Viva House Catholic Worker; and spent two years as a Jesuit Volunteer Corps member. …

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