America the Average: Thoughts on Patriotism and Being a Nation

(ORIGINALLY POSTED IN MARCH 2014 EDITION)

By Julia Hand Campus Press Columnist

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By the time the average American is five years old, he or she is reciting the pledge of allegiance. At any middle school sporting event, as soon as the squeak of the loudspeaker is heard, the crowd unconsciously rises from their seats. Hats come off. Everyone turns to face the flag. It is a virtually unanimous “American” response to the sight of the stars and stripes, or to the call of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Defining a Nation   But where–dare I ask–does this sudden, seemingly natural patriotic attitude exactly comes from? One morning in Professor Lange’s United States History I class, my classmates and I were asked what it meant to be a “nation”?  Is it living in a collective area? Or is it something more; something that connects people?  So I decided to ask fellow Camden County College students: “Do you consider yourself an American?” The overwhelming majority said yes, without skipping a beat.  However, when asked what being American means to them, some were stumped. Many simply admitted that it was because they live in the country, or were born here and lived under the American law system. Very few defined being an American as a sense of unity or responsibility. Those who did see “American” this way responded in a primarily militant way, communicating their responsibility to “defend” or “serve” their country. Others just didn’t really knew what it meant to be an American, they only knew that they felt like they should be categorized as one.

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 “Proud to be an American”     This general lack of consensus is surprising when taking into account the amount of American nationalistic customs that are still widely practiced today (for example, the Pledge of Allegiance, Thanksgiving, treatment of the American flag).   As popular as the “proud to be an American” ideal is, how many Americans participate in these out of pure habit?  Why is this?   Perhaps we are losing a sense of unity as more and more cultures mix together, or maybe our idea of unity is changing. Instead of pride in an American country filled with bravery and freedom, maybe we are realizing that people are the same no matter where anyone is from. It may be possible that no matter the level of political, military, or economic power of a nation, what matters to us now is the strength of the individual. Or maybe we have become ungrateful of our freedoms and just really don’t care. Do you consider yourself an American? What does it mean to you?

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