A conflicted patriotism

by Brian A. Mongeau (b. 1988)

Coming of political age during the Bush era, there is little that cuts to my inner conflicts more than the struggle I face reconciling my patriotism for the country I love with the disdain I feel towards "love it or leave it" Americanism. I was only a 13 year-old on 11 September 2001, and my teenage years have largely been filled with tragic American foreign actions, heaped on top of similar stories about Vietnam from a father who was drafted into that conflict. At the same time, with all the opportunities and abundance of American society I truly hold that, to put a spin on a Winston Churchill quotation, America is the worst country in the world, except for all the others that have been tried. The countervailing emotions I end up feeling are rather reflective of the narcissistic and self-centered, yet also self-loathing, psychology found among many of my generation: a clashing of liberalism, disdain for "America!-ism", and anger over irrational foreign policy partnered with a very real patriotism. In my case, this has led, confusingly, to an overbearing desire to be in the Armed Forces.

At no point in my life, however, have I felt this conflict more than after deciding to apply for the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School this upcoming summer. I feel both great pride and painful embarrassment in this decision, both feelings based on people's differing reactions and prejudices. Going to school in the super-liberal town of Madison, Wisconsin, I often deflect or shy away from questions about my summer, and possibly post-college plans as I know most students will react negatively to my decision. Yet, with my pride admittedly hurt, this reaction angers me too, as it comes from a student body who has been granted and who has exploited every opportunity unique to US citizens. Conversely, and somewhat ironically, when I have similar conversations in ultra-conservative, rural, northern Wisconsin, the same disdain I feel for those students comes up when flag-waving, chest-thumping people cheer my decision. I often feel that these people have no clue that what makes America great is not its massive nuclear stock piles but its intangible ideals and dreams. It is the latter that I am fighting for.

My generation faces a world that is very different than the one our fathers told us glamorous stories of when we were children in the 1990s. Maybe it is the about-face in patriotism we encountered in our tween years that produces such conflicting emotions. Yet, it is these inner emotions – a fierce pride from our youth mixed with the disappointment of our leaders' failures in our teen years – that pull on and confuse us as to what is right and wrong in the world. At the end of the day, if nothing else, I take solace in the fact that I have made a decision to defend what I consider noble ideals and I am sticking with it – even if that is Bush-like.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, commenting on my own blog here! Brian came up with this idea for a post immediately when I emailed him. It struck me how very close to the surface this issue was for him, but I think that it is an issue that many of us struggle with. I wrote about it for the Oregonian in a couple of ways. Once with a concentration on the soldiers, who are our age, and are serving in Iraq, and once more generally, about figuring out how to show my patriotism.
    The first one is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/astri-von-arbin-ahlander-and-yelizavetta-kofman/ipeaceful-revolutioni-wha_b_159999.html
    And the second is here: http://blog.oregonlive.com/oregonianopinion/2008/02/an_alternative_patriotism.html
    What do you think?