Morning Edition, September 11, 2006 ·
I was just a boy in the 1960s. My adolescence wasn’t infused with the
civil rights struggle or the sexual revolution or the Vietnam War, but
with their aftermath.
My high school teachers were
ex-hippies and Vietnam vets. People who protested the war and people
who served as soldiers. I was taught more about John Lennon than I was
about Thomas Jefferson.
Both of my parents were World War II veterans. FDR-era patriots. And I was exactly the age to rebel against them.
all fit together rather neatly. I could never stomach the flower-child
twaddle of the ’60s crowd and I was ready to believe that our flag was
just an old piece of cloth and that patriotism was just some quaint
relic, best left behind us.
It was all about the ideas. I
schooled myself in the writings of Madison and Franklin and Adams and
Jefferson. I came to love those noble, indestructible ideas. They were
ideas, to my young mind, of rebellion and independence, not of idolatry.
not that piece of old cloth. To me, that stood for unthinking
patriotism. It meant about as much to me as that insipid peace sign
that was everywhere I looked: just another symbol of a generation’s
sentimentality, of its narcissistic worship of its own past glories.
came that sunny September morning when airplanes crashed into towers a
very few miles from my home and thousands of my neighbors were
ruthlessly incinerated — reduced to ash. Now, I draw and write comic
books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys. Imagining human
villainy in all its forms. Now the real thing had shown up. The real
thing murdered my neighbors. In my city. In my country. Breathing in
that awful, chalky crap that filled up the lungs of every New Yorker,
then coughing it right out, not knowing what I was coughing up.
the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential
menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden I realize what my parents
were talking about all those years.
Patriotism, I now
believe, isn’t some sentimental, old conceit. It’s self-preservation. I
believe patriotism is central to a nation’s survival. Ben Franklin said
it: If we don’t all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like
you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on
them to watch your own back.
So you’ve got to do what you
can to help your country survive. That’s if you think your country is
worth a damn. Warts and all.
So I’ve gotten rather fond
of that old piece of cloth. Now, when I look at it, I see something
precious. I see something perishable.