2008 Gerald R. Ford Essay Challenge

First Place Winner


My Understanding of Patriotism Today


Steven Harwood

12th Grade

Northview High School


In the midst of the current election season, discussions of patriotism, particularly of the patriotism of the various candidates, have repeatedly arisen.  We as Americans place a high value on patriotism, and even if we agreed with a candidate on every issue, many of us would be unwilling to vote for someone whom we saw as unpatriotic.  But throughout most of these discussions, one fundamental question remains unanswered.  What exactly is patriotism to an average American in 2008?  The answer is that patriotism is many things.     

            Patriotism is supporting the American form of government.  Representative democracy is the foundation of American freedom, and a patriot should lend it the utmost respect, for only with the belief and approval of the people can it exist.  Of course, there are those in the Government who would put their own interests before those of their nation, and the people’s respect for the institution of democracy must be such that they will cast out those who pervert it.  Thus, patriotism also entails a healthy mistrust of the Government.

            Patriotism is supporting those who risk their lives in the defense of the United States, whether or not one agrees with the military action itself.  The men and women who serve in our military do not decide where and when they go to war, and thus it is unfair and ignorant to direct one’s disapproval of policy at them.  In fact, many of                 them may also disagree with the political reasons behind a given action, and the very fact that they put their lives on the line for our country regardless of this fact should only increase our respect for them. 

            Patriotism is being a responsible citizen.  A patriot fulfills her duty to the United States by voting.  A patriot upholds justice by serving as a willing and impartial juror.  A patriot observes and respects the laws, and she works to change those she finds unjust.  A patriot takes pride in providing for his family with his own hard work, and he is always willing to work to get ahead; a patriot does not wait for others to do things for him. 

            Patriotism is welcoming every American, regardless of what color their skin is, their gender, where they were born, or any other trivial matter of birth or personal preference.  America is a nation built on immigration, and a true American will respect anyone who is willing to give up the familiarity and security of his homeland to pursue a better life as an American, providing that this is done legally.   

            Patriotism is condemning those who would use its name to advance unworthy causes.  “The stoutest and truest Americans are the very men who have the least sympathy with the people who invoke the spirit of Americanism to aid what is vicious in our government.”  This was written by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1894, and it is still true today.  There are none more unworthy and contemptible than those who would pervert the spirit of Patriotism for their own benefit, and a true patriot will look upon them accordingly.

            Patriotism is pride.  A patriot flies the Stars and Stripes and sings the Star Spangled Banner proudly, and affords these symbols of our freedom the utmost respect.  He looks back proudly at the many great accomplishments in American history, while humbly learning from the many mistakes.  A patriot is always proud to say he is an American.

            All of these things must combine to produce what we know as patriotism.  An American who flies the Flag and supports the troops but is blinded by prejudice is no American at all, but rather a useless and contemptible citizen.  So too is he who welcomes all but fails to love his country, and indeed the same can be said of anyone who shows only some elements of patriotism.  True patriotism exists only when these qualities are united by a deep love for and devotion to the United States and everything for which she stands, a love and devotion found in millions of ordinary, hard-working citizens throughout the country.  It is this immovable army of patriots that has made, and continues to make, America the greatest nation in the world.