I am struck by how patriotic we Rock dwellers are. That’s not to say our brothers and sisters in America don’t love the red, white and blue as much or support our troops with equal passion or, for that matter, pay as many – or often more — taxes.
They do. But there is something about Rock patriotism that seems to have something more visceral about it. And it’s not just because we have a big Navy base on this island as well as a whole slew of retired military folk here, although that’s part of it.
Our patriotic fervor is apparent year-round on the Rock, but it was even more splendidly on display over the recent Memorial Day weekend, when you could hear full-throated flag-waving cheers all over the Rock — up island, down island, in-the-middle island, even around island in kayaks and boats. And that’s just the warm-up to the Fourth of July.
What strikes me, however, is how wildly divergent our definitions of patriotism are when we talk about it. Look no further than the red-hot letters to the editor in this newspaper to see that. Last month I wrote about how we Rock dwellers love to disagree with each other and how disagreeing is part of our social contract. Nothing illustrates that better than a good, knock-down brawl over whose patriotism is true-bluer and whose is misguided (to put it mild enough for a family newspaper).
And here’s where I will likely get into big trouble. In 1968, I was drafted into the Army and spent a year in Vietnam, even though I always opposed the war and still believe it was a mistake. Vietnam arguments have been going on for more than 50 years now. Am I less patriotic than those who both served and supported that war? How about those who didn’t serve and resisted the draft? How about those who supported the war but didn’t go fight it?
That last question is one I ask a lot these days in the wake of our seemingly endless wars in the Middle East, where our brave all-volunteer military members are sent back to fight again and again and again. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit on our butts and kvetch about those who either do or don’t “support our troops,” a phrase that has lost most of its meaning since it became a bumper sticker.
The vast majority of today’s young people don’t perform what used to be called their “patriotic duty” to defend this country. Why? Because they aren’t required to. Does that make most of today’s young people unpatriotic?
All this adds up to lots of good questions to argue about over a beer at Toby’s, undoubtedly with the usual paucity of agreement. What’s good here on the Rock is that we argue heatedly about such things but then move on to the next subject. So much to disagree about, so little time. It keeps us on our toes and our minds fresh.
At last month’s Memorial Day parade in Coupeville, I was deeply moved to see the Rock’s few surviving World War II vets applauded, cheered and honored. I loved seeing a few of today’s young sailors in the Navy color guard. I enjoyed hearing the band play “God Bless America” as it rained on us.
Best of all, I loved seeing kids, who likely couldn’t find Okinawa, Vietnam or Iraq on a map if they had to, playing on the swings at Coupeville Town Park, giddy and oblivious to the flag-waving blather going on nearby. On the Rock, it doesn’t get any more patriotic than that.