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Sunday, 29 January 2012

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Patriotism: Defending Independence

Patriotism has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Independence Day, which falls on February 4, is a day of celebration for all of us and a day of remembering what we owe to our country. It is a day of remembering how fortunate we are to be able to live in a nation which is based on freedom and liberty. It is a day of remembering to continue to be patriots who love their country and zealously support and defend it and its interests. Celebrations are just one small part of patriotism.

Yesterday, I asked my 12-year-old niece, “What does patriotism mean to you in this period?” She replied, “To me it means that I care about my country and that we are free and we should always be loyal to our flag.” A beautiful answer! Maybe, I could not expect someone thrice her age to give such a distinct and clear-cut answer.

At first sight it would seem to be a very simple thing to define patriotism and to explain its meaning. It is not so simple. Yet we have always been taught that patriotism is love of one's country. Is there anything obscure in the terms composing this definition? Well, in the first place “love” is one of those words that have almost lost definite meaning owing to vagueness of usage and even positive misuse. “Country” is a term that has many meanings. Is it fatherland, motherland, homeland, birthplace or native country? I believe it is the last that is the specific term for the definition of patriotism.

Elements

However, what is more important than the term is the entity covered by the term “country” when we speak of love of country. Patriotism is an instinct almost as natural as the love of kith and kin, which needs no defining. But if we would acquire an intelligent grasp of the nature of patriotism and of the motives which justify it, above all if we would defend it against its adversaries, we must analyse the notion of country.

Of course, this term country takes on substance, colour, significance, emotional content only when spoken of the particular land that is one's own. One may look on that land as something of a mother: we owe to it our very life and being. It has nourished our bodies with its substance; it has in some sort moulded our very souls.

It is surely not for nothing that from childhood we have looked upon its landscapes, even if we be those rare beings that have not learned to love them. Its skies, its weather, its woods and fields and hills, its towns and villages all have coloured our imagination and become part of our innermost being. After all, this land of ours is our home, in a sense it is part of us and we, of it. It is as natural to normal human beings to love their native land as it is to love their home and family.

Seeing it with eyes of affection he/she sees in it beauties and excellences which the foreigner may fail to see. This then is the first element included in the idea of country as the very term shows clearly - our country, and our native land.

The second element is our firm belief that this land of ours is the land of our fathers. The generations that have gone before us have toiled to make it what it is. It is the fruit of their labour and sweat or the outcome of their brains and skill. Or perhaps they have died in its defence. In its soil they have been laid to rest. This feeling for the soil that holds the dust of countless generations of our kinsfolk and countrymen may be merely latent, may tend in this age of ours to die away. It is nevertheless a reality and an element in the idea of country.

The third element is the idea of the people. Our country is not merely the ancestral lands, even for the few who own any such. We feel it to be the common possession of the people to which we belong, of our race and nation.

These then would seem to be the three constitutive elements of the idea of country, each of them an outward and concrete reality. “Native land” situates it in space, “land of our fathers” links it with the past, “our people” fixes it in the present and beckons it towards the future. We love our country because it is the land of our birth, because it is the land of our forefathers, and because it will be the land of those who shall come after us, perhaps of our sons and daughters.

Heritage

Besides these outward and concrete elements, the idea of country may be said to have spiritual elements too, largely the same as those that go to constitute nationality, but seen from a different standpoint. Considered in relation to the nation they are factors making for distinctiveness from other nations and for oneness within the nation.

Considered in relation to country they are parts of the national heritage, spiritual goods handed down from generation to generation. Thus there is the national language which has come to us from past generations instilled with the spirit of one's people, a precious heritage indeed. There is the national literature and the national art in which the genius of the race has expressed itself. There is the national history, a treasury of sad and glorious memories.

All these are part of the national heritage, elements of the idea of country. When we speak of love of country all these things and more besides are embraced by that love..

We are now perhaps in a position to distinguish the idea of country from certain other kindred notions - state and nation. The State is simply a collectivity gathered under a sovereign authority or government which rules over the territory inhabited by that collectivity.

It may include several nations or parts of nations. A country is the long growth of centuries; a State may be formed overnight.

Country and nation

The distinction between country and nation is perhaps not so easy to explain. Commonly they are the same entity, but looked at from a different point of view. The nation is an entity whether looked at by friend or foe, citizen or foreigner; it is a country only to the individuals who compose it and perhaps not to all of these.

In Ireland not so long ago, there were individuals not a few who, though Irish by nationality, spoke of “this country” and “our country” and meant - Great Britain. Again there are emigrants, thoroughly loyal citizens of their new country, who still look back with longing and regret to the “old country,” their true fatherland, which they have quit forever.

These distinctions made, we can now define with some degree of adequacy what we mean by “our country” as the object of patriotism. We can say that it is the entire heritage transmitted to us by our countrymen who have gone before us.

In that sense, patriotism is a noble sentiment as it is based on devotion and selfless sacrifice of the people. It is the foundation that holds the structure of the country. A man who hasn't this noble sentiment lacks the sense of self-respect too. He is the weak link of the country that can succumb to pressure and may not become slave himself alone, but may assist the aggressor in making the whole nation slave.

Sri Lanka has been prone to foreign attacks for centuries. It is neither just a chance nor a sheer miracle that the country has maintained old traditions and culture. During different periods there have been patriots who sacrificed all they had to save the country from the foreigners.

The spirit remained undaunted. It was this patriotism that sustained the nation and kept the culture intact of which we are proud today.

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