Patriotism in a Post-9/11 World

I’m delighted to have a new essay, “On Patriotism & the Language of GWOT,” published this month in War, Literature & the Arts. This is the only government-funded literary journal in the country, in print and online, and is published by the United States Air Force Academy. The essay explores my relationship to the word PATRIOTISM from 9/11 to the present, against a backdrop of changing careers, meeting veterans, and concern for today’s youth.

Some highlights:

“I remember walking the flag-lined streets of that tiny town in the Berkshire
Mountains. I remember the empty grocery store shelves—duct tape, diapers,
double A’s, and Quaker oats on backorder. I remember sitting on the roof of the old orchard house to gaze at a night sky uncut by domestic flights for the first time
in my life. I remember watching VHS-recorded news coverage of those two towers
nearly a week after the fact (we didn’t have television; I didn’t own a car). And
because I was volunteering for my country as an AmeriCorps trail crewmember,
I also remember feeling an acute and immediate sense that Americans come to
understand patriotism in very different ways. I was twenty-two years old and my country was going to war…

By 2005, when my students started asking about peak oil,
however, I sensed genuine fear. This, they could imagine. They had seen their own
soil invaded once before. They had heard the language of GWOT on repeat via
media outlets during their formative years. Unlike myself, the question of whether
or not their country could keep them safe had been a bona fide consideration for
these students almost half their memorable lives. What kind of nation would they
be handed over in a few years—short on oil, wonky on climate, and half the world
pissed off at them? I was twenty-five years old and my country was waging two wars. I left teaching
and I left those teens…

While September 11, 2001 left me speechless
and teaching left me tired, it turned out that in fact I did have something to say.
Furthermore, what I wanted to say was about war, consequences, and the people
on all sides. I finished graduate school in June 2008 during the Great Recession.
Seven months later, I was laid off from my job at a local coffee shop, losing 10
complimentary meals per week, health insurance, and wages. Student loans bills
loomed. I was thirty years old and unemployed. My country was still at war. Had
I failed my country, or had my country failed me?…

Several months after I was in New York, I received an email from Dan McCready,
former Marine and Harvard Business School graduate. He introduced himself as
the founder of a start-up company based in Charlotte, North Carolina that was
committed to pioneering the American spirit. My attention caught. If ever there
were a buzz phrase coming out of the language of GWOT, it was exactly that: American spirit…”

The essay in full is published here, completely free. Note that many “head honchos” of war lit are also featured in this issue. I’m humbled to be in their company and can whole-heartedly recommend this publication, and this issue in particular, as an incredible resource of deep thinking and creative effort in the field of war lit and military writing.

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