The Pocket Book of Patriotism
A handheld civics lesson
By Steven Martinovich
Given the state of civics classes today -- many have been eliminated or turned into politically correct exercises -- it's not surprising that a majority of Americans have an appallingly poor knowledge when it comes to the basics of their nation. According to one survey, less than a quarter of Americans had a basic knowledge as to how their federal government operated. Americans may be more patriotic after September 11, 2001 but one could legitimately question if they know why they should be proud of their country.
Jonathan Foreman hopes to at least partially remedy that with his The Pocket Book of Patriotism, a basic reference on the United States. Although it won't take the place of civics instruction in America's schools, this book is an excellent primer meant to help the reader celebrate the stunning achievement that the United States is. It is premised on the belief that American patriotism is different from other styles of patriotism.
"Unlike foreign patriotism, American patriotism has almost nothing to do with notions of blood and soil. We, alone, are a people dedicated to a preposition. American patriotism has everything to do with the political ideas that inspired the founders, and which found expression in living documents that continue to shape the destiny of the United States. American patriotism also has a great deal to do with faith in human possibility, that belief in a better future that inspired successive waves of colonists and immigrants."
The Pocket Book of Patriotism is divided into two sections. The first is a timeline that stretches from 30,000 BC to 2005 and features American and world history side-by-side. Though timelines are hardly the stuff of excitement, it is interesting to contrast and compare major events that occurred about the same time. Most will be unaware that Das Kapital and the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas both took place in 1867 or that 1701 bore witness to the hanging of Capt. Kidd and the founding of Yale College. Even casual history fans will appreciate the opportunity to see how American history fits within a larger context.
From there Foreman offers brief sections on a diverse set of subjects which include famous speeches and documents, poems, quotations on patriotism, oaths and pledges and military medals, among others. It's not information that the reader couldn't find in other references but to have it in one place, particularly given the subject matter and purpose of the book, is certainly welcome.
Given that The Pocket Book of Patriotism weighs in at a mere 96 pages, one shouldn't be surprised that there are gaps and surprising omissions in its coverage. Several famous speeches and songs are missing and Foreman made the odd decision to reprint several examples -- including the Declaration of Independence and Star Spangled Banner -- in excerpted form, rather than with their full texts. By choosing to do so, Foreman optimistically hopes that readers will go out and seek them out on their own.
It's interesting that Foreman happened to be the one that put this book together. His father was the famed screenwriter Carl Foreman, writer of High Noon and 1950s blacklist victim. Thanks to his father's legal difficulties, Foreman was born in London before the family returned to the United States. Most would be embittered by that sort of family experience but perhaps the faith he has in his nation is an example of the type of patriotism he hopes to inspire with The Pocket Book of Patriotism. Though not a complete effort, it is a book that should be in the hands of anyone in need of a basic primer on their nation.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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