As I am sure you all know, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks was this past Sunday. The day may have inspired somber feelings or even anger in you. It may have made you proud of the way in which the country pulled together in the face of the attack.
For me, much of the day was spent contemplating the events that led up to the attack, as well as the responses that it inspired in everyday Americans. Patriotic sentiment surged through our bodies as it never had before for our generation. Did a rise in patriotism help or hinder the American people?
Feelings of patriotism can bind people together. It is all too easy to get caught up in the schism of political ideology. Democrats and republicans become divided to the point where any interactions outside of your political group are avoided. Feelings of patriotism remind us that we truly are one nation. We all cherish the founding principles of freedom on which this country was established, even though they are not always followed. This freedom has been something for which it is worth fighting and dying.
The 9/11 attacks stripped us of a sense of security we had enjoyed as Americans for decades. Seeing our nation's flag on every street corner became armor for us against this vulnerability. Patriotism in this case gave us hope. It also led to increased volunteerism to help those who were suffering in our country. It reminded us that we can and should make a difference in our communities.
The benefits that accompany patriotic sentiment are not without some serious problems, however. The aforementioned divisiveness between republicans and democrats is nothing compared to the barrier that exists between our nation and the rest of the world. Is it not luck which led us to be born Americans? I would argue that we should treat the people outside of our borders as equals since the vast majority of us did not earn our status as Americans. Patriotism can foster feelings of ethnocentrism.
Many patriotic Americans believe that the United States is the best nation in the world. This kind of belief can lead us to be complacent with the policies that our country has. We fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo because it is easy to believe that this is America – we already have it right! The truth is that in many facets we are not the best – far from it in fact. Take, for example, our rate of childhood homelessness that is higher than the rest of the modern world. Patriotism lets us ignore dark truths that we need to face.
For these reasons I am a skeptic of patriotism. Although it is nice to feel united under a flag, it all too often solidifies a feeling of "us" and "them" between our nation and others. We should pride ourselves on helping our fellow countrymen, but we mustn't forget that we are only Americans by chance.