BY NATHAN DASCHLE
On the morning of September 12, I began my search for an American flag. Like most Americans, I felt helpless in the aftermath of the attacks and proudly displaying the Star-Spangled Banner was about the only thing I knew to do. Finding an American flag was much harder than I had expected. After having watched 96-straight hours of CNN, I first suspected that the flag shortage was because all of our flags were being burned in Pakistan. But, after walking around the law school and elsewhere, I soon realized that something more profound was happening — we were rediscovering patriotism.
Patriotism is now everywhere. American flags are hanging proudly in dorm windows, on cars, on bikes and just about everywhere else. Conscientious student groups have been handing out red-white-and-blue ribbons in the Hark. What’s more, there is an unprecedented feeling of pride in our country, our history, our struggles and our achievements.
As pride in the flag grew, so too did a deep respect for firefighters, police officers and other public safety personnel. What began as compassion for those who were lost in the collapse of the WTC towers quickly became a sincere appreciation for public servants around the nation. Not just celebrities and the New York Yankees, but Americans all over were donning NYPD and FDNY baseball hats. The question that remains is whether this patriotic surge is a passing emotional reaction to the September 11th attacks or a fundamental change in how we view our country and those who serve it.
Though the hats don’t need to stay, the deep respect for our country and those who serve it should. The wonders of our democratic experiment and the bravery and loyalty of our public servants is not new: The men and women in uniform have been protecting our country and its ideals for a long, long time. That we were able to slip into a blissfully ignorant ease in the everyday manner in which we carried on our lives before September 11 is evidence of both the sacrifice and the success of our public servants.
As we learn how to navigate through our new world, we should not lose sight of the many reasons for being proud of America. We must not forget that we are the world’s most successful democracy because of the people who serve us — not just in a time of national emergency, but everyday. Some of us have long viewed law enforcement officers with an immediate suspicion. Anecdotal evidence of police corruption and a Hollywood image of testosterone-filled brutes got the best of our imagination. To the extent that it was trendy to disdain the police or others in the “establishment,” our view should be forever altered. While we should always keep an eye out for the bad forces in our ranks, we should remember that on the whole, police, firefighters and other public safety officers are the most patriotic of Americans who love our country and are willing to die for our safety. Let us never forget that as the police officers and firefighters of New York gave their lives on September 11th, they saved many, many more.
Nothing will be lost when the NYPD and FDNY hats fade away and lose their popular appeal. But everything will be lost if we forget this newfound respect for our country and the men and women who serve it. Patriotism and respect for our public safety officers need not be just a reaction to a national tragedy; it can be a way of life. I’ve got a flag now and I’m going to keep it up. I hope you will do the same. Lets not let our flag be a fad.