By Stephen Smoot
Recently, as the nation gears up to celebrate freedom and independence,, my wife endured a difficult encounter with a pair of customers.
An older man and a young child, likely no more than eight or nine, approached the counter at the local convenience store in which my wife works. It’s important to the story to understand that her mother’s family came from “bad old days” Brooklyn, her father’s from the “bad old days” Bronx. Regardless of where they came from or the circumstances in which they lived, all carried fierce pride as Puerto Ricans, New Yorkers, and also as Americans.
When she rang up their order, it totaled $9.11, at which point the youngster squealed “Uh oh, look out for the planes!”
My wife’s family includes individuals who were in the Twin Towers on that horrific day. She and her family knew the fear and anguish as they saw the flames. They knew both the relief of hearing that some had escaped, but knew the despair of hearing that some of their family did not.
She leaned forward and firmly explained that a lot of families lost loved ones, that first responders rushed into the inferno and many did not survive, that every American needed to respect their memory and that jokes about that day of loss are far from appropriate.
Then the grandfather shrugged his shoulders and said “it happens.”
To be clear, she was not upset at the child. It is not his fault that his family raised him to feel irreverence at the worst day for the United States in most American lifetimes.
Younger generations losing respect for the sacrifices of those who came before is not inevitable. Generation X was reared on stories from their grandparents who shared their lives during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War. They created a fiercely patriotic generation that stood up to fight in Iraq twice and Afghanistan for 20 years.
That generation also went to public schools that saw educating patriotic American citizens with a reverence for the sacrifices made by servicemen as a primary duty.
Today, the ideal of the Grand Old Flag has become tattered and careworn. Too many children learn the falsehood that their country is morally equivalent to truly evil regimes, such as the Soviet Union and Red China. Too many hear that heroes, such as George Washington, who have inspired the downtrodden around the world, are evil and not worthy of remembrance. They do not want discussion. They want to erase their memory from the public square entirely.
This is not necessarily true of schools and teachers in our area, but it happens far too often in far too many places.
Parents carry the primary responsibility to teach values. Regardless of whether or not their children learn these values at school, it’s vital for parents to reinforce them in the family environment. A short conversation while driving down the road, a day trip to a battlefield, or even just modeling these values in daily life can make a strong impact on children and counter the negative messages flourishing in much of the national media and popular culture currently.
Patriotism is not slavish devotion to a government. It is a love of the nation and its people and the fervent desire to see America succeed while respecting the sacrifices of the past.
Also, it requires thoughtful evaluation of American people and events in the context of their place and time, not comparing their ideals and behavior to what is accepted or even just fashionable in 2023.