Are Bowdoin students really “at home in all lands and all ages,” as the Offer of the College asserts?

Tomorrow night Quinby and MacMillan Houses host the perennial favorite Cold War party. In prior weeks, concerns were raised relating to the party’s theme. Some feared the “patriotic nature” of the party might “trigger” students. After contentious house meetings, a panel discussion and guidance from Inter-House Council, the theme was left intact. Yet many involved were left wondering: are Bowdoin students proud of, or even comfortable in, their own land?

Patriotism is defined: “love and loyal or zealous support of one’s country” In America, that means a commitment to stand by, have pride in and promote our Constitution’s purposes: to establish justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and the blessings of liberty for all. Patriotism does not require backing the current administration, supporting our entire history or chest thumping chauvinism. Patriotism is not partisan; it is an adherence to your country, an outward sign that one cares about the current and future welfare of our nation and its people. We all strive for and believe in idealistic forms of America; in working for and holding such goals we are all patriots. So why are some afraid to demonstrate their pride and reluctant to be around others displaying their own?

Bowdoin students’ angst toward public displays of patriotism is representative of growing ambivalence across progressive America. Richard Rorty, the self-proclaimed liberal philosopher, asserts, “there is a problem with this [new] left: it is unpatriotic. In the name of ‘the politics of difference,’ it refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride.” 

National pride connects citizens to one another and to larger causes outside their own individual and material pursuits. The larger cause of America is the pursuit of equal rights, freedom and opportunity for all, which all Bowdoin students seek. 

Some claim they cannot rejoice in our national mission due to numerous atrocities in the past or shortcomings in the present. Repudiating patriotism does nothing to heal these scars. Rather than a sweeping defense of our entire history, patriotism is the realization that this country is striving for greatness. While acknowledging the problems of the past, we must also celebrate the progress made and the sacrifices it required. The imperfections of the American memory should never limit the potential of the American destiny.

Many take issue with American patriotism on grounds that it is arrogant and connotes superiority over other nations. Pride in one’s country allows appreciation for the pride others have in their own. Patriotism is like parenting; only when we have children of our own will we appreciate the love our parents had for us. Furthermore, the best parents comprehend their child’s strengths and weaknesses and, with unceasing love, nurture the former to overcome the latter. Without devotion no child reaches their potential. America is a young country, still maturing; with our nurturing and devotion she will grow.

Some students see the patriotism wielded by the current administration as an effort to promote a homogenous and exclusionary vision of America. Patriotism is the greatest unifier of our country with the singular capacity to include all Americans. Communities and identities generally gain relevance by separating “us” from “them.” There are no identities, passions or hobbies all Americans share. This country was not founded with a shared ethnicity, religion or ruler. We are bound together by our values and beliefs: liberty, equality, justice. Patriotism, unlike other identities, unites rather than divides Americans. Labeling patriotism as exclusionary is fundamentally inaccurate and weakens the country’s ability to unify and cooperate for our shared values and beliefs.

Our generation is a fortunate one; little personal sacrifice has yet been required from us. When future challenges arise one must wonder whether current Americans will muster the conviction to sacrifice. The original Sons of Liberty, our veterans, abolitionists, suffragettes and many alumni found strength in patriotism and would be dumbfounded, if not offended, by the perceived “threat” of patriotism on campus today.

We are living in the midst of the American experiment. While fallible, the successes of representative self-government, separation of powers and respect for the individual have changed the course of history for better at home and abroad. Warren Buffett asserts, “The luckiest person ever born in the history of the world is the baby being born in America today.” We possess an immense—and unique—American privilege. It is such a privilege that people risk their lives crossing oceans and deserts for a chance at it. Let us look to the past and be grateful; let us look to the future and be hopeful. Let us realize the successes we enjoy exist due to the passion, perseverance, love and sacrifice of past Americans. The potential of the experiment is known, our commitment to it is not.

At the party tomorrow and for the rest of your life be the first to wave your flag. Reclaim the pride your country deserves and appreciate the tremendous opportunity you have to craft the future of this mighty nation. The torch has been passed and it is our responsibility to preserve for posterity the freedoms we hold dear. President Obama believes, “a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals and those who died in their defense.” The time is ours. May we be worthy.