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The terms "patriotism" and "nationalism" are not quite synonymous, and the subtle distinctions between them are important.

While both denote a love of country, patriotism tends to connote sacrifice and action, while nationalism is relatively more symbolic and passive.

Most of our recent wars have, alas, been originated by cynical nationalists who have beguiled the masses with stirring visions of patriotism. Showy displays of national flags are, in my opinion, nationalistic while serving in the military or patriotic in protesting unjust and useless wars. Some might, of course, see a contradiction in this last statement, but any reasonable person, in my opinion, whether they be in uniform or not, prefers peace to war. "Patriots for Peace," the excellent but now moribund group, begun by moral exemplar Jim Lewis, was an aptly named organization.

How do our recent presidents measure up?

Obama, in my opinion, gets good patriotism grades for community development and assassinating Bin Laden (the raid might have failed).

Trump, who recently visited Vietnam after having refused to serve in that war (bone spurs) - perhaps not so much. The situation is clearer with respect to nationalism: While Trump has undoubtedly succeeded in raising nationalistic fervor, this has divided both U.S. citizenry and our country from allies. There has never been a more intentionally divisive president - his tweeted insults (several to those who served in the military or their families), have animated his jeering followers while disgusting most other citizens. His scripted State of the Union comments were met with hoots of incredulity and derision.

Added to this inflammable situation is Trump's (and his vice president's) support by some religious fanatics. Any statement, in my opinion, that contains the words "Trump" and "Jesus" is likely to be a) irrational and b) troublesome.

Some years ago the excellent Vietnam-era song writer John Prine penned an anthem to sanity titled "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore." Perhaps the time has come to revisit this sentiment.

The future is bleak. The necessity of taking action to mitigate rising environmental problems will cause much public bickering, and, eventually, violence. High initial, undeniable dollar costs will be contrasted with high creeping, but very real, environmental difficulties (now floods, hurricanes and forest fires; soon access to clean, fresh water). Proven science will (continue to) clash with apocalyptic fervor.

What a sorry patrimony we are leaving!

John Palmer, a Huntington resident, served in the U.S. military from 1966 to 1970.

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