Douglas Brinkley: On American Patriotism

Roundup: Historians' Take

From CNBC's 'Capital Report' (July 2 2004):



Americans will celebrate their independence this weekend with fireworks and festivities. There's also fear of terrorism and concern about scores of troops still in harm's way in Iraq. Joining me now with some perspective is presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, also a professor at the University of New Orleans.

And, Douglas, we saw after September 11th once again what a patriotic people Americans are. But when you have a war that some people disagree with, it gets more complicated, doesn't it?

Mr. DOUGLAS BRINKLEY (Presidential Historian): Well, certainly. As you say, after September 11th, it was the American flag everywhere, on lapels, in front yards, bumper stickers, and that's continued. If you watch, most politicians today still wear the American flag pin on their lapel. But clearly, this year, more and more people are getting angry about what's happening in Iraq. They don't think we should be there. The country's clearly divided on that issue. And we've got only a few months until a presidential election, and the poll numbers show Bush and Kerry even, so there's some contention out there this July Fourth.

MURRAY: But, you know, some of this goes back, clearly, to Vietnam, when patriotism began to be equated with sort of 'America, right or wrong' attitudes. There's no particular reason why you can't disagree with some aspect of our foreign policy and wave the flag, and love the Fourth of July, is there?

Mr. BRINKLEY: Well, of course. I mean, dissent was what our country was--we were born--we were the cradle of dissent. Our so-called Founding Fathers, be it, you know, Thomas Payne or Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, Ben Franklin--you could read off all those names. They were here breaking away from Great Britain, believing that individuals had the rights of free speech, that we had the right for representation if we were going to be taxed and to speak out. And clearly, that is a great, great tradition, and I can't think of anything more on July Fourth than speaking one's mind as patriotic as blowing off fireworks....

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