Montoya ’16: Our problematic patriotism

Opinions Editor
Thursday, October 1, 2015

The United States has been at war for almost 15 consecutive years. American children born after 2001 have no conception of a life without constant wartime news coverage alluding to the looming threats of terrorists, outsiders and anti-American sentiments. Along with shaping our news stories, public policies and attitudes towards other nations, this constant state of violence seems to have altered our model of patriotism into a strict nationalist binary where you either blindly love America or are seen as hating it and needing to leave. In the words of Howard Zinn, “one certain effect of war is to diminish freedom of expression.” Indeed, war has created within American patriotic rhetoric a dangerous and polarizing divide that leaves no room for creative or critical discourse about what it means to be thoughtfully patriotic, to appreciate the United States while also considering ways in which it needs to improve.

Children are indoctrinated with this nationalist patriotism from the time they first enter school: They say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and listen to the National Anthem at every sporting event before they are even old enough to understand the history of these words. I remember singing songs in chorus about how beautiful America is, about its rolling waves of grain and its grand old flag and its freedom, freedom, freedom. Yet, at age seven, I had no idea of the dark past that these songs obscured. Our narrative of history was written by colonialists, with no mention of the people that were killed for getting in the way of American idealism and expansion. There are no cheerful marches about the Native Americans who were slaughtered so that European settlers could take their land, no rhyming tunes about the enslaved men and women upon whom our modern economy was built.

It is wrong that we inculcate children with this brand of patriotism at such a young age, for in doing so we only perpetuate the American tendency to ignore the sins of our past and to deny the social ills of the present. In claiming to love America, people ignore the cruelties of its past, preaching about ideals of “freedom and justice for all’’ that have yet to come to fruition. All people were not free when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and all people are not free today. Racial, socioeconomic and gendered divides continue to plague modern American society, attesting to the many who have yet to experience the freedom and equality promised by the founding fathers.

This tendency toward historical obfuscation is especially prominent in the recent debates over Advanced Placement U.S. History curricula. In response to curricular changes made by the College Board, one Denver school wrote that “materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

The members of the review board responsible for the statement would no doubt identify as patriots — their recommendations are meant to promote a love for America among students and place the country in a positive light. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this is exactly what patriotism is: “a love or devotion to one’s country.” But to truly love something is to love it in its entirety, both the good and the bad. People should not have to feign blindness to the United States’ flawed history in order to be accepted as patriotic, yet this is often the condition with which they are faced.

Whenever I have expressed discomfort with the lack of discourse around our patriotic ideals, I have been met with only glares and comments that I should leave the United States if I hate it so much. Why should we all jump to stand for the National Anthem without questioning its history and meaning in our present-day society? The very idea of not standing for the National Anthem is enough to merit long lectures about respect and propriety from many of my peers and elders, but I do not question the anthem to be disrespectful. I understand that for many, the flag is representative of the all the lives that have been lost protecting American interests and all the soldiers who are still serving abroad. I respect these soldiers, respect their sacrifices, but this does not mean that I condone violence or American aggression. It is possible to be thankful and supportive of individuals while still critiquing the overall system of U.S. policy, but this nuance seems to be lost within the existing patriotic binary.

To be truly patriotic, people should embrace the United States’ imperfect past, pushing back against the normative model of patriotic ignorance. The ideals of our founding fathers may not have been achieved, but we can still strive for them in the future by being brave enough to criticize American ideologies. To quote Howard Zinn once more, “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

Rachel Montoya ’16 can be reached at

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  1. Actually I think you have it backwards. I challenge you to keep a tally of the editorials and opinion pieces at the Brown Herald for one month. To label those that support a liberal bias and then those that support a conservative bias and I’ll bet you money 95% of them will support your point of view. And this is a slice of modern day Amerika.

    It is taboo in modern day Amerika to hold conservative values. We are the minority to be made fun of by the uber-cool liberals, like you.

    But more than that you have it backwards on freedom of speech. It is the left that is squashing it. We on the right cannot write the truth about Islam or about its sadistic, megalomaniac prophet without being shut down or shut up or threatened.

    In Europe where Islam is increasingly more prevalent people fear for their personal safety if they dare speak freely about Islam. At the UN criticism of Islam has become taboo but hatred and lies about the west (particularly Israel) are standard fare.

    And, of course, Howard Zinn personifies these false memes about Amerika, Israel and the west. His silly mental gymnastics on these topics are so illogical that only an intellectual like he could make them up. The common man senses they make no sense even if not having the intellectual skills to explain how or why.

    Now take the tally and come back in a month to let us know just how wrong you truly are.

  2. ShadrachSmith says:

    You have it close to right. A patriotic person loves his nation’s social progress. While, Social Justice Warriors just hate America’s past. That is an important distinction.

    I consider Madisonian democracy to empower life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness better than any other system. The goal is individual freedom which I define as the absence of coercion.

    How would you improve our constitution, as amended?

  3. this article is so Orwellian: not being patriotic is patriotic.

    How about if it talks like a duck, walks like a duck, looks like a duck, it probably is a duck? Chances are someone anyone in american who spends all his time criticizing the us, living in foreign countries as if national boundaries don’t exist and has not sense of patriotism, and his sole concern is his own interests… probably he’s not a patriot. A quote from Zinn won’t change that.

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