A Not So Gentle Reminder

By Jeffersen Sylvia

“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” (John Stuart Mills)


pa•tri•ot [pey-tree-uh t, -ot] –noun
1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.
2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, esp. of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.

pa•tri•ot•ism [pey-tree-uh-tiz-uh m] –noun

1. devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.

All right everyone… Fair warning… This one may really hack some people off, but please bear with me. There is a reason I’m going here. A while ago I was involved in a very deep, sometimes heated, but friendly debate with a group of people evenly spread between military and non-military backgrounds, and the Service folks were again, evenly split between combat and non-combatant vets. The discussion was between Patriotism vs. Politics, Beliefs vs. Support, Support vs. Activism…

Let me tell you the conversation circled the globe about three different times, and we got a LOT of conflicting opinions and elements of the same issue from a lot of different perspectives. I left the conversation, and remembered an old article by Mark Twain c. 1905, that is a really good place to start, so I’m going to add an “abridged” version here because some of the conflicts and poplitics would be too deep to discuss without going into British and French Imperialistic politics from the turn of the last century (I figured I’d save you the pain)

“IT IS AGREED, in this country, that if a man can arrange his religion so that it perfectly satisfies his conscience, it is not incumbent upon him to care whether the arrangement is satisfactory to anyone else or not. In some other countries this is not the case. There the state arranges a man’s religion for him, he has no voice in it himself.

Patriotism is merely a religion — love of country, worship of country, devotion to the country’s flag and honor and welfare. In absolute monarchies it is furnished from the throne, cut and dried, to the subject; in England and America it is furnished, cut and dried, to the citizen by the politician and the newspaper.

The newspaper-and-politician-manufactured patriot often gags in private over [what he is to consider to be patriotic]; but he takes it, and keeps it on his stomach the best he can. Blessed are the meek.

Sometimes, in the beginning of an insane shabby political upheaval, he is strongly moved to revolt, but he doesn’t do it — he knows better. He knows that his maker would find out — the maker of his patriotism, the windy and incoherent [editor of the local newspaper] — and would bray out in print and call him a traitor. And how dreadful that would be. It makes him tuck his tail between his legs and shiver. We all know — the reader knows it quite well — that [at many times large portions of the populace] in England and America performed just that act. Which is to say, nine-tenths of the patriots in England and America turned traitor to keep from being called traitor. Isn’t it true? You know it to be true. Isn’t it curious?

Yet it was not a thing to be very seriously ashamed of. A man can seldom — very, very seldom — fight a winning fight against his training; the odds are too heavy. For many a year — perhaps always — the training of nations had been dead against independence in political thought, persistently inhospitable toward true patriotism manufactured on a man’s own premises, patriotism reasoned out in the man’s own head and fire-assayed and tested and proved in his own conscience. The resulting patriotism was a shopworn product procured at second hand. The patriot did not know just how or when or where he got his opinions, neither did he care, so long as he was with what seemed the majority — which was the main thing, the safe thing, the comfortable thing. Does the reader believe he knows three men who have actual reasons for their pattern of patriotism — and can furnish them? Let him not examine, unless he wants to be disappointed. He will be likely to find that his men got their patriotism at the public trough, and had no hand in its preparation themselves.

Training does wonderful things. It moved the people of this country to oppose the [Wars]; then moved them to fall in with what they supposed was the opinion of the majority — majority patriotism is the customary patriotism — and go there and fight. Before the Civil War it made the North indifferent to slavery and friendly to the slave interest; in that interest it made Massachusetts hostile to the American flag, and she would not allow it to be hoisted on her State house — in her eyes it was the flag of a faction. Then by and by, training swung Massachusetts the other way, and she went raging South to fight under that very flag and against that aforetime protected interest of hers.

There is nothing that training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach or below it. It can turn bad morals to good, good morals to bad; it can destroy principles, it can recreate them; it can debase angels to men and lift men to angelship. And it can do any one of these miracles in a year — even in six months.

Then men can be trained to manufacture their own patriotism. They can be trained to labor it out in their own heads and hearts and in the privacy and independence of their own premises. It can train them to stop taking it by command… I hope…

Bottom line people… We live in a bubble-gum-flavor-of-the-minute-pop-culture-multi-media-only-know-what’s-told-to-me-while-I-catch-cnn-before-heading-to-Starbucks world… We all saw the lines of flags hanging from every house in the months following September 11… Where are they now? Did the love and support for the Nation as a whole, and the troops go away? No! they got “lost” as background noise in the political coverage between the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, of the Nationalistic in-fighting between the members of the UN security council.

I’m not saying that you have to love this country… you don’t even have to like it as far as I’m concerned (but honestly, if that’s the way you feel, please leave)… I’m not really happy with some of the ideals and political ideas that are being bantered around right now. I’m not really happy with the economic status in many states. I’m not happy with many of the social programs that are not being implemented correctly.


I’ve been around the world a few times, and I have truly seen the best and worst in human nature, and the different governmental systems that are out there, and WE, as Americans still have the best game going! The system isn’t perfect, it’s broken, and mis-managed in many places, but honestly, we as individuals have the unique opportunity to affect change. That is a rare and wonderful gift in this world.

Patriotism is NOT following a political line, Patriotism is NOT supporting a conflict that you do not believe should be fought, Patriotism is NOT blindly following the media to tell you when it’s OK to show you’re patriotic.

Patriotism is remembering that whether you believe in a conflict or not “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Conflicts happen for economic and political reasons, and young men, and women, die daily for that. It’s been that way for Thousands of years, and is not likely to change. Please remember that young men and women volunteer to serve, but once they do, they have little choice on their lot in life after that. Love them for that. (If you can’t do that, at least respect them) Please remember that WE as individuals have the RIGHT to Vote, and to speak out against issues that we do not agree with, and we have the opportunity to affect change through activism, and volunteering for the things we hold worthy. Love this country for that.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

All I really want to say is that you do not have to be a “Flag Waver,” or die for your country to be a Patriot. You don’t have to Love a lot, but if you hold something worthy of love, you’d DAMN sure better love it a lot… Listen, be attentive, learn, and if you do not like what’s going on around you, do what you can to affect changes… THAT is what being a Patriot is. If you are not willing to get off your ass and do something about what bothers you… Then I have not the patience, energy, or time to deal with you…

I have changes I want made, and I’m busy.


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