Patriotism bugs me. I have nothing against the idea of patriotism. In principle it is a good thing as long as it doesn't turn into mindless nationalism. Nazi Germany was a good example of that. What really pisses me off about patriotism is that so many people give lip service to the idea when there is really no substance to it. Too many people hang up an American flag and then feel like they've done their part.

My dictionary defines patriotism as: "devoted love, support, and defense of one's country." Nowhere in this definition does it say anything about lip service. The most popular item that people display on the back of their vehicles is a sticker or vanity plate promoting the dealership where they bought their car. What makes them think that adding a flag is going to make them a patriot. Advertising is not substance. It's fluff. Try displaying an "I Love You" sticker on your refrigerator to let your spouse know, and then never do anything substantial to act on it.

I've saved all the letters I received during my two tours as a pilot in and over the Vietnam Conflict. With a very few exceptions, they are all from my family. There were many people who knew me and could have written, but they didn't. They were probably too embarrassed to display a flag or too busy waving one to do anything meaningful. I still wear my distinguished flying cross on Veterans Day, and often think about my friends who I served with – those who did come home and those who didn't. We were all volunteers, and I'm proud of every one of them.

After the world trade center disaster there was a flurry of lip service in the pasting of American flags on bumpers and back windows, flags on car antennae, flags on houses, etc. But what did these people really do?  How many of them donated money to the various charity funds that were supporting the victims' families? The flag makers made a lot of profit, so I suppose capitalism got a small boost, but that was about it. 

This really hit home when I was in a Lowe's doing some shopping. There was a huge easel that was probably 8' high and 3' wide. Each side of it contained a large sheet of paper and a sign encouraging people to sign their names in support of the war in Iraq. The paper was full of signatures. I'm not sure how this was supporting the war in Iraq, but it made the signers feel good. Certainly it was a public display of support, but again it was lip service. If there had been someone there collecting donations for war victims or military, I wonder how many of those signers would have stopped to make a donation – probably a very small percentage.

I wonder how many people who display flags have cheated on their taxes. I wonder if there are more tax cheaters than flag wavers. It would have been interesting if the IRS had added a box to the 2002 tax forms so that taxpayers could check it and donate some of their refund toward the war effort, or so that they could pay additional taxes toward that cause. How much would you have donated? And who would know if you did? What fun is patriotism if no one knows you are a patriot? Are we really all that patriotic, or do we just want to feel that way and have others believe that we are patriotic.  Perhaps a bumper sticker that said: "I gave to the war effort! Have you?"  But that won't happen.

How many of us define patriotism with the "Let's kick Saddam's ass" mentality? I still have childhood memories of the pride I felt watching the US Calvary ride in and kick Chief Redskin's ass on TV westerns and in the movies. Now it embarasses me. How was that different from the television obsession with the Iraq war? If we really wish to be patriots, we should actively support the ideals that founded this country. Waving the flag is nice, but it's not patriotism in any substantial way. Neither is shouting "kick ass" at the television.