Column: Patriotism means more than flag pin

Garrett Fontenot

Maroon Staff

Garrett Fontenot

Garrett Fontenot

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A few weeks ago, I went on a trip to Mobile, Ala. with one of my friends. On the side of Interstate 10 in Mississippi, there is a car dealership with an American flag so large that I imagine it would completely cover my house if draped over it.

While the flag was impressive, it also seemed excessive. Is this the measure of patriotism in the United States? Is one’s patriotism determined solely by the size of the American flag in front of their house or business? Why do Americans think that bigger is better?

I quickly dismissed the last question as probably irrelevant and unsolvable. Maybe extensive testing of Big Macs will reveal the answer one day. The other questions merited more consideration.

Americans seem to put an excessive emphasis on being outwardly patriotic. The big flags; the “support our troops” banners; and men in red, white and blue sequined jumpsuits launching monster trucks painted in patriotic colors over mountains of cheap, beat-up Japanese import cars all contribute to the appearance of Americans as super patriots, ready to step up and defend this great country to the death, no matter the cost or the enemy (or friend, for that matter).

This is all well and good, but also slightly scary in my opinion. First, we are very proud of ourselves as Americans, but what are Americans?

Most Americans are proud to be American, but few Americans know what an American actually is. The vast majority of Americans can trace their ancestry back to immigrants, be they Italian, German, Scots-Irish, Irish-Italian, Irish-German, Germano-Scots-Irish-Italian or any other combination of nationalities or cultural groups. The phrase “melting pot” has often been used to describe American society; however, I think that is a euphemism.

What, then, is American patriotism? Does it even exist? I will not attempt to say that I know the answer to this question. I will say two things, however. Divorcing patriotism from ignorance is critical. Furthermore, marrying patriotism with service is equally important. It is not enough to call oneself a patriot and sit back and take no action on behalf of your country.

In the past, men have done great deeds in service of the United States, many of whom were immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants, people who may have just as rightfully called themselves Italians, Irish or any number of other names in place of “American.”

Today, however, we seem, as a society, content to allow others to fight our battles and take on the challenges of the world, not just on the battlefields of war, but also in the battlefields of science, the environment and the economy.

Patriotism is not always about how your country is great, but also what you can do to make your country great.

Garrett Fontenot can be reached at [email protected]