I’ve been kicking this post around in my mind for a couple of weeks now, and the time has come to bite the bullet and just write the darn thing with the knowledge that I have an edit button and the ability to write further posts on the subject should I ever feel the need.

There is a common misconception out there that left-wingers, liberals, progressives (pick your label) are not patriotic. That our protest of the war is automatically an abandonment of our fighting men and women. I find this attitude and accusation to be uninformed, egocentric, and downright insulting.

First, let’s address the issue of patriotism vs. nationalism. A patriot is someone who believes in their country, who supports it and is loyal to it. Patriot is defined by dictionary.com as a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. Nationalism has a slight – but very important – distinction. The same source has these as two of nationalism’s definitions:

  • excessive patriotism
  • the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations

I read an article a couple of years ago that clarified this distinction for me nicely. It came at a time when my patriotism – or that of people who think like me – was being questioned by people around me (although not my friends or family, thank goodness!), the media, and prominent people in our government. At the time, I was angry and frustrated and insulted that anyone would accuse me of not supporting our troops or of not loving our country, and that article helped calm my nerves.

What has swept over our country in recent years is not, as many would claim, a glorious wave of patriotism. Rather, it is a smothering flood of nationalism.

A patriot will defend his country, whether on the battlefield or the sea or in the air, in the blogosphere, by working hard to keep drunk drivers off the roads and protect our loved ones, by running for office, or simply by being a representative citizen of his country in the best way he knows how. A patriot, in my mind, understands that no government is infallible and recognizes that it is our duty as citizens to question our government’s decisions and actions in order to keep the country moving in a positive direction.

A nationalist, on the other hand, believes, “My country is right, right or wrong.”

This kind of nationalism is dangerous. Just as believing your child could never do wrong and so turning a blind eye to his harmful actions is dangerous. Just as letting your child run about unfettered with no regard for the feelings of others is dangerous. Turning a blind eye to the poor decisions – and in many cases supporting those decisions – based solely on the fact that our government made them is so dangerous it’s staggering. This is very much a “my way or the highway” attitude that can have few positive effects in the world.

Our country was founded on the principle that the people should decide its way. The people are supposed to be the guiding force behind the government. It’s a simple concept with a complex application (and that application could admittedly use a bit of work…but that’s a different post). So what does it say of our patriotism and our adherence to those original principles when we give up our own opinions to mutely follow in our government’s footsteps? It should be the other way around.

I put it out there that ignoring these principles is decidedly unpatriotic. That giving free rein to our elected officials to decide our fate without question is a 180-degree turnaround from the base on which our country was founded. That we need to step back from the nationalistic crowing and think hard about what is really best for our country, our people, and the world around us.

And if you are of the opinion that my protest of this war is somehow unpatriotic, or that somehow I don’t care about our troops, I put it to you that I see it as my duty as a patriot, and as a caring human being, to question any action that puts my beloved countrymen in harm’s way. There are times when war – as horrible as it is – is necessary. This was not one of them.

This brings me to my current charity project. During the primary season, Knitters for Obama knit and crocheted somewhere around 1,000 hats and bibs for preemies in hospitals around the U.S. For the general election, we’ve changed our focus to taking care of people our government has abandoned. We are currently knitting and crocheting warm hats, scarves, fingerless gloves, lap blankets, and washcloths for homeless veterans in at least 4 states. How sad it is that there are so many veterans without family, without homes. These men (because they are all men in these particular shelters) sacrificed greatly for their country – our country – and receive next to nothing in the way of thanks or even basic needs from the government for whom they fought. One shelter has relayed to our group that the federal assistance they receive in a year wouldn’t pay for the needs of one veteran.

I am one person with little energy. I cannot change the world. But I can give a few men who have served our country a warm head, a clean face, and a big thank you. And I can work to support a candidate who will fight for their rights. It is one small way I, a patriot, can do my part to contribute to our wonderful, full-of-potential country.