This is another paper for my English class; it, like the last, is just the first draft but I thought I would share it anyway. Please forgive the cited page numbers; it is a classification essay and I had to classify three essays from our text book, I do not plan to give the book’s title here as I doubt you can–or would–purchase it or find it online. Enjoy.
If you were so inclined, it wouldn’t take you long to find someone on the television calling another someone unpatriotic; in fact, you could easily find somebody being named a communist, or being accused of hating America simply for having a different point of view than their accuser. Finger-pointing and name-calling is common in this age of constant news coverage and twenty-four hour headlines; but are these people really trying to dissolve our nation? Are they anarchists or subversive operatives with nothing more to do than to try to topple our sovereignty? Patriotism is a word that Americans hear often—both in accusation and self proclamation—but it means different things to different people; Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and Barbara Kingsolver all thought of themselves as patriots, and called for changes in society in order to achieve liberty for all.
There’s no question of Abraham Lincoln’s patriotism, but if you were suddenly transported to 1863 when he was delivering his “Gettysburg Address,” you may discover the question not so easily answered. But Lincoln thought of America as a great nation; which was evident in his speech’s infamous opening line, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”(286). These are words that men still utter to this day when they mean to prove their own patriotism; the very notion that this country was born from the idea that all men were born free and equal.
Lincoln also saw flaws in his country, and called for change, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…” (287). Lincoln saw slavery as an injustice being perpetrated against citizens of this country, and knew it would never be truly great until slavery ended.
Lincoln wanted all Americans to enjoy the same liberties, and was willing to fight for those liberties, because he did not think that this country could be truly great until all men were equal. He went on to say, “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth” (287). Lincoln believed that if the war were to end without first obtaining freedom for the slaves, we would have failed as a nation.
Barack Obama is another American who claims patriotism, and although there are some that call that into question, in his “Inaugural Address,” he speaks about the greatness of America, “Recall that the earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint” (325). Obama believes in America, but reminds us that we have a duty to the world, and ourselves, to set an example to other nations through hard work, strength of character and will, as well as deference.
Like Lincoln, Obama called for change in order for America to become even greater; it permeates throughout his speech. Addressing the trials facing modern America, he said, “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: they will be met” (322).
He goes on to say later, “But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions—that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America” (323). Obama knows that America is no stranger to hard work, and that it can, once again, become great; it will not be fast, or easy, but it will happen.
American liberty is an important issue to Obama; he believes all Americans will one day know equality. Obama declared, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve” (325). Obama hopes Americans can move past their perceived differences and unite; no matter our race, color, or creed.
American writer Barbara Kingsolver is a patriot of a different color; in her essay, “And Our Flag Was Still There,” she expresses shame toward those who claim to be patriots but blindly—or not so blindly—express post nine-eleven rhetoric. “It occurs to me that my patriotic duty is to recapture my flag from men now waving it in the name of jingoism [chauvinism marked by belligerent foreign policy] and censorship,” she writes (188). The level of contempt for the battle cry that she saw sweeping across America is apparent in her words, and she felt like someone needed to step in with a message of restraint.
At times, Kingsolver seems almost angry; her words grow stronger and even more urgent as she continues,” Rep. Barbara Lee cast the House’s only vote against handing over almost unlimited power to a man that a whole lot of us didn’t vote for. As a consequence, so many red-blooded Americans have now threatened to kill her, she has to have additional bodyguards.
“Patriotism seems to be falling to whoever claims it loudest, and we’re struggling to find a definition in a clamor of reaction. This is what I’m hearing: Patriotism opposes the lone representative of democracy who was brave enough to vote her conscience instead of following an angry mob. (Several others have confessed they wanted to vote the same way, but chickened out.) Patriotism threatens free speech with death. It is infuriated by thoughtful hesitation, constructive criticism of our leaders and pleas for peace” (187). Even though they claim to be patriots, Kingsolver sees the mob mentality of many Americans after nine-eleven as anti-American.
Kingsolver defends her beliefs by saying, “Stating these realities does not violate the principles of liberty, equality, and freedom of speech; it exercises them, and by exercise we grow stronger” (189). She believes that the dissenting voice can be even more patriotic than those of the mob.
Kingsolver demands change, loudly and without reservation. She challenges that blindly following our leaders is patriotism. “It’s a fact that of our culture that the loudest mouths get the most airplay, and the loudmouths are saying now that in times of crisis it is treasonous to question our leaders. Nonsense. That kind of thinking let fascism grow out of the international depression of the 1930’s. In Critical times, our leaders need most to be influenced by the moderating force of dissent. That is the basis of democracy, in sickness and in health, and especially when national choices are difficult, and bear grave consequences” (188). There are those among us that would deport anyone brave enough to put voice to a differing point of view, but Kingsolver believes that dissent is true patriotism and it is the job of our elected officials to make their choices not on the loudest voices, but on morality and American ideology, in everyone’s best interest.
Kingsolver questions some of America’s—and a few American’s—decisions, and even honor; she writes, “Vietnam began teaching me lessons in ambiguity, and the lessons have kept coming. I’ve learned of things that our country has done to the world that made me direly ashamed. I’ve been further alienated from my flag by people who wave it at me declaring that I should love it or leave it” (188). Kingsolver feels disillusioned by some of our nation’s actions as well as the actions of some Americans that can’t reconcile differing views with patriotism.
Kingsolver believes that everyone’s voice has merit in democracy. ”I would like to stand up for my flag and wave it over a few things I believe in,” she continues, “including but not limited to protection of dissenting points of view” (189). Kingsolver reminds us that America was born from the idea that we are all free to speak our minds, no matter how popular the thought may or may not be.
Merriam-Webster’s defines patriotism as, “love for or devotion to one’s country.” A simple concept when broken down to seven little words, but we seem to have a hard time grasping that simplicity. Lincoln, Obama, and Kingsolver all have widely differing messages, and they all give forth those messages under the banner of patriotism; to quote Kingsolver one last time, you can either “love or leave” their messages, but can you question their devotion?