My wardrobe boasts tapered-leg jeans, olive-green sweatpants and a Members Only coat that gushes goose-down feathers. And yet, to my peers and friends, nothing puts me more out of fashion than this declaration: I am a patriot.
On a liberal college campus in the modern world, patriotism has become like the seersucker suit. Few know what exactly it is, and those who have it wear it on the rarest occasions.
The time is right, with the chant of \U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A."" ringing at the Olympics and Valentine's Day days away, to talk about true love'of country. It's time to know again the meaning of patriotism, and to feel it without shame.
For my lesson I went to one of the wisest men I know, a UW-Madison emeritus professor of geography named Yi-Fu Tuan. Tuan, 71, has made a career of nimbly synthesizing disparate fields of academia'from geology to psychology'in the study of human attachments to land, spaces and places.
""Patriot"" has become an epithet because, as Tuan points out, patriotism is often confused with its towering and sinister sibling'nationalism. Nationalism stalks across history and our imaginations as the villain behind imperialistic ambition, racial arrogance and genocide. Nationalism assumes an aggressive posture, a menacing smirk. Nationalism is not patriotism.
Nor should the latter be confused with jingoism. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a jingoist is ""one who brags of his country's preparedness for fight and generally advocates or favors a bellicose policy in dealing with foreign powers."" Jingoism, therefore, reflects not only one's attitude toward his country but also one's attitude toward others'a prejudicial, belligerent attitude. A jingoist, the OED continues, is ""a blustering of blatant 'patriot.'"" The dictionary's use of quotation marks around ""patriot"" reveals a tenuous connection; jingoism is not patriotism.
Then what is patriotism? In contrast to nasty nationalism or boastful jingoism, patriotism is a quiet feeling, tender and wistful. Tuan offers this passage from Shakespeare's Richard II (Act 2, Scene 1) as ""the most eloquent lines on patriotism:""
""This happy breed of men, this little world / This precious stone set in the silver sea / Which serves it in the office of a wall / Or a moat defensive to a house / Against the envy of less happier lands / This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.""
Whereas nationalism implies an offensive stance, patriotism is essentially defensive. This kind of patriotism, as Tuan writes in his seminal work ""Topophilia,"" blooms from ""a sense of the fragility of goodness: That which we love has no guarantee to endure."" England is described as a ""precious stone"" because it exhibits real vulnerability, which, in turn, inspires a yearning to shelter it and to hold it close. Thus the more vulnerable a country is, the more fervent its people's patriotism.
Through most of its history, America has not felt that susceptibility'patriotism and its protective feelings are foreign because, seemingly, no one in ""less happier lands"" would dare act upon their envy and attack these United States. But in the early days of last autumn, we felt, under the heaviest of blows, the delicacy of things'""the fragility of goodness."" As the French writer Antoine de St-Exup??ry symbolized with the flower of ""The Little Prince,"" fragility inspires the profoundest affection.
Affection is also born of memories, and patriotism, in my mind, is merely the embrace of an endangered nostalgia. While we must be careful not to let it mutate into nationalism or jingoism, let us not overestimate patriotism's power. It is not the president and it is not foreign policy. It does not inspire militarism. It does not create zombies. It does not encourage chauvinists. It does not bomb helpless peoples, starve children or place embargoes on the suffering. Patriotism, as expressed by Tuan paraphrasing the 20th-century Chinese writer Lin Yu-Tang, is ""but a remembrance of the things eaten in childhood.""
It is by this definition I call myself a patriot. I challenge the most cynical of my generation to spit criticism at such love. Isn't it a supreme arrogance to frown upon the expression'however na??ve or simple'of the protective feeling towards one's country? Why should we young people, as educated and open-minded as we claim to be, hiss at the flying of the flag, the singing of the anthem and the salute of men and women in uniform? Who are we to guess at these patriots' politics? Who are we to judge their motivations?
For all we know, they want only to remember. They want always to remember the smell of rain-paint on roads, the sound of snow shovels' scrape, the sight of night lights over sports and the taste of ice cream or warm bread'all savored in a hometown in a land where we are privileged not just to live but to savor. I, for one, will continue to defy fashion'and savor the feel of olive-green sweatpants at the end of a day's work.