When an American dies on American soil because of American culture, the meaning of patriotism must be reevaluated.
What does pride for one’s country mean when the country does not deserve it, when many of the systems within this nation have failed to the detriment of the people? In a society where racism is still prevalent, homophobia and transphobia are rampant, and sexism still rages, it’s no wonder that many Americans, including myself, have turned away from patriotism in an effort to protest the so-called “American Dream” which benefits only the privileged.
Patriotism, defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is love for or devotion to one’s country. However, this definition does not specify under what circumstances one may be patriotic, nor for what reasons.
As a huge Marvel fan, I’ve always looked up to Captain America, otherwise known as Steve Rogers. When I was younger, it was because I found him dreamy, and though that sentiment still holds true, my views on this character now bear more weight. Rogers is, for many reasons, the epitome of what it means to be a good American, and it has naught to do with the fact that his superhero name is Captain America.
In his second movie out of three, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Rogers must navigate a situation in which he feels the liberty of the American people is being compromised under the justification of “safety.” When confronted about his opposition to this, Rogers responds with a hard-hitting line—“This isn’t freedom, this is fear.”
This statement perfectly encompasses the kind of person Rogers is. He is a man who genuinely cares about his country, a man who is wholly and truly a patriotic American. His strength is derived entirely from his sense of moral right, and even in the 21st century, after being frozen for roughly 70 years, Rogers still loves his country.
About two years ago, when I was just beginning to discover the world of social justice, Rogers’ intense sense of patriotism bothered me. I would constantly think to myself, How can someone living in such a damaged nation still don proudly the name of his country, still fight for it and love it?
But Steve Rogers has taught me a lot about what it means to be patriotic, and more specifically, what it means to be a patriotic American. When it feels like everything in this country is falling apart, it’s hard not to be angry and hateful, to feel like this nation is cursed. Now, though, I am learning to channel these emotions to be useful. Instead of telling myself that America is terrible and unfair, I acknowledge that this may be the case at the current point in time, but that I also want to do something about it and make a change.
In the premier movie of his storyline, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Rogers chooses to join the military during World War II to fight back against the Nazis and HYDRA (a Nazi terrorist organization). He does this because he loves his country. He loves it enough to be at the forefront, striving to fix what he sees as moral wrong in it.
Patriotism does not mean that one must blindly love their country, ignoring all of the faults and pretending it is perfect. Patriotism means loving your country so much that you will fight for it, and that can sometimes take the form of fighting against it.
Patriotism means loving your country so much that you will fight for it, and that can sometimes take the form of fighting against it.
This belief can also be seen manifested in Mark Hamill, esteemed actor who plays Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” films. In response to a tweet by G.O.P. Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel which states, “Democrats hate our President more than they love our country,” Hamill retorts, “I hate our President BECAUSE I love our country.”
This is yet another example of what it means to be a good, patriotic American. To love this country enough that you will call out what is at fault. To love this country enough that you want to see it grow, succeed and influence in a positive way.
I no longer turn away from patriotism. I no longer denounce this country that I call home, glaring at it with disgust. I claim this country for the integrity that it possesses, and make an effort to lessen the negativity, just like Steve Rogers and Mark Hamill do.
Though it is not always easy to treat with kindness a nation that is right now with so many downfalls, it is necessary. If this country is to ever overcome its struggles, it needs the support of its people. It needs every American to stand up and promise to help mend what has gone awry.
So, what I now proudly call my fellow Americans, if you are internally grappling with the cause to find virtue in this country, and to be a patriot, let Steve Rogers and Mark Hamill be your guiding light. Let their dedication to the bettering of America affect you in the best of ways, so that you, too, can be a guiding light in this country for others.
In the words of “Flagging Patriotism” authors Robert Stam and Ella Shohat, “Patriotism is not endlessly bragging that one’s country is the best; rather it is wanting one’s country to be the best that it can be and helping it to be that best…”
Image credited to Marvel Studios via The Peak