I’m a slow person. I take a long, long time to react to things, and an even longer time to think things through and reach definitive opinions about them. Thus I’m still mulling over patriotism and love of country, as my dear readers know I have been for months, and in the wake of the 10th anniversary of September 11, I’ve been thinking about these things even more than usual. (And in keeping with my slowness, I’m writing this post on September 13.)
Being an American poses a unique challenge; it’s not like being Italian or German or Indian or Pakistani, where you are because it’s in your blood, you were born there as your ancestors were before you. You subscribe to “American” as to a belief system. It’s not so much a country (a father-land) as it is a creed.
I think this explains why it’s possible for people to live in America and yet claim to hate America. Because if you do not subscribe to it on the basis of faith in what the country stands for, you aren’t really American, even if you were born here and have made your life here.
American patriotism stands apart from the patriotism of other nations. It’s a patriotism of minds and hearts, but not of blood (in the sense of blood-lines–certainly real blood has been spilled in sacrifice to the cause, but that’s another discussion for another time). And I say this as a pretty established American; my ancestors came over (literally) on the Mayflower. We’ve been here a long, long time, in American terms. (One of the strongest impressions I carried away from my various trips to Europe was that of age. A 400-year-old building in Rome is modern. We have nothing older than 400 years here in America, certainly not on the east coast!) Still, I refer to myself as a German/Scotch-Irish/Welsh descendent. And an American. I’ve known many people who try to be purists about it (“I’m an American”), but there’s no getting around it. We’re all hyphenated in some sense.
And there’s a difficulty in that, too. It meants patriotism can’t come as naturally to us as it does to other nations. America is a belief system, incorporating beliefs about the human person, the role of government and authority, and the proper end of man. You have to stand back from it first, to learn it the way we Catholic kids learned our catechism, before it can seep into your heart and become something you’d give your life for.
The anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is a good time to ponder our heritage, to re-embrace our creed, and–as always, more than ever–to pray for our nation.