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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

How Would You Define Patriotism?

Defining patriotism in the United States is a question in the back of many Americans minds. Last Tuesday, three panelists from UMB attempted to answer this question for a room full of UMB students. The Center for the Improvement of Teaching at UMB presented a forum on “The Future of Patriotism” and featured Kevin Bowen from the Joiner Center, Gautam Premnath from the English department and Lisa Rivera from the Philosophy Department.

Bowen talked about “the other patriotism” and patriotic politics, especially during the Vietnam War. After opening his presentation by asking the question, “What does it mean to be a Vietnamese or American patriot?” he commented on the American Legion’s influence over textbooks in the 1950s, which taught nothing negative about the United States.

According to Bowen, students were taught that serving in the military meant a duty to their fathers and countrymen. It was considered un-patriotic not to support fellow soldiers. He even described religious sentiments at the time that taught, “If you die in a battle field, you go to heaven; it [the Vietnam War] is a Holy War against communism.”

However, in Vietnam, pilots refused to fly missions and soldiers refused orders. He draws parallels between what was happening in Vietnam and what is happening in Iraq; “The standard view of the Bush Administration is to follow the country whether it’s right or wrong; to criticize the conduct of war would be unpatriotic.”

Bowen also said many soldiers were trained on a heroic ideal where the mission is bigger than the soldiers themselves. “The other patriotism is exploding the heroic narrative myth-that the missions are not, in fact, heroic.”

Gautam Premnath expressed the distinction between patriotism and nationalism. He dismissed nationalism and said it was no longer relevant. “Nationalism doesn’t see the nation as a useful political arena for social and political justice,” Premnath says.

On the other hand, patriotism isn’t dismissed as much as nationalism and ultimately patriotism boils down to one question, “Do you love your country or not?” Instead, the question should be, “What kind of a nation are we going to be?” Premnath concluded.

Lisa Rivera talked about using patriotism as a political instrument and defines patriotism as “loyalty to one’s country.” However, she asks, “What aspects of the country should people be loyal to?” Rivera boiled it down to three kinds of loyalty: to members of the country, to members of the state/government, and to a set of ideals or principles.

As patriotism is flexible, a nation is flexible, according to Rivera. She describes some people as having a “blind loyalty to their country and an uncritical stance to ideals not worth protecting.” For example, the “U.S. Constitution promotes good ideals but can be twisted in particular ways” Rivera says. Echoing Premnath, Rivera asked, “What kind of patriotism do we want to have?”

A member of the audience mentioned PATRIOT Acts I and II and asked the panel to briefly comment about them. Rivera pointed out, “It is a good example of language to suppress dissent. What if they had named it something else? It was a stroke of brilliance to name it the PATRIOT Act.”

Students engaged in discussion with the panelists after the presentations were finished. One student claimed, “Patriotism isn’t black and white, you have to look at the gray area in between. Patriotism can’t be defined.”