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July 3, 2002

Patriotism - That Adhesive Fiber That Binds Us All

Bethany Stevenson

Being at the top end of Generation X, patriotism has a different meaning for me than the generations before. No one my age has ever been drafted and none of my friends have died in war. I grew up idolizing the hippies of the 60s because they were not afraid to stand up against the establishment. But, in my maturity, I find that some of the things they stood for were only romantic and idealistic.

I was born in 1970, too young to remember the Vietnam War, too young to understand what happened in Iran in the 80s, and too peacenik in the 90s to support the Gulf War. Now we are in the midst of a War on Terror, not fought like my history textbook wars of trenches and battle lines, but in our homeland, and in far away places that seem hard to imagine.

Patriotism to me is a seed that was planted at my birth and is nourished by the positive and negative influences around me. As a child I felt safe and secure from a world of the past filled with war. My memories of tragedies in the world include the shooting of John Lennon, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the Space Shuttle explosion.

Politics and government were an institution that did not cause contention or strife and this was good: we did not have war. Lethargy and lassitude created an atmosphere that as a teen we thought: "all is well." And how un-cool it was to be patriotic: if you said the pledge, you said it quietly so no one else could hear.

Now, the world appears to be in turmoil and our personal security is threatened. What we learned from our history teachers about the 60s, that "it is right to oppose the establishment," and "the government has no right to send troops to fight in far away lands that do not affect us," has caused much confusion.

Now I want the government to take down those who may even remotely deny the rights of humans anywhere. But a conflict of soul arises. Will the government take more power than necessary, will their military free some and take away some of my rights?

My patriotism stems from much confusion over what I was taught and what I see in the hearts of those who have lived through times of turmoil. Some of these people I know personally; some I only know through the movie media.

I feel the stirrings of patriotism when my father talks about being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam Era, how he willingly left his job and put his trust in the Lord to deal with him justly.

I feel the stirrings of patriotism when my dear friend talks of being a teenager during WWII in France. She had only powdered milk to drink and watched, weekly, as neighbors with stars on their sleeves left in trains and never returned.

Her future husband escaped France and joined the U. S. Army to fight the Nazi regime. The horrors he saw he will not speak of. France is their homeland, but America is their home and where their patriotism lies. The Flag of the United States flies outside their home daily. And they will never drink powdered milk again.

My ancestors and their brothers and sisters fought in every war since coming to this land in 1612. They fought for their freedoms, spilled their blood so their children might live free and ensured that today I can speak, worship and live as I choose.

The stirrings of patriotism enter my heart when I see Scarlet O'Hara surveying her war ravaged land and, with strength even she didn't know she had, says "I will think about this tomorrow," and sets to work to care for herself and those she loves despite the losses around her.

The stirrings of patriotism grip my heart when the patrons of the American Cafe in Casablanca out-sing the Germans with the national anthem of their native homeland. Despite the danger to those they love in occupied France, these Frenchmen delve into raucous reveling of patriotic music, ready as if to arm themselves only with music to win the war for their freedom.

Patriotism stirs in my heart as John Wayne conquers the beaches of Iwo Jima, and the vonTrapp family crosses the Alps to avoid the drafting of the father into the Nazi Navy.

Dr. Zhivago stirs my heart in patriotism as his own heart breaks to see the people of his beloved Russia give up their freedoms and passions in exchange for a dream that never will come to fruition.

Patriotism is an adhesive fiber that brings a group of people together as a strong fabric. No matter what the common dream of those people is: whether to just survive with pride intact after being beaten in a war; to serve their country; to retain a national identity; to protect the freedoms of those trampled by tyranny; or to save what is good and pure of a people; patriotism binds them together. Lack of patriotism leaves them as individual fibers blown in the winds.

My own stirrings of patriotism were kindled when I saw the horror of attacks on our homeland 10 months ago. So many in my generation knew not what the stirrings of patriotism felt like in their soul until they saw the intentional destruction of Americans simply for their citizenship.

My prayer is that none of the next generation will ever go through the lethargy that I felt as a child and young adult towards being proud to be an American. In a time when children are not expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, let alone study it to know what it means, we can only hope that there are children who will nourish the seed of patriotism and with the strong examples from around them become mighty oaks to support our country through the coming times of trial.

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