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Patriotic pieces from the Great War/What is Patriotism?

< Patriotic pieces from the Great War

WHAT IS PATRIOTISM?

Not dilating with pleasurable emotions when the American flag is unfurled. Not rising to our feet when the Star-Spangled Banner is sung. Not joining societies of Colonial Dames, or Daughters of the Revolution. Not sending off fire-works on the Fourth of July. These things may be the expression of civic pride, or of personal pride, or of pure hilarity. They may represent steadfastness of purpose, or mere force of habit. They symbolize contentment in times of peace, and it remains to be seen how far they symbolize nationality in times of peril. For many years no serious obligation has been thrust upon us, no sacrifice demanded of us, in return for protection and security. Now the call is imperative, and by the sustained fervor of our response will the depth and purity of our patriotism be made manifest to the world.

Two things are certain: We were not lightly tossed into this war to appease resentment, or to gratify ambition; and it will take all our energy, sagacity and determination to win out against an adversary whose strength can never be overestimated. Because we are a peace-loving people, we reëlected a profoundly peace-loving President. Because we are a patient people, we endured repeated insult and repeated injury, and sought to win redress by noble but futile remonstrance. Our flag was hauled down on the high seas, our ships were sunk, our seamen drowned like rats. There were many whose hearts were sore over these things, and whose slow-growing anger burned like a hidden flame. There were many who had begun to ask In Lowell's homely words,

"Wut'll make ye act like freemen?
Wut'll git your dander riz?"

Still the President's restraining hand held an angry people in leash. Still he hoped against hope, and strove against fate, to obtain some measure of justice. It was only when it became a question of the United States taking orders from Germany, and so yielding our assent to her crimes, that Mr. Wilson asked Congress to proclaim a state of war. We had then no choice left us. It was not merely the nation's honor and the nation's welfare that were at stake. It was the salvation of the nation's soul.

Because we realized this, we read unmoved the appeals sent out by Peace Committees, and Fellowships of Reconciliation. What was the use of asking us to "generate, and set in operation the irresistible energies of love;" to "combat wrong by a sustained appeal to conscience;" to assert "the constructive principles of good-will"? God knows, we had tried to do these things. We had tried, as decent-living men and women, to establish relations of decency with the Central Powers, and we had failed. They struck at us treacherously again and again, plotting in secret at our doors, repaying our hospitality and our trust by making bombs for our destruction on the ships which were sheltered in our ports. It was time, and more than time, that we turned the "irresistible energies of love," the "constructive principles of good-will," to the aid of those allied nations who were bearing on their galled shoulders the burden of a war they had not provoked, and upon whose triumph or defeat rests the hopes of an assaulted civilization.

It is imbecile to prate about the glamor of war and the infection of the military spirit. There is no glamor left in war. We know the truth about it. There is no military spirit, unless it is expressed in Mr. Wilson's words, "The world must be made safe for democracy." No man likes to endure hardships. Few men care to face danger and brave death. This is why we apply the word "heroic" to a nation's defenders. A French soldier, blinded for life in his first skirmish, said quietly in response to commiseration, "Some one had to be there." No simpler exposition of duty was ever given. Some one has to do the hard and bitter work. Some one has to front the peril and bear the burden. The man who says, "Why not I as well as another?" is a patriot. The man who says, "Why not another rather than I?" is a shirker. War is the supreme test of character. It took a war to give us Washington. It took a grievous war to give us Lincoln. Both these men suffered greatly in fulfillment of their high purpose. Both bore their share of pain without shrinking and without resentment.

If we value our civilization, if we love our homes, if we believe that our country stands a living vindication of popular government, we must prove our patriotism in this day of trial. The pacifist talks of peace, the socialist of the tyranny of capital, the sentimentalist of universal brotherhood, the coward of caution. The patriot has a strong and simple word, duty, to guide him on his way. The issue now before us is one which, in the words of Lincoln, "can be tried only by war, and settled by victory." It was not our choice to fight, but the alternative was submission to wrong-doing, and that way lies perdition. American women, no less than American men, repudiated the shameful surrender of all we held sacred and dear, and are now prepared to abide by the consequences of their decision. "Only thus," says Mr. Roosevelt gallantly, "shall we stand erect before the world, high of heart, the masters of our own souls."