The Poly Spotlight

By Ernie Mendez, Staff Writer

Patriotism never seemed to be used in a positive context whenever I heard of it. The first time I heard the word was in history class; we were studying World War II and how Adolf Hitler was able to get the German people to love their country through his speeches and propaganda. He inspired nationalism and patriotism in his people. Nationalism is the feeling of superiority of one’s own country over another country. This is how imperialism was justified to Germany and a key component of World War II. Perhaps the greatest tragedy came not from nationalism, but patriotism, or the feelings of love for one’s own country. Hitler was able to use patriotism to promote radical ideals within Germany. One of those was the Holocaust. Essentially, he tricked his people to think that all decisions made by Germany were necessary, and since they already had so much pride in their country, they were blind with love. It then became easy for the Nazi party to condemn the Jewish people and justify the Holocaust.

Patriotism overpowered their humanity.

Fast forward nearly 80 years later, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit down during the national anthem, sparking conversations around patriotism. He followed this up by kneeling instead of standing with the rest of his team. When asked his reason for doing so, he simply explained that he would not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

His humanity overpowered his patriotism.

Early in the school year, this was a popular topic of discussion. Many had their opinions, as some defended him and others called him “unpatriotic.” But I was still trying to define “patriotism” in my mind. Of course, I knew the formal definition with a quick search, but that did not suffice. Questions repeated in my head. What is a patriot? What really makes an action patriotic? Simply enough, I said to myself in my mind, “patriotism is love for one’s country.” You may think that is too simple, however, when deciphered, it is much more complicated.

The key word in that definition that offers a lot of ambiguity is “love.” Love comes in many different forms, and it is one of the most complicated emotions ever experienced by a human being (take it from a 17- year old high school senior, it gets complicated). But love is something we all experience, and when it comes to loving something non-human (i.e. an entire country), it gets tricky. We should all agree that at its core, love enables us to achieve what is best for what or whom we love. For example, I love my brother. Now, do we get into arguments and fight now and again? Of course we do. Does that mean we do not love each other? No, it does not. Since I do love him, I want what is best for him, even if that means confronting him and hurting his feelings. I love him, so I know it is for his own good. The same thing goes for the United States. Do I argue against the racism in our society and constantly speak out against injustice in the U.S.? Of course I do. Do I still love the United States of America? Absolutely.

Hearing others claim that Colin Kaepernick is “unpatriotic” leaves me disheartened. A society should never see criticism as a sign of full fledged betrayal. In reality, it is only tough love. Perhaps Che Guevara explained it best when he said, “Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” People should see criticism as someone caring enough that they want to take action and make a positive change. Someone such as Colin Kaepernick is an example of a patriot.

All over the news today are people who have banded together and organized various protests and marches. Is this patriotic? Of course this is. Protesters are using their right to express themselves, a right which the U.S. so proudly boasts. Every protester marching down the street on cold windy days through miles of rain and harsh weather conditions is a true patriot. The most common misconception is that these demonstrations are done out of hate. Many people, including myself, have been told to “go live somewhere else” as a result of criticizing our government. If anybody who sought to make their voice heard truly did hate America, then maybe they would do just that. However, it is their true feelings of love for their country, or patriotism, that helps focus their desire toward progression.

A poll released by Gallup in July of 2016 showed that 52 percent of those living in America are “extremely proud” to be Americans. This number dropped heavily from 70 percent in 2003. Similarly, in an article written by Katie Reilly from Pew Research Center titled “A Generational Gap in American Patriotism,” it was found that only 32 percent of millennials think that America is the greatest country in the world. This is the smallest percentage of any other generation. Despite this, protests and demonstrations continue to occur, and this is when true patriotism begins to reveal itself. Patriotism should be defined by how much people are willing to fix the American system by any means necessary.

Overall, some historical examples have proven that patriotism can be dangerous if used incorrectly by a system of government. It should be known, however, that the historical examples do not reflect true patriotic ideals of progression and positive change. We should not be quick to label someone who calls out problems in our society or peacefully protests “unpatriotic.” Rather, we should listen to what he or she has to say and think for a moment that those actions may result from love and pride. As writer James A. Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Patriotism comes in many different forms, and as long as it does not get out of hand as it did in Germany in the 1940’s, then America can continue to progress from worrying about what percentage of people think America is the greatest country in the world to actually becoming the greatest country in the world.

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