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Where Have All the True Patriots Gone?

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, February 3, 2004

When the New England Patriots won the first Super Bowl after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, many people, especially embittered St. Louis Rams fans, alluded to a government conspiracy theory of rallying patriotism. Such groundless rambling ended this Sunday with the Pats’ second Super Bowl win in three years, but questions of patriotism continue to hold relevance in our post-September 11th world.

Since the terrorist attacks on that Tuesday morning, our world has never been the same. The question, though, that follows is this: Can we step outside our culture enough to comprehend how our world has changed? I fear that too many of us have neglected to be critical of the forces at work in this new world.

Responding to this changing world, the mass American populace has rallied around the flag and danced to the hit tune “Everybody get together, try to love George W. Bush together right now.” Embracing nationalism, perpetuated in “city upon a hill” language and wrapped in a dubious patriotism, the average American has played right into the Fox News “culture of fear.” The clearest political consequence has been the current administration’s blank check to “shock and awe” the world, as in Iraq, while avoiding the many pressing socio-economic realities that plague our country and world, such as world hunger and poverty.

The “culture of fear” is perhaps the most alarming of all these trends. In his 1933 Inaugural Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said the following, which is often overused in the senior quotes of high school yearbooks, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A society driven by fear is not one that can adequately address the many needs of civil society.

More and more American citizens are beginning to realize these problems, especially with the recent news of faulty intelligence about Iraq, but such citizens often have to face claims that they are anti-patriotic and anti-American. This then brings this discussion back to where it began: questions of patriotism.

In the modern “you’re either with us or against us” age, perceptions of patriotism reflect a divided society. For some, patriotism means a faith in and devotion to the goodness of America as the “city upon a hill” to prevail against all evil in this world. Yet for some others, patriotism means a commitment to actively call our country to higher ideals, particularly being a force for peace and justice in the larger world.

As you can probably guess, I subscribe to the latter school of patriotism. American history, when not coated in tall tales of Christopher Columbus finding America, is a history of mistakes and people rising to the challenges of such mistakes to move our country back to its ideals.

In many ways, American history is a sad history. Ours is a country, founded on the genocide of Native Americans and the economics of the slave trade, which has been through and continues to go through battles over racism, women’s rights, workers’ rights, militarism, systematic poverty and more. Such battles have only given way to justice when citizens have called our country to live up to its ideals, which is showing the greatest respect for our country. Hence, patriotism implies an active cynicism, rather than a blind passivity.

Relating this to our world and the coming presidential election, it is imperative that each of us be critical of the present forces. We cannot allow a “culture of fear” to destabilize and pacify us into blind obedience to state. We have to truly evaluate our times in order to use our gifts and energies to set our country in the right direction.

On Sunday, the New England Patriots showed us that true patriots, when they come together and believe in something, can achieve great things. This year, may we come together and believe great things, not out of fear, but out of hope that a better future is possible.

Peter Quaranto is a sophomore political science and international peace studies major. As a Massachusetts citizen, he wants to thank and praise the New England Patriots for their second Super Bowl victory in three years. The Red Sox are next. Contact him at pquarant@nd.edu.