Nation in distress: the loss of patriotism

american-flag_half-mastThere have been a number of news stories lately that really makes me wonder how we reached this point as a nation patriotism – love of the nation – has been lost. In today’s headlines, a woman in Virginia was arrested for ties to ISIS. According to the various news sources, she comes from a middle class background and has had all the benefits of being a citizen of the United States. Within the last week, there were stories of how CNN News ran a warning before they broadcast the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States. Recently the Ninth Judicial Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision claiming that the U.S. flag/U.S. flag apparel could be deemed illegal and offensive by public schools, especially on Cinco de Mayo, a commercial “holiday” not even observed in Mexico. There are literally hundreds of other examples that could be listed, but the common theme that connects each of them is there is disdain for the nation by its own citizenry and national leaders.

Maybe I am just old-fashioned or maybe I am an idealist; in either case, I wonder how much longer our nation will survive if its own citizens are added to the list of those hostile to the country. It seems that each time I watch a news broadcast, there’s another group of people – Americans – claiming that somehow this nation owes them something, this nation did something to their ancestors, or a whole host of complaints that tear at the very fabric of this nation. About a year ago, I had a young female student that even told me she really didn’t understand why, as a primary education major, she was being forced to take American history. She then told me that this nation owed her a job, money, a place to live, and all the other basics because she never asked to be born an American. It is a far cry from the words of America’s favorite Democratic President John F. Kennedy who reminded the American public, “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country…” Yes, a far cry, indeed.

As an American historian, I will admit that there have been times that our nation and its people have made mistakes. Show me a nation that hasn’t done so and I will show you a nation that only exists in the fantasy world of Neverland. Every nation has a history of conquest, displacement, discrimination, xenophobia, and everything else that the modern Liberal points out about the United States. Does the global community make Italy apologize for it being the heart of the Roman Empire, the world’s largest, most feared, and most advanced civilization of its time? Does the world still demand that Japan apologize for its conquest, human rights violations, and slaughter of millions during the Second World War? Does the world demand that Russia atone for the millions, as high as thirteen million by some estimates, killed in order to “stabilize” the one-party dictatorial government of the Soviet Union? What about Portugal’s role as the first European nation to export Africans for exclusive use as slaves both in the Iberian Peninsula and in South America?

While the United States has made its fair share of mistakes, out of this nation has come a lot of great achievements. We are the only nation who freely elected a person from one of the minority populations to serve as our chief executive. Great Britain has never had anyone of African heritage to become Prime Minister, nor has France, Belgium, or even Portugal. While our national motto is “In God we trust,” there are no laws that sanction or establish a state church, or that outlaws other religions as does the nations of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, or Libya. In fact, our nation has encouraged the immigration of religions to our nation under the belief that at the heart of what makes our nation great is the ability of the citizenry to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their own heart. No other place in the world has the human spirit experienced this kind of freedom.

I can understand why today’s high school and college student no longer has any love or respect in our nation. They have not been taught about the strength and determination of the original settlers to simply survive in what was considered as a rugged frontier. Instead, they have been taught that the settlers killed the peaceful loving American Indians, stole their lands, and forced the surviving members of the tribes to the west. They’ve also been taught that the nation was made only for white people, that the men who risked everything to begin this nation were racists, and they were only concerned with how to keep their wealth rather than pay the taxes legally required to the British government. In some cases, today’s high school students are being taught that those men belonging to the Sons of Liberty, the group of men responsible for the Boston Tea Party, were actually terrorists. Just with the rewrites and reinterpretations of American history I’ve shared here, it is not hard to understand why the average young person has no love – no patriotism – for this nation.

While there has been a steady decline in patriotism since about 2005, it has dramatically accelerated since 2008. Since that year, I have watched the attitudes of the young people in my college classes towards the nation with a bit of alarm. Besides the story I shared earlier in this post, I have had students tell me they were ashamed to be an American; some to the extent of hoping we would be invaded by either China or Russia because of our “national sins.” I have had other students tell me that they believe all non-American Indians should be forced to return to their ancestral homelands without any sort of recognition of partial American Indian heritage. Others have even advocated enslaving whites for a hundred years so that whites will know what it is like to live as the ancestors of today’s African-Americans did. I have even had some students tell me that they want the United States to fail, they want to see our military defeated, and they want to see some other form of government – even if it means a one party dictatorship to replace our current system and all because of the economic and social injustice that capitalism creates. I do not teach at a large college, but a small rural community college. Many of my students come from southern Indiana and the northwestern corridor of Kentucky between Owensboro, Madisonville, and Morganfield.

Not all the young people I encounter on campus feel this way; in fact, there’s a small handful of students that are fairly patriotic. I still see the “U.S.A.” sweatshirts and t-shirts and patriotic themed bumper stickers on cars in the parking lot. What is sad, however, are that these people are silent and will rarely come to the defense of the nation when the voices of the angry left are on full display. They are afraid of being called Nazi, racist, fascist, or being told about “white privilege” or being an “Uncle Tom” by those who have deemed themselves as being the true tolerant ones in American society. In fact, it seems that in today’s America, patriotism seems to be defined as tearing apart and destroying one’s nation. Even our educational system highlights the nation’s failures, shortcomings, and difficult times.

A good example is how the era from 1866 to 1877 – the era known as Reconstruction – is taught in school. Instead of focusing on one of America’s most industrial periods and where the nation was experiencing more innovation than any other nation in history (the cash register, electric trolleys, coat hangers, macaroni and cheese, and mechanically made ice are just some of the things of this era), our educational system focuses on the plights of the American Indian and Freedmen. Not that these are not important and not worthy of being taught, but just that American history must be taught as a complete subject and must encompass the good and the bad, not just hand-picked topics that “prove” how evil the nation is. No nation or civilization would be able to survive the scrutiny that the United States has endured at the hands of liberal educators and historians.

I do have hope for America. There are enough people who genuinely love this nation with all its fault’s and shortcomings. They see the goodness of the national character, the possibilities that are still ahead for this nation. We are the nation that put men on the moon, we are the nation that saved Europe from Nazi Germany and protected Western Europe from a potential invasion by the Soviet Union. We are the nation that has the highest standard of living and was even able to elect someone from one of its minority populations as President of the United States. We are a nation where if you dream it, you have the possibility of doing it. However, if those who love this nation do not step up and defend her in the stage of public opinion, then the future generations of Americans will not enjoy what was once the greatest nation on Earth where individual liberty was considered a virtue, but in an America where conformity of the masses, no or little individual liberty, and no potential for self-betterment exists.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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