Is patriotism uncool? Aren’t fallen soldiers heroes? Some post-Memorial Day thoughts

The Memorial Day parades and barbecues were barely begun when a TV host put his foot in his mouth, for which he has now profusely (and rightly) apologized.

Chris Hayes, a host on the very liberal MSNBC cable channel and editor at large for Nation magazine, said on the eve of Memorial Day that he feels “uncomfortable” with the notion that soldiers who’ve died are “heroes.” He said this because he fears promoting more unnecessary war. Or as he worded it, “it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.”

Naturally this comment created a firestorm, and the next day he wrote an apology stating: “On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word ‘hero’ to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.”

He added, “As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation’s citizens as a whole.”

Hayes’ comment and apology make me wonder, is it unfashionable to be patriotic today? Maybe not in some circles, but it seems so among the elite.

On Memorial Day, President Obama spoke at Arlington about the shameful mistreatment of Vietnam veterans who came back to an ungrateful country. Although that message is a few decades late, it certainly is welcome.

Ever since the days of the Vietnam War, it seems as if there’s a portion of Americans who think it’s not cool to be patriotic. Maybe those folks experienced a short blip of patriotism right after 9/11. But just as there was a quick increase in church attendance right after the same, it quickly subsided.

I think there is something of a link between love of God and love of country—not that the two always go hand in hand. Thomas More was executed by King Henry VIII, yet his dying words were, “Tell the king I die as his good servant, but God’s first.” If it’s an either/or—God or country—for me, God must always come first.

But in the American experience, because our founders said our rights come from God, there is a sense in which love of God and of country (when in the right) go hand in hand. To paraphrase George Washington in his Farewell Address, you have no right to call yourself a patriot if you subvert two key “pillars of human happiness.” Which were? “Religion and morality.”

There’s a brand new book that shows that prayer and patriotism have gone hand in hand from the beginning of the republic—actually even slightly before. The book is Endowed By Their Creator: Historic American Military Prayers,1774-Present (First Principles Press). It was compiled by Marine Colonel Ronald Ray.

I spoke with him recently about the book, and he explained that he searched through American military prayer books and hymnals, old and new—mostly old. In searching through 74 volumes, he found that 73 percent of military prayers throughout our history have been offered in the name of Jesus. It’s only recently, as the prayers have become more politically correct, that the name of Jesus is not being used.

The book has more than 280 uniquely American prayers from and for the military. Colonel Ray explains why he put it together: “Prayer is under attack in the military institution. As a Vietnam combat veteran, 34 years as a Marine officer, a former Defense official, and a lawyer, I spent 10 years collecting American military prayer books from before the nation’s founding to the present day.”

He adds, “I did this research not as a man of the church, but as a military historian and a lawyer to make the case for the ‘Military Necessity’ of prayer, because there are ‘no atheists in foxholes.’”

The colonel is not pleased with an anti-religious component he finds among some in our government today. He notes, “I found that while over 70 percent of those serving today in the US military self-identify as Christians, their Chaplains are threatened and discouraged from praying in the name of their God, Jesus Christ, and leaders are officially prohibited from leading their troops in prayer—even in battle—in this ‘One Nation Under God.’”

Here’s an example of a prayer from his book. This one comes from the West Point Prayer Book, 1948: “Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will…through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

In short, I hope it becomes cool once again to be patriotic. And yes, Mr. Hayes, you were correct to issue your apology. Those who have laid down their lives for their country are indeed heroes.

As Jesus said in a different context, Greater love has no man than this–that he lay down his life for his friends.