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On Civ-Mil Relations

By Meaghan Burnes, Girl Security Jr. Board Member
Essay reflects the views of the author.

When I began to see a constant disdain of the American flag on social media, it occurred to me that there is an extreme disconnect between those supporting the flag and those who
associate one’s support of the flag with a far-right ideological sentiment. I was deeply struck by the realization that citizens may discredit those who proudly stand by their nation’s symbol.

This widespread thought demonstrates that, to some, support for one’s country is no longer encouraged but rather a cause for criticism and concern. A patriot is one who demonstrates undying support to their country, unrelated to current
politics. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Patriotism is to stand by your country. It does not mean to stand by the President…”, which pinpoints the roots of this immense disconnect. The common
misconception is that patriots are partisan extremists.

But this assumption is incorrect. One’s support of partisanship ideals is not directly tied to their support of the country as a concept, let alone their support of emblematic symbols.

A reason for this correlation is the general misapprehension that nationalism and patriotism are synonymous. Nationalism is the support and pride for a country’s values and interests, which is more fundamentally associated with a political ideal. Patriotism, however, is loyalty to a country itself, not its current popular values and interests. Nationalism and patriotism appear similar, the difference being that nationalism promotes one country above all others, while unifying one nation against any other nation. A patriot will support their country, but a nationalist will act with the idea that their country is supreme. There is a fine line between nationalism and patriotism, but the confusion of the two is what has created the insinuation that those supporting the flag are right extremists. Many people seem to dishonor patriots due to a misunderstanding of how one can advocate for a country with so many internal issues. Both a patriot displaying a flag as well as an individual fighting systemic racism can, and often do, share a common mission: to look critically upon our nation’s past to build a better future.

Patriotism, by definition, does not mean pride in one’s country. It simply describes a willingness one has to stand by their country, no matter how fractured. A broken country will be mended by those who demonstrate devotion to their nation, inspired by the American symbol of freedom. A patriot is not always proud of each action that their country puts forth, but their response is the differentiator between them and the rest of the American citizens. A patriot recognizes their civil duty of doing all they can to correct a flaw in the government.

Those outwardly expressing their patriotic tendencies should not be presumed to be right radicals. Rather, they should be seen as allies and activists demonstrating their passion for our shared nation. This unique devotion can contribute to the force of change that our country requires. A patriot does not ignore their country’s flaws but works notably harder to amend the imperfections. Not only are patriots an asset, but they are also essential to our country and must be encouraged and embraced. They will work as allies to restore our democracy and fight against injustice and for inclusion by separating the country and its leadership, always putting the country first. We must bond together as Americans willing to help other Americans and unite on our common idea of constant improvement to our nation.

Rather than alienate those who display and support the flag, we must dignify those who take this virtue to the level of utmost loyalty, including public servants, service members, and true supporters of what our flag stands for. A patriot may or may not support the political party in office, but they do support their country and work towards its healing. These are the people who receive their self-worth from protecting and defending the American democratic system. These are the people who are both known and unknown, working day in and day out to ensure our country is protected from foreign and domestic threats. These are the people who dedicate their lives to bettering their country. Those willing to dedicate time and energy into a fractured nation are critical allies in our greater quest of mending our nation’s rifts.