Thursday, November 18, 2004

RED, WHITE AND BLUE

Living on a military base, I'm surrounded by symbolic images. There are countless American flags, with the stars and stripes now flapping in the cold November wind. And everywhere you turn, there are the ubiquitous yellow ribbons to symbolize the "support our troops" theme. There are yellow ribbons tied around tree trunks, yellow ribbon magnets on refrigerators or yellow ribbons on car windows. And there are variations of the yellow ribbon message, most notably the "half of my heart is in Iraq" slogan.

But I've never been into symbols. I love this country but I've never owned an American flag. I support my husband but I don't have any yellow ribbons on display. And part of my heart is in Iraq, but I don't choose to advertise it.

For me, the way I show my patriotism and my support for the troops is to learn everything I can about politics, domestic/foreign policy, history and other relevant topics that explain to me the events of the day. My way of being an American daughter and an army wife is to be as educated as possible about what is going on in our world. I want to understand why our president makes the kinds of decisions he makes, why others react to his decisions the way they do and what is the result of all of it. I've been reading about Iraq's history, from the Ottoman empire to British colonial rule to the forces that brought Saddam Hussein to power. I'm learning about Islam and the differences between Shiites and Sunnis. I'm trying to get my head around the various tribes of Iraq and how those ties shape the country. I even tried to teach myself Arabic, although without much success.

Of course, I appreciate what the symbols represent. But they are not enough for me. Because I am privileged to live in a free and democratic country, I feel I should not take it for granted so I need to constantly learn, question, debate, criticize. And to me, the most patriotic thing I can do is to be an informed citizen. That is my yellow ribbon.