Patriotism Then and Now

Yesterday, I received a package in the mail from Timne Inc., the people that publish Time magaizne. It’s the first volume of a series of books focusing on a specific year and feature articles and pictures from the Time news archives. What made this issue so special for me is that the year featured is 1968. I was 20 that year and that was the year I moved to Chicago, my home for 23 years.

1968 was a very eventful year, full of hope and despair. It featured the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicaog, where we, the young people of America, tried to get Eugene McCarthy nominated because he wanted to end the Vietnam War. Instead Hubert Humphrey got the nomination and lost to Richard Nicon, one of the worst Presidents this country has ever had.

1968 saw the assasinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Jr. It saw the vast outpouring of violence that followed the King murder and the shift to greater militancy in the civil rights movement.

1968 was the year of the Mexico City Olympics where three young African-Americans took a stand againt American apartheid with their symbolic gesture of fists in the air – the black power salute – as they stood on the podium for the award ceremony. Many white Americans considered that an unpatriotic gesture at the time, since it occurred during the playing of the Star-Bangled Banner, but I thought then and still do that it was absolutely appropriate and, for these young men, a very patriotic gesture. I’ll explain that in a minute. I’m building up to something here.

1968 was the year of the hippies. Woodstock. The Summer of Love. And that word brings us to the second half of my theme today. Love and patriotism.

The dictionary definition of patriotism says that it is concrete acts that expresses the love one has for their country. But, as we all know, what one means by love is open for interpretation. My father, who by contemporary standards might be considered a somewhat abusive parent, believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” He thought that was love. I don’t. Love should never be domineering or dominating.

Some people think that if you love someone or something that you act as if they are never wrong. That most definitely is not love. My children are often wrong: wrong in how they behave, wrong in what they say or how they say it. It is my responsibility as a parent to correct them and teach them, without resorting to any kind of abuse, the right way, the truth of things. And I can do that and still think that my kids are the greatest kids in the world, which I do.

Back in 1968, those of us who criticized this country for its mistakes- Vietnam, racial discrimination, etc. – were criticized as being unpatriotic. Back then, patriotism was seen as blind acceptance of whatever your country does, wrong or right. Forty years later, when those of us who were young in 1968 have grown older, it appears my generation has a long-term memory problem. They have abandoned the “tough love” patriotism that we preached and practiced back then for the jingoistic, blind love patriotism of our parents’ generation.

Is that what happens when you grow up? If it is, then I hope I never grow up, and I hope the generation of young idealists, much like those of us who lived through the events of 1968, who have sparked and fueled the Obama campagn never grow up either. And hopefully, they can help Obama maintain that idealism and enthusiasm that attracted them in the first place. National politics, especially Presidential politics, can make you cynical and destroy your idealism. Just ask Hillary Clintom who was one of those idealists of 1968, although to look at and listen to her now, you’d never know it.


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