Over the past two weeks James and I have watched the PBS series on Vietnam which captivated the nation. Ken Burns is simply a genius when it comes to making documentaries. During the period when the nightly episodes appeared President Trump decided for some unhinged reason that going after African-American athletes who wish to use their First Amendment rights during the playing of the National Anthem was somehow worthy of our attention. But for those who watched and heard the many stronger voices over the PBS airwaves as the many spokes of the war at home and abroad were told a much more reasoned lesson about patriotism was learned.
It is most clear that patriotism is far more than signing up–or being drafted–to fight in a place and for reasons that are often not understood by the combatants or perhaps not even fully grasped by the leaders who made the military decisions. That is not to say their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country is not to be recognized and in its own way praised. But as the series showed patriotism is not merely one thing and it sure as hell not embodied by one group of Americans–those who wear the uniform.
As I look around the neighborhood where I have now lived for a decade there are forms of patriotism being expressed daily. There is the public defender who fulfills a constitutional right that each and every American has legal representation. There is the reporter who seeks the truth and works to make sure the rest of us are aware of the way our government functions . Just a few blocks from where we live government employees carry out their public responsibilities and do so often in a hostile environment which was created by partisans. On the news each day the faces of diplomats who work in foreign embassies so to craft solutions to problems that otherwise might lead to civil war or larger military conflicts show their love of country.
Watching the many faces who spoke with candor and passion during the Vietnam series underscored once again a national truth. Patriotism is more than a soldier or saluting the flag. Patriotism is also about debate and even provocation.
And so it goes.