Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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I am a patriot

As our Day of Independence, or National Day, approaches, we reflect on the meaning and relevance of being patriots of our country.

Too often, patriotism is either dismissed as something which is abstract and irrelevant in this pragmatic and materialistic society of ours, or as something which the State defines and uses as a ploy for its own aims and goals.

Too often, here in Singapore, patriotism is defined as adherence to the law, or to the Government’s dictates. Step outside these demarcated lines and you risk being portrayed as or accused of being “unpatriotic”.

What is patriotism?

Who defines what patriotism is?

Does it hold any meaning for you?

Is it important to be a patriot?

Indeed, is it even necessary?

United States Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, gave the following speech on 30 June this year in which he spoke about patriotism. It is an inspiring speech, one which perhaps is as relevant to the US as it is to Singapore.

Listen or read his speech and share your views on what it means to be a patriot of Singapore.

The following is a short excerpt from Obama’s speech and a song sung by Eddie Vedder of the rock band, Pearl Jam, titled “I am a patriot”.

Dissent does not make one unpatriotic.

No party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism.

Patriotism starts as a gut instinct. My grandfather explaining to me that we could do anything we set our mind to do.

What makes America great is not its perfection, but the belief that it can be made better. Our revolution was waged for that belief. That we could be governed by laws, not men. That we could be equal in the eyes of those laws. That we could be free to say what we want, and assemble with whomever we want. And worship as we please. That we could pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help others pursue theirs.

Patriotism is not just loyalty to a place on a map or a particular people group. It is also loyalty to America’s ideals. Ideals for which anyone can sacrifice for, or defend.

Patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to a particular leader, or government or policy.

Mark Twain…once wrote: “Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals…But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country’s name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution – these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that – especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words.

Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.

true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.

It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give back to one’s community; that it is honorable to serve in the military; that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices heard.

And it is up to us to teach our children a lesson that those of us in politics too often forget: that patriotism involves not only defending this country against external threat, but also working constantly to make America a better place for future generations.

That is the liberty we defend – the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek – not an equality of results, but the chance of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build – one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America’s happy and singular creed.

Video of Obama’s speech:

“I am a patriot” by Eddie Vedder (lyrics here):

I am a patriot, I love my country
Because my country is all I know
I wanna be with my family
People who understand me
I got no place else to go…
I am a patriot…

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