Life Out Here: Speaking my mind is patriotic

April 30, 2008|By Bret Kofford

The second in a God only knows how many installment series of columns on patriotism.

“Bret do you display your patriotism?”

“Of course I do. Each day I drive around the Valley in the car with the most ‘America: love it or leave it’ bumper stickers on it. If anyone dares attempt to put more such bumper stickers on his or her car, I will pull that person out of the car and give the patriotic poseur a patriotic thumping.”

The aforementioned question was an actual query posted on my column last week after I parodied, or tried to parody, the whole Obama-and-the-American-flag-in-the-lapel controversy. The answer that follows that question in today’s column, is, well, me just being a wiseacre again.

The truth is I feel deeply about this subject. And I do display my patriotism regularly.

But I really don’t think patriotism has much to do with who has the biggest flag in front of his home or the most “My country right or wrong” bumper stickers on her SUV. God love those folks who need to be so overt, but I’m convinced patriotism is not in the demonstration but in the heart.


Yes, I put my hand over my heart and sing or recite loudly whenever the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. I always root for my country to do better than any other — economically, socially, heck, even athletically.

I work in my community — admittedly not as much as I should — to make my nation better for kids, the poor and immigrants. I do jury duty and other civic duties when called upon. I support and honor veterans. I keep up with politics and vote in every election.

I want to do these things. In fact, as an American I’m proud to do these things.

But I also think it is my patriotic American duty to speak my mind and do what I think is necessary whenever I know my government is going awry or being abusive of its people. That is what our founders did, and if they hadn’t we wouldn’t have had a Constitution/Bill of Rights that has survived for 232 years and served as a model for nations around the world. Heck, we wouldn’t even have had a nation if they hadn’t stood up for what was just.

So when our leaders are throwing us into wars for stupid, selfish reasons, abusing our rights, doing nefarious deeds behind our backs, getting our young people killed for ridiculous purposes, it is not treason to speak out. It is patriotism.

We have let those on the hard right define patriotism, just as we have Christianity. We shouldn’t have, in either case.

As I’ve written previously, many of the same people accusing those of us who have questioned the war in Iraq of being traitors and not supporting the troops are the same folks who, a decade ago, were decrying President Bill Clinton’s every move as he used American troops to push for peace in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. Frankly, there is no better way of supporting our troops than getting those wonderful young people out of a war that shouldn’t have been started and in which we certainly don’t belong now.

My column last week about the flag pin imbroglio brought the usual responses of people questioning my patriotism or asking whether a person with thoughts like I have ought to be paid with taxpayer money to teach our young people. (Those who think I’m indoctrinating students are welcome to come to my classes to observe whether I preach on contemporary topics or if I just plead with my students to read, participate and think about current issues. I’ve had many conservative students who would attest that when issues do come up, all sides are aired fairly.)

I have had hell to pay over the years for things I have written. I’m sure I will for this one, too.

I have been turned away from jobs, shouted down at speaking events and uninvited from others, including one recently, it appears, because I write exactly what I think in this column each week.

I couldn’t be prouder. My wife and I were laughing over the weekend about our forced social inactivity caused by yours truly. OK, I was laughing more than she was. I’m not all that social.

Still, I hope I have people not hiring me, screaming at me and uninviting me for years to come. I wear the stares, glares and snarls as badges of honor, because I’m convinced that stating my mind, strongly, about what is right and wrong about this country is not only a compulsion but a patriotic duty.

>> Bret Kofford teaches English and communications at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus and journalism at Imperial Valley College. He can be reached at

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