Discovering Patriotism Through the Newseum

Discovering Patriotism Through the Newseum

Patriotism is always a sentiment that I’ve struggled with. Objectively, I’ve always known that living in the United States provides a lot of freedoms and opportunities that you won’t find in other countries, and I’m appreciative of that. However, I wouldn’t say that gratitude has ever truly extended to true love of country for me the way that it does for others.

Being in the city of D.C. alone has done a lot to change that. The tingling in my spine as I looked up at the Capitol building for the first time, along with the sense of awe that struck me as I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court, reminded me that our legislative process and court systems are something to be proud of. Still, the appreciation didn’t quite extend to what I would call patriotism.

It wasn’t until I visited the Newseum in downtown D.C. that I’d really say I felt a change. The entire museum is dedicated to the history of news and reporting in the United States, but as you walk through it, you get a solid lesson in the history of the United States itself. As best said in a quote housed on the Newseum's walls, "Journalism is the first rough draft of history." There are exhibits dedicated to landmark court cases, the Constitution, 9/11, the Civil Rights movement, and more.


9/11 Wreckage


As I stood looking at a piece of the Twin Towers, recovered from the wreckage, I remembered how our country came together. When I saw the replica of the Birmingham jail-cell door that had stood between Martin Luther King Jr. and freedom, I also remembered a time when our country almost came apart. I saw a bullet-riddled pick-up truck that had carried reporters willing to risk their lives to tell the truth, and saw exhibits on the First Amendment that had allowed them to do so.

It wasn’t until I was standing in the Pulitzer Prize gallery of photos that all these things came together in one realization: what I had been trying and failing to love for the past 20 years wasn’t really my country. It was an idea of my country, of stone buildings and a government and a military, all of which were only parts of America. What I’d been neglecting to consider were all the other people and parts of the United States that make it up, too, all of our moments of grace as well as our greatest failings.


Truck from a warzone


At the heart of my realization came an understanding that patriotism is not blind love of country. It’s not trusting our government without question, supporting our institutions without criticism, and advocating for our greatness without room for conversation. To me, true patriotism is seeing the United States for what it is. We are a great country that’s accomplished many things. We are also a flawed country that’s made, and continues to make, many mistakes. Being American is recognizing the things that we’ve accomplished while still holding my country accountable for the ways in which it has failed.

It’s love, but not unconditional - patriotism is a love that comes with both the right and the duty to make my country a better place.


Read Colleen's previous blog posts

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