Webster’s Dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country.”
To me, patriotism is the deepest possible affection for and attachment to a homeland and an alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment. Patriotism means robustly supporting and loving one’s nation, even when it’s going through rough or difficult times—even when things are not as you desire them to be—and not complaining about it unless you are willing to do your part to help fix what is broken.
How I Learned About Patriotism
In 2005, I made my first of several trips “down range” to motivate, entertain, and thank our combat troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa, where for the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of the practical application of our U.S. Declaration of Independence and deep meaning of our beloved Constitution.
My teacher was Colonel Blair Hansen (now Major General USAF), a commander at Balad Air Base in Iraq. After I landed in the Blackhawk helicopter, our conversation quickly turned to a small pocketbook copy of the U.S. Constitution that he carried with him 24/7 to remind him of why he was in harm’s way—away from his family and fighting bad guys who didn’t comprehend the guaranteed God-given inalienable rights of every human being.
He explained that our American troops were not fighting for a U.S. president, or for any elected official, but only as defenders of the Constitution, fighting against anyone who threatens our ability to be governed by it. Within minutes, tears filled my eyes as I realized that in the corporate world, we give bonuses to those who willingly sacrifice others so that they may survive, but in the military, we give medals to those who willingly sacrifice themselves so that others may live.
This was the first time that I actually understood patriotism and realized that it is the responsibility of every American to live our lives in a way that we are worth fighting for.
Lessons from 9/11
On September 11, 2001, terrorists did not try to invade our nation or overthrow our government. Instead, they attacked what we believe in and what we stand for.
America is more than a landmass full of natural resources. America is an experiment in self-government, founded on specific ideals and preserved through obedience to a set of morality-based core values couched in an incentive-motivated social and economic system of free enterprise. America is a land of opportunity, not entitlement, which is clearly spelled out by our inspired Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution.
Being an American means you are a hardworking, tax paying, positive contributing citizen who has earned the right to take advantage of the prerogatives and blessings that are offered to those who live its ideals, rules, and core values. And with those rights come responsibilities. Otherwise, we will suffer the ominous consequences referred to in the prophetic words of President Abraham Lincoln:
From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.
In the words of one of our greatest Americans, President Ronald Reagan:
America was founded on a dream, and now it’s your turn to keep that dream moving. We’ve always reached for a new spirit and aimed at a higher goal. We’ve always been courageous, determined, unafraid, and bold. Who among us ever wants to say we no longer have those qualities? We look to you to meet the great challenge, to reach beyond the commonplace and not fall short for lack of creativity and courage. And to do this? All you need to begin with is a dream to do better than ever before. All you need is to have faith and that dream will come true. All you need to do is act, and the time for action is now!
If we decide that this America is “our” country and claim it in terms of “my” America, then don’t you think we should start acting like it and do our individual part to make our country the best country in the world?
Dan Clark is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame and author of The Art of Significance.
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