Patriotism is defined as a deep love and devoted defense of one’s country. The term is also referred to as national loyalty, allegiance, and public spirit.
In the United States, we even take this one step further, coining the term Americanism for the preference of the United States and all of its institutions. As far as I can tell, this kind of specific patriotism is unique to America. I, for one, have never heard anyone say Italianism, Canadianism, Australianism, Zimbabweism, or the like.
We typically define Americanism by sarcastically pointing out things that are un-American, such as tiny cars, homes without air-conditioning, television sets smaller than forty inches; the list goes on. But what is the true, deep essence of Americanism?
If you were to ask random people on the street, most would probably say that America is about freedom, both bestowing it and celebrating it. Many may also mention Christianity as the reigning moral compass. Others would describe America as the land of opportunity and say that you have the right to be who you truly are in this country. American pride is often seen as the driving force behind justice, equality, civil rights, and, above all, freedom.
However, throughout history citizens have done terrible things to each other in the name of American pride:
- During the American Revolution, patriots tarred, feathered, and otherwise violently attacked and intimidated Tories who chose to remain loyal to Britain, even though they were fighting the spread of tyranny.
- When the Ku Klux Klan reformed less than one hundred years ago, its members flogged and lynched countless innocents while adhering to the organization’s new, simple slogan of “100 percent Americanism.”
- In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings sparked the far-reaching Communist witch hunt, which resulted in thousands of people being blacklisted and losing their jobs and homes. Hundreds of filmmakers, writers, and actors were erased from history books, while businesses across the country went under because of suspected, and often imagined, subversive activity.
- During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, hate groups brutally assaulted and even lynched nonviolent activists who were trying to expose unjust Jim Crow laws.
- In the days following the September 11th terrorist attacks, hate crimes against Muslims across the country increased and included vandalism, arson, assault, harassment, shootings, and even murder.
Many of these events may seem to have taken place too long ago to still be relevant, but their legacies remain. Remnants of the Ku Klux Klan live on in the doctrines of other white supremacist groups, the Civil Rights movement took place within my parents’ lifetimes, and just last year protesters opposed Park 51, a multi-faith community center close to ground zero in New York City because it included a Muslim mosque. Clearly, these feelings haven’t disappeared completely in the nearly two and a half centuries since the end of the Revolutionary War.