Americans have seen times when patriotism in the country was through the roof, especially during times of crisis, like World War II, Operation Desert Storm or after 9/11.
But there are also times, like during the Vietnam War period, when it seems to take a dive downward. Some say the country is now living through one of those down times.
Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as, “Love for or devotion to one’s country.” However, that can be shown in many different ways, from flying the national flag on holidays, to rushing to enlist in the military when the country is at war, to lining the streets for patriotic-themed parades. Those who protested against the war in Vietnam and the second Gulf War could claim they were showing love and devotion to their country in their own way.
The most common perspectives of patriotism are the former, and that is most evident in senior communities, like the Sun Cities. Jim Stark, a Sun City resident, believes that is because life was more simple 50-plus years ago.
“It was more ‘cut and dried,’” he stated in an email. “By that I mean we were not constantly bombarded by external and often conflicting/confusing data/stimuli.”
When today’s seniors were growing up, their parents and teachers instilled substantive, if relatively simple, goals, then gave guidance and rules for getting there within a society that encouraged such, Mr. Stark explained.
“That, in turn, gave us a community foundation and pride in our community and ourselves,” he stated. “That personal and community pride is reflected in continuing patriotism.”
He does not believe the patriotic level is the same in mixed-age communities.
“The younger generations are suffering from lack of focus, ergo, scattered attention spans with electronic devices, TV, et al, distracting them from informed, substantive, intellectual thinking,” he stated.
He sees a drop in patriotism in Sun City as younger generations move in.
“The attendance at what used to be major patriotic gatherings, e.g., Independence Day, is far less than it was just 10 years ago,” Mr. Stark stated.
Michelle DiMuro, Veterans Heritage Project executive director, agrees there has been a drop in patriotism over the years, partly because there is a larger population without any connection to military service. During World War II, 12% of the American population served in the military, she added. Today, fewer than 1% serve in the military.
“Many people had family members who served, or they knew someone who served,” she stated in an email. “Without that connection, and add to that the lack of civic education in our schools, it can be difficult to form a real understanding and appreciation for our nation and its ideals.”
She believes civic engagement, volunteerism and patriotism are values that need to be taught and handed down from one generation to the next.
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke sees it in a slightly different light.
“I don’t know if I have seen a drop off of patriotism,” he stated in an email. “I have seen tiredness and mistrust of politics and authorities. Social media has heightened this frustration with instant and not always balanced nor verified stories.”
He believes that if individuals are asked if they are glad that they live in America, overwhelming the answer would be “yes.”
“If any would say ‘no,’ they are still voting with their feet being here rather than with their mouths,” Mr. Hartke stated. “There are always ways we can make America better, but even that statement is loaded — better for who and how?”
Mr. Hartke believes that the older people become, they have weathered a few more crises and have seen America come out on the other side.
“This also engenders gratitude and a sense of patriotism,” he stated.
While there may have been a drop off in patriotic feelings, Ms. DiMuro believes the trend is reversing. The veterans project she directs involves high school students gathering, through personal interviews, recollections from veterans then writing them for a book published annually. The VHP began in 2004 under the leadership of Cactus Shadows High School social studies teacher Barbara Hatch with the first publication of the “Since You Asked” hardbound book available in 2005.
“Yes, I believe patriotism is on the rise with the younger population, and know that VHP is helping in that effort,” Ms. DiMuro stated. “We have had several teachers share how patriotism increased at their school due to VHP activities on campus.”
She believes the rise in patriotism among youth today is mostly from those who have a connection to one or multiple veterans.
“Students are enthralled to learn directly from a person who has lived through history,” she stated. “The stories help them understand sacrifice and service beyond self. Students are being inspired to set goals, work hard, and do their part for the community, be it through military service or civilian life.”
During the governor’s “stay-at-home” order, a young student sent a letter to all the interviewed veterans from this year, expressing his gratitude for them, according to Ms. DiMuro. Every year veterans comment on how they have hope for the future because of the youth they have met through VHP, she added.
“Students are graduating high school, and asking how can they bring VHP to their university,” Ms. DiMuro explained.
Students involved in the project confirmed that in comments from a post-project survey.
“I was completely uninvolved in my community prior to VHP and had no desire to be, but VHP opened my eyes to the beauty of it and now I cannot imagine my life without making civic responsibility a priority,” stated Carla Rock, Shadow Mountain High School graduate, now attending the University of Arizona majoring in food safety. “VHP showed me the importance of being a part of something bigger than one’s self.”
Jack Senese, a University High School graduate, followed in some of his veteran subjects’ footsteps. He is attending the U.S. Air Force Academy majoring in aeronautical engineering.
“VHP has helped me realize the part I can play by being active, and that I do have a civic responsibility in keeping this country running,” he stated.
Lauren Kobley, a Notre Dame Prep graduate and now attending Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University majoring in journalism, Spanish and social work, believes patriotism goes beyond military service.
“A soldier’s service and sacrifice does not end with a war or the completion of time served; those experiences continue to shape not only their lives after the war, but the lives of other people like myself,” she stated. “They gave the best of themselves so that others could have the opportunity to become their best selves, and this realization has already started shaping the choices I make each day.”
Why did the country see a decline in patriotism in younger generations?
“Divisiveness based on emotion vs. fact is turning younger people off,” Mr. Stark said. “Parents have abdicated their responsibilities for teaching their children basic moral principles — or more likely they have been so corrupted by our divisive culture that they themselves have no moral compass.”
Sun City was dubbed the “City of Volunteers.” But that distinction seems to have waned over the years, as fewer people are willing to step forward to serve on boards, committees and other volunteer efforts. Mr. Stark, who served in the U.S. Air Force, believes there is a connection to the decline in patriotism.
“It’s hard to devote one’s time to what we perceive as a declining system,” he stated. “Every generation has had its political factions and major battles. However, none in the past have been so public or ‘in your face’ as it is today. We live in a ‘drama queen’ society and it feels as such — superficial!”
Mr. Hartke has not seen a drop in volunteerism in his community.
“In my roles as a mayor, a pastor and a community volunteer, I have the opportunity to work with a multitude from all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity,” he stated. “People like to help people.”
During protests in Chandler, Mr. Hartke interacted overwhelmingly with younger generations in their teens, 20s and parents with their children.
“They were respectful. They wanted to rally around a cause. They wanted to make a difference,” he stated. “I respect that.”