A Lesson in Patriotism

Service, Patriotism, and Humility

I did not experience a lot of flag waving or political banter about the superiority of the United States while growing up. But I did grow up among men who served. My Pops served in Vietnam. My grandfather served in both World War II and Korea. I had three uncles who served in World War I (one did not return). I had a cousin and another uncle who served in Vietnam. This is nowhere near a complete list of family members who served but it gives you an idea of the type of men I grew up around.

I was surrounded by men who answered the call to service and went to war. After their service these men quietly went about their lives. They got jobs, raised families, and continued to contribute to their communities. They did not brag about their service, but they were never ashamed to say that when their nation called, they answered. Most of these men have passed away, and all have military headstones. One the lessons these men taught me is that a patriot is humble in word and deed. He defends what he believes is right without a desire for glory. A true patriot believes in what his country can be.

-K-

Two Wars, Same Story

What Patriotism Asks of a Person

What makes a person patriotic? The backgrounds and beliefs of those involved and the context of their actions should be taken into consideration. There are two songs from Old Crow Medicine Show that focus on patriotic individuals and provide context worth a closer look. “Carry Me Back” and “Levi” from the album Carry Me Back may be about the experiences of two patriots in different wars but they tell a similar story.

There is one constant that runs through most wars, the availability and readiness of young soldiers willing to fight for the idea of patriotism. The Civil War is the first to address the idea of patriotism on the album Carry Me Back. The song “Carry Me Back” begins with the clear patriotic motivation of the song’s persona. He is a Confederate soldier willing and happy to fight for the South and his home state of Virginia. In fact, his brother has already left home to fight and the persona is eager to join him. This eagerness and patriotism fades as the war drags on and the persona experiences the horrors of war. The song ends with a young man who left home with the patriotic intentions to fight for Virginia praying that he be buried there. His patriotism has result in the ultimate sacrifice.  This same story arch can be seen in “Levi.”

“Levi” is not as explicit in its presentation of patriotism, it is also one step removed in narration. “Levi” is told from a third person point of view, as opposed to the first person point of view of “Carry Me Back.” This third person point of view allows the listener to interject his/her own history and knowledge concerning the war in Iraq. Contemporary listeners know that there was a surge in feelings of patriotism after the events of 9-11. Although Levi’s motivation for enlisting isn’t clearly stated, feelings of patriotism and a desire to defend his country are likely reasons. The realities of war set in quickly for Levi, much like those for the persona of “Carry Me Back.” And like his counterpart (who is actually referenced in “Levi”) Levi dies in battle and will be buried in his home state.

“Carry Me Back” and “Levi” are about young men who decide to defend their country in a time of war. Their motivations for doing so are patriotic, but we should look at the songs in a larger context. The persona of “Carry Me Back” and Levi are patriots but were they fully aware of the horrors of war when they volunteered and what their patriotism may require? The evidence suggests they did not. A country needs its patriots, but a country should do all it can to educate its young soldiers on what sacrifices may be required of those patriots.

-K-

from Carry Me Back by Old Crow Medicine Show

Action Figures, Comic Books, and Patriotism

How G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Inspired Patriotism in a Nine Year Old

How old were you when you started taking part in patriotic missions to protect the United States (dare I say the free world) from the evil forces of Cobra Command? I’m wagering there is one group out there that can give me an age and another group that is debating whether or not to keep reading. I’m hoping I have a little something here for both groups. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero instilled a sense of patriotism in me as I read the comics and played with the toys in the early 1980s.

I was nine years old when I bought (actually my Moms bought it) G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue #4. At that time I had one G.I. Joe action figure, Breaker (my Moms also bought it). That comic book and action figure were the beginning of countless hours of reading and imaginative play. I read other comics before G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and played with other action figures before the Hasbro toy line was introduced, but the combination of an ongoing comic book and an associated toy line created a mythology I could immerse myself in. It was this mythology of top secret soldiers defending their country without a need or desire for praise and glory that introduced me to the idea of patriotism.

Larry Hama, the writer of the comic book, gave the characters (which were also Hasbro action figures) developed back stories and interesting personalities. Each month I would read an issue of the comic, and Hama’s stories would influence how I played with the action figures. The comic and accompanying toys allowed me to be part of a world where brave men and women fought evil foes in order to protect the United States. What made it all seem so patriotic was that the soldiers of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic operated in secret. There was no glory, no marching bands, and no book deals to accompany their actions. These soldiers fought because it was their duty to protect the innocent. They defended their country because they felt it was their responsibility as patriots to do no less. My playtime with the action figures followed the example set by Larry Hama. My missions and storylines may not have been as interesting and detailed as Larry Hama’s but I was only nine. I may not have understood some of the finer points of patriotism at that age but Larry Hama helped begin my education.

I stopped playing with the Hasbro action figures after a couple of years but I continued reading the comic book until the end of its run, issue #155. The ideals of patriotism were just one of the many themes that Larry Hama addressed in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. I know that my definition of patriotism is different now than it was in the 1980s, but I also know that the comic book and action figures were an integral part in the development of that definition.

-K-