Today is the holiday we now call Veterans Day, but it was originally called Armistice Day. It commemorated the armistice Nov. 11, 1918, that ended World War I.
World War I was the war President Woodrow Wilson called the “war to end wars.” But, of course, it didn’t. So after World War II, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to honor all the people who fought in all our wars.
Wilson probably didn’t really believe World War I would end all war. He should have added “we hope” as a tag line.
After all, Ambrose Bierce, the author of “The Devil’s Dictionary,” had already defined peace as “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.”
Of course, Bierce was a cynic, which his dictionary defines as “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.”
Bierce might have seen the world’s frequent wars as overactive patriotism. He defined a patriot as “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”
I’m sure the people of England, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary all felt equally patriotic in 1914 when they commenced World War I against one another.
Another cynic, George Bernard Shaw, defined patriotism as “your conviction that this county is superior to all others because you were born here.”
I imagine the majority of Americans felt patriotic in 1846 when their army invaded Mexico and forced that country to give us the territory that now forms present-day California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. We also paid Mexico $18.25 million in compensation.
In the 1840s, many patriotic Americans believed that the United States’ “manifest destiny” was to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the isthmus of Panama to the Arctic Ocean.
Another opinionated dictionary — “The Left-Handed Dictionary” — quotes an anonymous cynic as defining patriotism as “self interest multiplied by population.”
Is it possible to see things as they really are and still be patriotic? I think it’s the only way.
The United States is far from perfect, and it used to be worse. We had slavery, Jim Crow laws and lynchings. Women couldn’t vote or own property. Workers had no rights and child labor was allowed.
Correcting injustice is slow and painful. But America’s founders left us a system for righting our wrongs if we have energy and courage. That makes me proud. That’s realistic patriotism. Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.