Anthony H. Fabio, Shreveport Chapter of DeMolay
The United States of America is the greatest country in the history of the world. Patriotism, from the Latin patria and the Greek πατριά (patria), is the love of one’s country, but I submit that true patriotism is the love for the good and the honorable things of a person’s nation. To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo, it is a love for the eternal, and not the temporal, greatness of a country. So, when I say that the United States is indeed the greatest country in the history of the world, I sincerely believe this to be true because we Americans love all of the honor, goodness, and freedom that our country stands for.
Patriotism is not blindness. Too often in the history of the world people have confused the high ideals of patriotism with a mindless nationalism leading to delusion, despair, and destruction. I am quite certain that many German soldiers in 1914 and in 1939 and Japanese pilots in 1941 actually believed that they were patriotic when they marched down the wrong path. (I am still amazed that the crew of the German U-boat that sank the Lusitania in 1915 were honored as patriots by Kaiser Wilhelm II.) Yet, what were they really doing? They were blindly following their imperial leaders down a bloody path. Instead, patriotism means to me that we follow the high ideals of honor, goodness, and freedom.
For example, George Washington was a loyal subject of the British Empire. He suffered in battles for the king during the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763. He led the Virginia Colonial Militia through the swamps to central Pennsylvania in order to advance the causes of his king and country.
In contrast, about twenty years later, George Washington was at war—in revolution—against the very same British Empire. This certainly was very difficult for him since all of his life he had been a very loyal subject of the king. He realized, however, that his king and his country had now abandoned the high ideals of honor, goodness, and freedom that are part of patriotism.
The Continental Congress appointed George Washington as the Commander of the Continental Army in June 1775. As a general on active duty in the military, he understood that he must never publicly make any political statements. Privately, however, as he still held on to the very last remnants of his boyhood loyalty to the British Empire; he hoped for some type of reconciliation between America and King George III. As late as December 1775, he actually considered the British Empire to be in a civil war, rather than in the American Revolution, with loyal Englishmen from one side of the Atlantic fighting other loyal Englishmen from the other side of the side of the Ocean. As such, at his headquarters, George Washington flew a flag with thirteen red and white stripes with a British Union Jack design in the top left corner.
Then, in January 1776, everything changed for George Washington. When he learned that King George III had hired Hessian mercenaries, Washington was outraged. This was the end for him of any remaining loyalty—any remaining patriotism—toward the British Empire. No so-called “loving father,” the king, should ever hire strangers, the Hessians, to make war upon the father’s own children, the Americans. As the principles of honor, goodness, and freedom were now truly with the Americans, George Washington now became an American patriot. With this, he lowered the British-style flag and raised over his headquarters an American flag with thirteen red and white stripes and thirteen stars within a field of blue in the top left corner.
Meanwhile, as another example, Benjamin Franklin was making a gigantic sacrifice as part of his patriotism—he was forfeiting the love of his son. Benjamin Franklin and his son William Franklin had been family, friends, and business partners, and both worked to promote the financial wealth and political prestige of the other. Their joint efforts finally achieved the ultimate reward when the king appointed William Franklin as the Royal Governor of the Colony of New Jersey.
Unfortunately for the Franklin Family, the father and son became divided over patriotism. The father Benjamin Franklin was now loyal to America, and the son William Franklin remained loyal to the British Empire. The father saw that the British Empire of his birth had abandoned the honor, goodness, and freedom of patriotism, and he saw that America stood for the high ideals. The son, however, cast his lot with self-centered profit and arbitrary political tyranny. The father and the son broke all connections with each other, and they never had any reconciliation. Benjamin Franklin sacrificed the love of his son for his country.
In remembering the crisis that our country endured during the Civil War, the wisdom of our sixteenth President concerning the loyalties of patriotism are illustrative. When asked whether God was on our side, Abraham Lincoln responded, “The question should be, ‘Are we on God’s side?’” Abraham Lincoln understood the honor, goodness, and freedom of patriotism.
When my father teaches the course, “The History of the Roman Empire,” he gives a long litany of all of the conquerors who marched through the city of Rome for three millennia with the design of conquering, looting, and pillaging (Hannibal, Sulla, Caesar, Severus, Charles V, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler, and many others). However, only one army—the army of the United States—never came to conquer; it came to liberate, to spread freedom, to advance all of the great things which patriotic Americans cherish.
So, why do all of our young men and women fight, suffer, and die in distant lands and on distant shores? None of them did so for personal profit, or to steal farmland, or to loot gold and silver. They did it to defend the greatest country in the history of the world, and at the same time they did it to spread the high ideals of patriotism. They brought with them the values of honor, goodness, and freedom.
In summary, as to what patriotism is and what it means to me, I look to President Dwight Eisenhower for inspiration. At the end of the book D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen E. Ambrose, in looking back at the great Normandy Invasion, President Eisenhower observed the honor, goodness, and freedom within the great sacrifices made for patriotism:
It is a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for ambitions of their own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy the freedom in the world. I think it is just overwhelming. To think of the lives that were given for that principle, paying a terrible price on that beach … but they did it so that the world could be free.
Anthony Henry Fabio, a former Master Councilor of the Shreveport Chapter of DeMolay, is an Eagle Scout, a member of the National Honor Society, and a Chapel Youth Leader at Barksdale Air Force Base. He received the W. H. Booth Lodge’s Honesty and Integrity Award and the Wendy’s Heisman Award for Caddo Magnet High School. He is a volunteer at the Louisiana Emergency Telephone Center and a Presidential Scholar at Louisiana Tech University. He enjoys bowling, fencing, and playing the viola.