By Joe Finn, MHSA President & Executive Director
On June 6th of each year, the Anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, I like to raise the American flag outside my house. I also often like to put out a sign of the blue and gray insignia patch of the 29th Infantry Division that took Omaha Beach.
My late uncle, John Finn, was a part of the 29th Infantry Division, 175th Infantry Regiment and survived the invasion. He was later wounded at Saint-Lô, patched up and returned to combat and died in Bourheim, Germany on November 25th, 1944. (https://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=23329)
I keep his patriotic memory alive, along with that of another uncle of mine, my mother’s brother, Herb Small of the 544th Bombardment Squadron, who died on April 27, 1944, when the B-17 Bomber he was piloting, on a mission to bomb a V-Weapon Service Bunker, exploded over France. After dropping its payload, it was hit by enemy flak spreading a fire quickly throughout the plane. No chutes were seen. (https://384thbombgroup.com/_content/_pages//person.php?PersonKey=3711)
While of course I never had the privilege of knowing these two uncles of mine, like so many of their generation who went to war during World War II and were buried on foreign soil, they were true American patriots. I make it a point to honor them still on Veterans Day.
This generation understood the difference between nationalism and patriotism, just as they understood the difference between fascism and democracy. They went to war as most did because freedom in the world as they knew it was being threatened by the Axis Powers.
I am sure, battle-tested, they would be repelled by the relativism of today that confuses populist authoritarianism with legitimate democratic institutions. They understood the differences between nationalism and patriotism. They did, because they sacrificed much and, in many cases, like my uncles, surrendered their lives to uphold this difference.
It is important to note that patriotism can be virtuous and good, while nationalism is always toxic and evil. The difference is stark:
Patriotism is based on principle; nationalism is based solely upon the worldview of the authoritarian state.
Patriotism is premised upon principled justice as the foundation of the state; nationalism is premised upon the surrender of one’s conscience solely to the will of the state.
Patriotism is based upon the foundation of sound democratic institutions charged with the governance of the nation; nationalism is based upon the erratic and divisive whim of an authoritarian leader who seeks to undermine those very institutions of democracy.
Patriotism is subject to critique and challenges when such patriotism is exploited or abused; nationalism forbids critique and posits the false supposition that the state or dictator cannot be wrong.
Patriotism listens and cherishes our basic freedoms to express ourselves as individuals and encourages free discussion; nationalism shouts down others, abhors true political discourse and forces its own limited perspective upon the masses.
Finally, true patriotism seeks liberty and justice for all; nationalism pits “us” against “them.”
We should reflect on such matters this Veterans Day. Our nation, as perhaps never before, faces challenges because of citizens and elected officials on both left and right who no longer make such distinctions.
It is as if we have become desensitized to the differences between the virtue of patriotism and the evil of nationalism. We swerve only toward our own ideological team without stopping to think of what is simply right and wrong in advancing a more perfect union.
We can only hope this Veterans Day that the majority of us in America will continue to honor the true patriots who purchased with their effort and their blood our freedom as we know it today, and not confuse them with the play-acting sunshine patriots of today who further a mindless nationalism to the masses for their own selfish, hateful and power-seeking interests.
We are grateful that so many voters, regardless of their party, stood up for free and fair elections in this most recent midterm. That is true patriotism.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of MHSA as an organization.