2008-07-06

Rockets' Red Glare


I love the 4th of July. I live for the 4th of July. It has everything I need: staying up late, BBQ, and pyrotechnics. I only have one problem with the 4th of July, and that is Lee Greenwood. His song "God Bless the USA" drives me crazy. Now, before you brand me some unpatriotic jerk, let me explain:

The song, to be frank, is trite drivel. All the great patriotic songs, the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, etc, were written by poets; psalms to the hopes of a young nation. There's no way that a pop song, much less a 60's-esque country song, can really capture the majesty of a country that grew from 13 rowdy colonies into a country that became a haven and hope for people the world over.

Greenwood's song, instead, plays off of sentiment -- trying to kindle patriotic support by invoking remembrances of those who paid the ultimate price. The end result is that I invariably feel an odd sense of guilt, because there are times when I'm not proud of what my country has done, and that this somehow dishonors the fallen. I don't think anything could be further from the truth, though. This is a country built on dissent, after all. Jefferson himself said, "a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing."

Ultimately, I think that those who sacrificed didn't do it for any as abstract as a flag or nationalistic pride. When I think of a GI storming the beach at Normandy, I can't imagine visions of eagles and patriotic bunting are in the forefront of his mind. Instead, I see him thinking of his family, his home, and the good things of this life. And that's why he fights, because he thinks that other people should have the right to those good things as well. In the end, it is his hopes and ideals that define him, and truly define what it is to be an American. This is where the flag gets its meaning. America is a reflection of his sacrifice, not the other way around.

When I stand and sing the Star Spangled Banner and my eyes mist, it's not so much because of the flag or even the song, but because I realize that I share the same ideals as those who did sacrifice and am indebted to them. I am humbled and honored to be counted among those that paid the ultimate sacrifice or the sacrifice of a life dutifully lived. In the end, my duty is to live according to the principles of freedom on which the country was founded, according to the dictates of my own conscience. Sometimes this means that I may not agree with everything that my country has done or will do, but it doesn't make me any less patriotic.