What Is Patriotism?

September 8th, 2008

I was saddened to read the letter to the editor from Robert Wheelersburg '88 PhD concerning the yacht mast that now serves as a flagpole on the College Green ("Flying the Flag," Mail Room, July/August).

Wheelersburg writes, "Due to the unpatriotic actions of the faculty and students during the late 1960s, the naval [ROTC] unit that mast honored did not survive. Take down the flag...; Brown does not deserve to fly it."

His thesis seems to be that because some members of the Brown community thought the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake and Brown chose to take an institutional step away from militarism, the University should forever be stigmatized as unpatriotic.

In the same issue, by contrast, was a photo of my old friend, Bob Cohen '68, looking appropriately hirsute, who became a conscientious objector ("Full Circle," July/August). Bob and I both hated the Vietnam War, but I enlisted (one step ahead of the draft board) and went off to fight because my personal philosophy did not make me eligible for conscientious objector status. I expect that Bob is just as patriotic as I am, despite our very different paths through those bad times. Patriotism can be demonstrated by continuing to contribute to American society, as Bob did at the recent Commencement forum on activism.

I urge Wheelersburg to recognize that a patriotic love of America does not always require one to carry a weapon in every war our leaders whomp up. Chauvinism is not a synonym for patriotism. Just as not all people must agree with a single line of reasoning about our country's wars, not all universities must participate in ROTC programs. Choosing to dissent, especially if one follows up on the choice and does something about it, can be very patriotic.

Frederic R. Pamp '68
Colorado Springs, Colo.

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Related Issue
September/October 2008