“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans…”
“Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.”
This speech inspired many young Americans to think about service to their country. This period in our history could be described as a watershed moment, nestled between the knee-jerk and sometimes paranoid patriotism of the Cold War era and the coming roller coaster of the Sixties and beyond.
When viewed from our vantage point, Kennedy’s word about defending freedom before the events of the later Sixties and on into our own war-torn time, almost seem quaint.
Sometimes I miss that optimism and simple patriotism which touched so many of us, before the cold realities of geopolitics and global economies. Like the last words of Steve McQueen’s character Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles (1966): “What happened? What the hell happened?”
However, Kennedy’s statement may not be a simple exhortation to mindlessly serve a particular administration, but rather a reminder that we are inextricably tied with the country in which we live.
Not to follow that country’s actions blindly or to choose partisan politics while claiming to do so for the country, but with an eye to making our country as good a place as it is capable of being, for everyone, in all ways.
Patriotism is not wearing a flag lapel pin, or celebrating the Fourth of July, or giving money to political parties that act in ways you support.
Patriotism is about paying attention, giving energy to those programs and actions which serve to reinforce our country’s ideals based on equality and democracy, which safeguard the rights of all, not just some.
If you can handle one more Boomer reference – In the words of Joni Mitchell:
Feeling just a tad nostalgic, rather patriotic in my own special way, and somewhat optimistic in the Heartland ….