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by Bernadette Yarnot

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One of the side effects of a little thing that happened last September is an increase in the visible display of patriotic feelings, displays, and the like. This sort of thing subtly annoys me because it is precisely those people who denigrated patriotic emotions in the past who have gone to the other extreme and are displaying patriotic bad taste.

I personally feel that patriotism is something that should be "done right." In other words, "My country, right or wrong, and by the way, if you're not our country, you're wrong," is far beyond the bounds of propriety and is pretty dumb to boot. A person should know whereof he speaks, and not just assume that because she is an American the world should bend over backwards.

As an example, I have heard people repeatedly cite the First Amendment as a justification for saying anything they want, anywhere. (Message boards usually have at least one such twit, and if said twit gets messages pulled by the moderators, woe betide the board.) The exact phrasing of the First Amendment starts: "Congress shall make no law..." It then addresses religion (there is NO "separation of church and state" clause in the Constitution) and, as an afterthought, mentions that a free press is necessary to a free state, and so free speech should not be abridged. In practical life, this is interpreted regarding "protected" and "unprotected" speech (of which yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is the classic example) and certain laws do, in fact, deal with things you can and cannot say, such as libel, slander, and obscenity laws.

And while "freedom of speech" is protected, a public forum is never guaranteed.

Anyway. It bothers me that there are a number of newly hyperactive patriots out there who proclaim that the good ol' USA is the greatest country on the face of the planet without having the faintest idea of what makes the country great. The reason that so seriously disturbs me is that these are the types to lead an attack on those very things that are good about the American system in the name of patriotism or "American values."

What makes the USA great? Well, there's the fact that though this country has done many terrible things in its time (as have most countries), it has attempted redress and has accepted responsibility for those actions. There's the amazing tradition of a peaceful exchange of power on a regular business. There's the idea of the Constitution as a "working document" and not a set of laws carved in stone. And there's the sense that we can improve this country and its culture one step at a time.

That's a heck of a lot better than being proud of the "patriotic SALES!" that are going on now...

And now for something different...

How about a patriotic quiz? Test your USA knowledge. (If you live in a different country, score double for every question answered correctly.)

  1. How many stars and stripes does the US flag have? (1pt)
  2. Who said, "Those who give up a little liberty for security deserve neither"? (5pts)
  3. Name as many states as you can off the top of your head. (10 pts total)
  4. What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution known as? (2 pts)
  5. Which date was the Declaration of Independence completed? (2 pts)
  6. What year was the Constitution adopted? (5 pts)
  7. When was the last foreign war fought on US soil (excluding colonies, embassies, and isolated attacks)? (5 pts)
  8. When I say "isolated attacks", do you know what I'm talking about? (10 pts)
  9. Name at least two US holidays. (1pt)
  10. What form of government does the US have? (2 pts)
  11. Name the first three presidents, the three most recent presidents, and at least one president from the nineteenth century other than Lincoln. (7 pts)
  12. Who are the two people featured on US bills who were not presidents? (2 pts)

So now for the answers...

  1. The US flag has 13 stripes, one for each colony, and fifty stars "on a field of blue." The arrangement is not specified, and many early flags featured constellations. The number of stars represents the number of states; they decided early on that increasing the number of stripes would be unworkable. (The "Star-Spangled Banner" of Francis Scott Key's poem had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It now hangs in the Smithsonian, unless they're repairing it again.)
  2. Benjamin Franklin said that, as well as other great phrases such as "A house divided against itself cannot stand" and "If we do not hang together, gentlemen, we shall surely hang separately." His publication, Poor Richard's Almanac, was full of such aphorisms. An interesting man he was, a scientist, a poet, a lecher...
  3. Okay, here goes my shot: California, Oregon, Washington, Hawai'i, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota , South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Florida, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, and... shoot. Okay, I'll go get the atlas now... Delaware and Connecticut. Oh, well. Washington, D. C. is not a state and neither is Puerto Rico or Guam.
  4. The Bill of Rights.
  5. Signed on July 4th, 1776. You get extra points if you said July 2nd, because that's when Jefferson finished drafting it.
  6. 1787. The government in the meantime had been a confederation, and some people have claimed that therefore Washington was not the first president. However, he was the first president under the current system.
  7. The War of 1812, when Canada sacked Washington, D.C. The "Terror From the North." Don't underestimate those Canadians, eh?
  8. In World War II, the Japanese attempted to bomb US soil with high altitude balloon bombs. Several actually made it over (one set a fire at the Hanford nuclear research center; one killed a group of picnickers in Oregon several years after the war; and one was discovered as far inland as Colorado.) However, the press agreed with the government that silence was the best policy, and the Japanese discontinued the program after its apparent failure. If you came up with a different example, such as the Spanish-American war (for which there's still a telephone tax) well, good.
  9. The Fourth of July is an obvious one. Thanksgiving is another. President's Day is not an official holiday (!), though Lincoln's Birthday is. Martin Luther King Day has finally gained validation, I believe. Labor Day (celebrating unions) and Memorial Day are likewise American. Flag Day is, of course, and Veteran's Day. Partial credit can be given for St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo as holidays celebrated with much more fervor in the US than in their countries of origin.
  10. If you answered "democracy", you get one point. Full credit to those who answered "republic." And if you understand the difference, full marks in civics!
  11. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson; George W. Bush, William Clinton, George H.W. Bush ; and here's where it gets fun, because most of the 19th century presidents were unmemorable, to say the least. You could go with Ulysses S. Grant, a decent general but a weak president, or with Andrew Johnson, impeached because he wasn't weak, or James K. Polk, who obtained the Oregon territory (thank you, They Might Be Giants), or Millard Fillmore, who was unmemorable, or John Quincy Adams, son of the second president, or William Henry Harrison, who still holds the record for the shortest term in office (three weeks after catching pneumonia at his inauguration), Tyler, who followed him, Taylor, who was somebody else, "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson, James Garfield, who was a president before he was a cat, Grover Cleveland, the nation's most eligible bachelor... there's quite a few, actually. Who did you pick?
  12. Benjamin Franklin, iconoclast, and Alexander Hamilton, creator of the Treasury and father of the national debt. Really. He thought it was good for the country.

Any other ideas?  Talk to me.

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