As I taught 11th-grade English last week, one star-spangled student asked me why I was not wearing the colors of our flag. Despite the emotionally charged state of our nation and with due caution toward trying not to impose my beliefs, I gave the only answer I could: I fear patriotism.
I suppose this is un-American, but it's not that I don't love my country. It's that the way we practice patriotism is, for lack of better words, unpatriotic.
I have a family that I love, and I am blessed that this love is returned. Our many differences of opinion do nothing to diminish our love. But patriotism, as often practiced, does not allow for these differences.
Even those with less education or those less cynical than I am don't have to think hard to come up with crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of patriotism.
However repulsive the act was to us, those hijackers were patriots to their people. Likewise, we Americans must have seemed like terrorists to the victims of My Lai or the civilian populations of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden.
As my eyes wandered across my students' faces, many of them paying respect for the dead by wearing red, white and blue, I wondered how egregious my perspective seemed. All I had to offer them were the cautions of men much smarter and more experienced than I, from William Tecumseh Sherman's, "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell," to Herbert Hoover's "Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die."
I tell my students that I know these are easy ideals for someone 3,000 miles away from the carnage. But I tell them that I worry about the anger and hate that may fill us in the days to come and how this anger and hate would blind us to the white and blue of our flag and act instead as a raging tributary to the red.
I tell them of the fears I have for them, because the price of vengeance likely will be paid with their blood.
And I tell them I wear black, not because I am not particularly proud to be an American but because I am not particularly proud to be human right now. And not just to mourn the thousands who died but to mourn the thousands who may follow.