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July 3rd, 2009
10:00 PM ET

The meaning of patriotism

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/weather/07/03/weather.fireworks.safety/art.fireworks.gi.jpg caption="Fireworks? Family picnics? What makes you feel patriotic on 4th of July?"]

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

For many years, my friend Eve hosted an old-fashioned Fourth of July picnic in the meadow behind her home. Hayrides, sack races, softball and tug-of-war. Grilled chicken, marinated onions, tomatoes and smores. Red, white and blue bunting. After dark, fireworks.

And a flatbed equipped with a microphone and speakers, for anyone who wanted to do a reading, lead a sing-a-long or, in general, speak their piece. After three decades, a production of this magnitude for some 200 invited guests became too much. Knowing that last year’s would be the final large-scale Fourth of July picnic in the meadow, I took my turn.

After suggesting that it was unfortunate that people have their patriotism questioned when they voice a vision for their country different than whatever holds popular sway at the time and that intolerance could be found at all ends of the political spectrum, I read a selection of quotes about patriotism, some of which are included in those offered here:

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” James Baldwin

“Each nation feels superior to other nations. That breeds patriotism – and wars.”Dale Carnegie

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.”Henry Clay


“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.” Barbara Ehrenreich

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”John F. Kennedy

“I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” Abraham Lincoln

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”Edward R. Murrow

“The ultimate determinant in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas-a trial of spiritual resolve: the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideals to which we are dedicated.”Ronald Reagan

“Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”Margaret Chase Smith

“When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.” – Adlai Stevenson

“If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag; wash it.” Norman Thomas

You're not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it or who says it.” – Malcolm X

I’ll miss Eve’s picnics. They were unique. They were so . . . American, in a days-gone-by fashion.

The quotes I read last year prompted discussion that you can continue this Fourth of July. Take a moment to ask yourself: What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to be patriotic?


Filed under: David Schechter
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. A.M. Deist

    Some would have you believe that patriotism is a term used to describe the mental activities of those who agree with us. With everyone thinking about our independence and the troops risking their lives in the Middle East to maintain our freedom, maybe someone will convince President Obama that if we are going to war, we need to spare no expense for our troops. How many have been killed because they don't have the proper equipment to protect them against explosive devices? Sad that a country that considers itself the most powerful nation on earth has to depend on families to send flack vests to their family members because our past Administration chose to go to war on the cheap. We should all be ashamed of ourselves.

    As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy. – The Judgment of the Nations, Christopher Dawson

    July 5, 2009 at 3:07 pm |
  2. A.J.

    Well, since this has turned all political, I must say that patriotism probably involves not letting North Korea and Iran have free reign with nuclear technology. I don't think it involves trying to reinstate Chavex wannabes who were kicked out by their own supreme court either. (The Honduras.)

    July 5, 2009 at 7:56 am |
  3. Duane G. Jamison

    here, here, David, and thank you

    July 5, 2009 at 4:42 am |
  4. Tim Gibson

    Patriotism, is often a single voice.

    July 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  5. toni

    Patriotism is a love of your country and ALL your fellow countrymen whether dem or republican, whether you agree with them or not -patriotism is allowng those who disagree with you the right to disagree.

    July 4, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  6. Sabrina in Las Vegas

    Patriotism is knowing that we have unalienable rights regardless of who is governing us. We have the right to tell our leaders where we feel they are doing good and where they are falling short.

    A true leader takes the critiques and in the face of adversity says "let's dig in and get to work, these people are depending on US."

    We believe in the ability to pull ourselves up if we are given the true opportunity.

    Happy 4th of July to all across this vast, diverse nation.

    July 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm |
  7. Mari

    The definition by Edward R. Murrow, is my favorite. Patriotism is not agreement. Nor is it blindly or naively following a leader without question.

    As part of the Baby Boom generation, I was in high school during the turmoil of the late 60's. The protests against the Vietnam war, the support of Civil Rights all formed me.

    We must continue to speak out, to be free to dissent, to protest injustice and fight for our freedom. We can not take for granted the freedom of speech, or the freedom to dissent....... indeed no freedom should be taken for granted.

    Happy Fourth everyone!

    July 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  8. mycotype

    It's useful to know with certainty what isn't patriotic before voting for a leader of this country. Almost 50% of the electorate seem to have no clue...

    July 4, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  9. Lori

    Being an American is having a combination of courage, willingness, readiness, and ability to take actions supporting justice and our institutional values while maintaining open-mindedness for self-monitoring, re-evaluation, and recrudescence.

    Being and American Patriot is loyalty to democracy and belief that we will endure adversity, turbulance and assault, because our foundation is true, right , unerodible, and robust.

    July 4, 2009 at 12:22 pm |
  10. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Two of our so called governors view patroitism going against the grain and succeeding from the Union and leaving the military that hail from their States high and dry without a State in the union to return to.

    July 4, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  11. karin dicker Los Angeles

    I think it is VERY patriotic to not want wars of choice and the deaths of so many soldiers for nothing, and saying that. I deon't forget the injured either. I think it is VERY patriotic to want everyone to have healthcare and housing and to live in a country that doesn't torture or have blacksites. The republicans almost took away my wonderful feelings for this country but I went to the Hollywood Bowl tonight for a 4th of July concert. And i went to dc a month ago. Yay. I am 61...George Bush is the least patriotic man I have seen. A phoney.

    July 4, 2009 at 6:53 am |
  12. Annie Kate

    Benjamin Franklin said of patriotism:

    Those who give up essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    and....

    Where liberty dwells, there is my country

    I think that describes at least one facet of patriotism very well.

    July 3, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  13. Rose from Muscoy, Calif

    Patriot to me, is someone who loves, and support and defend their beloved country, no matter what under the Constitutions of the United States.

    July 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Nick, Florida

    Too often when writing about patriosm some years later we fail to use the right measurements. The yard stick of patriotism isn't simple and cannot be applied using today's standards or today's evolved opinion. Like art, patriotism is a difficult thing to judge and one does so often at his own peril. is John W. Booth much different from Thomas Jefferson? Both defended our country at great personal peril acting out against what they viewed as tyranny. Almost nothing separates the patriots on any two sides. Opinions evolve in favor of the winners; they always will.

    July 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  15. Tina

    I raised my flag on my front porch post today. Let freedom ring, War mongers.

    July 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  16. earle,florida

    "a perfectly round,and flattened footprint of repression,was England's gift to the early settler's; it postulated the inherent rationale for one's freedom, thoughts, beliefs,and moralistic virtues of free will,which no man should,or shall be deprived; mankind's well-grounded,and rounded-mind idenifies only with the will to live one's life,in a society of living-breathing-laws that change with the necessity of a progressive timetable; not to be tethered to,as a millstone around ones neck; but rather openly dispute it's very integrity,and right of independence as part of the integral make-up of the human-race, expressing freedom in every way, shape,and form" Happy 4th' July America,we earned it!

    July 3, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  17. meenas17

    Patriotism is love for the country. But it does not mean abject submission. The frailities are to be condemned. The shortcomings are to be rectified. The trespasses are to be cautioned. Love with intensified focus is patriotism.

    July 3, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  18. Melissa

    I have a bumper sticker that says "I pledge allegiance, not blind obedience". It works for me.

    July 3, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  19. Melissa

    I think people have forgotten that being patriotic doesn't mean being a willing slave to the Republican mindset.

    July 3, 2009 at 11:26 am |