“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S Truman
In college, my favorite professor was Prof. Mitchell. So much so that I took three different classes with her. Like most college professors, she is a liberal and opposed the Iraq War. But she never tried to impose her views on the class. In fact, she would make a point of calling on me so that the class would hear conservative ideas. This is not relevant to the topic at hand, but I feel obliged to make it clear I am not attacking her in any way.
Like I said, I took three classes with Prof. Mitchell on three different subjects. But in all three classes, she brought up a poem by Wilfred Owen. The poem ends with what Owen calls “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” Translation: it is a lie that “it is sweet and right to die for one’s country.”
I thought about that poem a few years later as I prepared for my first tour in Iraq. It is a strange thing for a healthy 24 year old to contemplate his own mortality. But in doing so, I fortified my belief that it is not a lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
Don’t get me wrong. I had no desire to die for my country. As General Patton said, that’s not how you win wars. You win “by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” But I was willing to risk my life for my country. And that, right there, is a concept that is often misunderstood.
Patriotism is a love for one’s country. That much is clear. But what is a country? It is not geography. Every single inch of the earth has been owned by multiple countries throughout history. It is not ethnicity. America is composed of a diverse citizenry of people representing all nations. It is not the government. Every patriot has opposed the politicians in power at some point. A country is a society, and patriotism is love of that society’s people, ideals, and promise.
America is 320+ million people held together by the principles that founded modern democracy. America is the ingenuity and individual spirit that has given birth to some of the most fantastic and life changing inventions in human history. America is the society that announced itself to the world by declaring that all men are created equal. No, we have never fully lived up to those standards. But even when hypocritical, America always professed fealty to individual liberty and dignity, steadily moving towards the unattainable ideal. I am often disappointed in America’s government and some of her people, but I have always been proud of what America stands for. That is my country. That is what I love. And that is what I was willing to risk my life for.