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Ask MPR Mailbag

September 14, 2006

How can MPR present that patriotism increased after the 9/11 attacks?

On September 11, 2006 Cathy Wurzer made the comment that "patriotism increased" after the 9/11 attacks. I would submit that, after 9/11, people were just as patriotic as they were before the attacks. What increased was was jingoism, that is, overt displays of nationalism coupled with a belligerent attitude toward those who chose to practice their patriotism more quietly. Statements like "patriotism increased" only serve to give credence to the notion that, if you don't display an American flag in front of your house, or a "These colors don't bleed" bumper sticker on your car, you somehow love America less than those who do. How absurd in a country that stands on the bedrock principles of freedom of ideas and freedom of expression.

Minnetonka, MN

Dear Ralph, you've asked an intriguing question, one that I'm sure is being asked a lot as we reflect on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. What, exactly, is patriotism?

I pulled down my copy of the American Heritage Dictionary, which offers this definition of the word "patriot":

A person who loves, supports and defends his country.

I would suggest that this is a pretty inclusive term, and that the vast majority of Americans can be described as patriots. But can this feeling change over time?

It's hard to measure, although many people have spoken anecdotally about their love of country growing stronger after 9/11. For instance, comic book artist Frank Miller recorded an essay on this subject as part of NPR's "This I Believe" series, which was broadcast on September 11, 2006. You can listen to it here.

It's useful to keep in mind that a patriot is not necessarily a "jingo", which is defined as:

One who vociferously supports his country, esp. one who supports a belligerent foreign policy; a blatant patriot, a chauvanist.

Which brings to mind the sort of sets and subsets you might have encountered in introductory logic class: some jingoes are patriots, but not all patriots are jingoes.

In short, we don't suggest that there's only a single way to express one's patriotism. But we do think that patriotism is one of the many important ideas and concepts that we ought to examine from time to time over the course of the year.

Michael Popham
Minnesota Public Radio Member Listener Services