- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

Patriotism, like taste, is difficult to peg. “It’s different things to different people,” says Linda Tinker Watkins, president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Some people feel patriotic by displaying the flag or helping in their community. It’s encouraging when we see parents urging their children to stand up when the flag passes. The important thing is to develop a national pride in America — in our way of life.”

The Stars and Stripes always has been an important symbol to Americans. On September 11, everything stood still except flag sales, says Josef Schneider, an online flag merchant based in Colorado Springs.

“People wanted to have their flags right away,” he says. “We usually have about 10,000 orders for American flags over the year. After September 11, we had 15,000 orders in four weeks. When you’re anxious, upset or afraid, you want to show your support, and that’s what people do.”

Classically, patriotism means love of one’s country, says Char Miller, a history professor at Trinity University in San Antonio.

“It’s a way by which to publicly affirm your allegiance to the nation of which you’re a citizen, to the people who are your neighbors and families, and ultimately to a set of values we hold dear,” he says.

Feelings of patriotism wax and wane over time — not with each generation, but at various moments in American history.

“Think back to the 1770s — we had to think of ourselves as different from England, and we’ve been reinventing it ever since,” Mr. Miller says. “In wartime or great depressions, it has been a very complicated thing to be a patriot. We need to remind ourselves that patriotism is a very complicated emotion and may be disagreeing with the mainstream opinion.

“For better or worse, we’ve often been able to balance the rights of those who criticize with those who conform. I think that’s part of the political genius of the United States,” he says.

Defining patriotism is difficult because the word is loaded with meaning, says Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist with the Context-Based Research Group, an ethnographic research and consulting group based in Baltimore city.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a patriot, but I’d consider myself a loyal American,” Mr. Blinkoff says. “Coming off the war, that’s particularly key, especially as you see soldiers coming back. That sets up a whole different level as to what is a patriot. I think asking people what it means to be an American is really what it’s about.”

Now they are able to demonstrate a diversity of opinion, he says.

“There will be lots of July Fourth celebrations about being American, but it’s all about the subtle differences in how you celebrate. This July Fourth, people are going to do what culturally and socially feels good to them,” Mr. Blinkoff says.

More info:


• “A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love,” edited by Caroline Kennedy, Hyperion, 2003. This book contains selections that appeal to people of all ages who want to celebrate America’s sense of self.

• “American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions,” by Chris Matthews, Free Press, 2002. The author, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” celebrates and challenges our country’s cultural icons within this positive essay about being American.

• “My America: What My Country Means to Me, by 150 Americans From All Walks of Life,” with an introduction by Hugh Downs, Scribner’s, 2002. The reflections from musicians, politicians and celebrities are juxtaposed with those of civil servants such as teachers and firefighters — and all have a different outlook on the meaning of freedom.


• The Defense Department sponsors a site (defendamerica.mil) that features news about the war on terrorism. It contains news and information about each service branch, as well as Defense Department overviews. Click on the “Operation Tribute to Freedom” icon to learn about a just-started Defense Department program that provides a way for Americans to demonstrate their support for America’s fighting forces and recognize every returning serviceman and servicewoman.

• USA Patriotism, found at www.usa-patriotism.com, is a nonprofit site filled with resources to help the most patriotic celebrate their feelings through stories, articles, music, artwork and other venues.

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