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Motoring down the roadway, I take in blurs of red, white, and blue, whizzing past my scope of vision. I am referring to, of course, the vast number of American flags attached to the cars of local residents and residents throughout the nation. This sudden splurge of patriotism can be attributed to the war, but that is not to say that patriotism has not existed before this war—it has also existed during the course of every American war, along with the cries of anti-war protestors. But does patriotism stand as strong during times of peace? One of the many duties of citizens is to love the nation they are born into because a nation depends on individuals who understand what it means to be a citizen.
To begin understanding citizenship, we must first have an idea of America’s past. In David McCullough’s essay “Why History?” he writes, “The Department of Education reported that more than half of all high school seniors hadn’t even the slightest basic understanding of American History”(88). We must know our history to know where we came from, and according to a speech by Alan Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, it is important for us to understand mistakes made by our nation in the past so as to not “…lose sight of human moral weakness…”(9). The moral weaknesses Kors references are anti-Semitism, racial discrimination, corruption of power, and, of course, slavery. Kors explains that we should not look down at our nation for the existence of these flaws, but rather look at how they have been for the most part abolished. America welcomes Jews; racial injustices were addressed in the 14th and 15th Amendments. Slavery, which is “the most universal of all human institutions,”(Kors 9) was dubbed as an immoral practice by American “…values and agency…”(Kors 9) and was abolished.
A nation cannot exist without citizens who understand the morals and values by which it was established and also what responsibilities they must live up to. In an essay by Peter Gomes, he quotes the American judge at the Nuremberg Trials as saying, “…it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error”(Jackson qtd.
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Creating a strong and unified nation depends on the work of citizens who understand the importance of freedom, the ideals by which it was reached, and the history of what our forefathers went through to grant us liberty. It is not the government that will lead us valiantly into the future, for “[t]he strength of a people consists not in the greatness of its leaders…”(Gomes 211) but rather in “…the quality of its followers…who are led by visions, ideas, ideals, and passions”(Gomes 211). In the end, it is not brave leaders like Washington, Jefferson, Grant, Lincoln, Mason, and Madison that are required so that America will continue to flourish, but rather generations who understand what they’ve inherited, and are “…pleased, privileged, and honored to be part of something greater than [themselves]…”(Gomes 211).
Gomes, Peter J. “Civic Virtue and the Character of Followership: A New Take on an Old Hope.” The Presence of Others. 3rd ed. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. 205-212.
Kors, Alan Charles. “Did Western Civilization Survive the 20th Century?” Meeting of the Philadelphia Society. Apr. 1999. Arlington, VA: Institute of Humane Studies atGeorge Mason University, 2000.
McCullough, David. “Why History?” Acceptance Speech for the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 1995.
Reader’s Digest. Dec. 2002. 86-89.