What It Means To Be A Patriot

David Brooks, a conservative columnist in the William Buckley tradition who writes in the New York Times, recently wrote an article where he compared his loyalty to his community and State to that he has for the Nation. He concluded:

” I have to say my strongest attachment is to the nation, to the United States. You could take New York out of my identity and I’d be sort of the same. If you took America out of my identity I’d be unrecognizable to myself.”

That hit me as being absolutely true for myself. I don’t fly a New York State or Chautauqua County flag from our flagpole–I fly Old Glory, the American flag. I don’t feel especially patriotic when the County’s helicopter flies down the lake, but my heart starts beating faster when I see Chinook Army helicopters come roaring over flying in formation with their blades pounding the air. They remind me of my days in Vietnam during the war. They remind me that I am an American.

I must admit that it aggravates me a bit when people equate patriotism with a particular political point-of-view. I believe that Democrats are as patriotic as Republicans, that Conservatives are as patriotic as Liberals. We may disagree on political issues of the day, but that doesn’t tarnish or diminish our being Americans. When I fought together with men in Vietnam, we didn’t base our trust in each other on party affiliation.

I grew up around here and, as most of us who lived on farms, was raised as a Republican. I was still a Republican when I was offered a job working for the Democratic State Central Committee of Indiana in 1966. I wanted to observe “politics in action,” and that job certainly gave me a cat-bird seat to observe it. It ended up being a big Republican year in Indiana, but I clearly remember one meeting I attended where the idea of “patriotism” made a big impact on me.

It was a meeting near Evansville, Ind., of the Posey County Democratic Committee. The Democratic candidate for Indiana Secretary of State I was assisting had gone there to make a speech. However, before he spoke, a member of the County Committee read a portion of scripture from the Bible, the Chairman prayed, then we saluted the flag, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”

It was an over-powering experience. Here, in the heat of a political campaign, people were affirming who they were as Americans. I knew then, if I had never realized it before, that patriotism is not captive to any particular political party… it is a belief in who we are as a country. It goes way beyond party loyalties.

Yes, I get upset when people kneel during the national anthem. I don’t like it when demonstrators burn the flag. But, I know, deep-down, that their right to do so is engrained in what it means to be an American.

I love this country. It is the country of all of us. Perhaps the words of the Great Seal of the United States say it best: E Pluribus Unum — “Out of many, one.”

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.