A reader writes … By Thomas W. Henderson

October 08, 2001

Proud to be an American?

You bet I am. As I have watched the "sleeping giant" that is our country awaken and respond to the threats of terrorism, I have been genuinely impressed. I have spoken to people who remember how our country came together after Pearl Harbor and I believe we are responding just as they did.

For the first time in many years people are actually singing the "Star Spangled Banner," "God Bless America" and other patriotic songs. Americans from the youngest child to the most senior citizens are wearing red, white and blue.

I have always insisted that students say the "Pledge of Allegiance" every morning. I have the students look up the words in the pledge and their meanings.


If you want to help your children understand the pledge, you can find a wonderful explanation given by the great comedian Red Skelton at If your child's teacher hasn't been leading the pledge daily, today might be a great day to drop the teacher a note letting him or her know you will support the teacher's efforts to foster a renewed patriotism.

Many of us are finding it wonderful to see this renewed sense of pride in our nation after so many years of apathy. Our country is great and powerful and we have every right to express our pride in the United States.

I am reminded of the tremendous sense of pride in being an American I felt when I listened to JFK's inaugural speech. When he said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Most of us had little idea how big the burden would be in the following years. Whether our country's efforts have been just as reflective of JFK's goals of "unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world" would provide fodder for a thousand debates.

Over the past 20 years we have borne many burdens and hardships. We have seen our country's sense of patriotism dwindle to the point of virtual nonexistence except in times of immediate crisis like the Iran hostage situation or the Gulf War.

Things have changed now, but we must be careful. I have heard friends, school officials and others express how our country and its people are the best and no other country can match us. These are great slogans, and you will find them repeated by almost every country and people in the world. That creates problems. If you are "the best," then all the others are "the rest," a position most citizens of other countries won't accept.

It has been my experience that every country is beautiful in its own way and inhabited by some of the best, and worst, people.

Why do I bring this up when I am so happy about the resurgence of patriotism? The answer is excessive patriotism has another name, "nationalism," and any student of history can tell you of the dangers of excessive "nationalism."

In the recent past, Americans' beliefs that we could fix any problem and solve any wrong by applying an American solution have had terrible ramifications. A professor of mine once said, "America's perception of the world is not universal."

As the Vietnam War was beginning, there was a book published titled "The Ugly American." Take a few moments and read it.

The American solutions to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict have clearly been ineffective in the Middle East. We have given the clear impression, even if unjustly, that we favor Israel over the Palestinians in every situation.

The United States government must act in our best interest. However, most Americans I know want people to be treated fairly and for all countries to be given the opportunity to develop a free and open society, controlled by the people. Let's make sure those people and governments we support are truly working in the interests of their people. Let us ensure that our pride in America doesn't ignore the rights of other peoples and governments to be proud of their homelands.

People have joined with us to mourn our losses. Many of those we have considered traditional enemies have joined us to denounce terrorism and promote action against terrorists. Our leaders have reminded us of the power we have and they have called for its use.

A close friend with whom I have had many serious discussions suggests there must be a reason the United States is as much reviled in many parts of the world, as it is loved. He suggested if I took a look at our policies in many countries, I would come to the conclusion that perhaps the United States has not been as committed to protecting basic freedoms of individuals as we committed to in the United Nations charter. Rather we have been protecting our national and corporate interests overseas without due consideration of their impact.

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