In the years since the September 11 attacks, many Americans have expressed a newfound patriotism. But patriotism means different things to different people. The strict definition is 'love for or devotion to one's country but just how that love or devotion is expressed can sometimes be a source of controversy. A new museum in Atlanta is taking on the topic.
When you step into the National Museum of Patriotism, you're literally surrounded by famous patriotic quotes. In colorful letters on the white walls, you see the words of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Mark Twain, and more than a dozen others expressing love for the United States.
Just off the lobby is a small theater, where you see a short film with some striking images: an American flag being raised, a flag being burned, and a flag-draped coffin.
You see fighter jets taking off. The film says patriotism means different things to different people and it ends with this wish: "We hope you'll take time to reflect on what it means to be an American. And we hope you'll find your own answer to the question what is patriotism."
This is your introduction to a 1,000-square-meter museum packed with bright multi-media exhibits exploring topics like American symbols, volunteerism, and expressions of patriotism during World War II. It's the brainchild of Nick Snider, a retired executive who originally just wanted a place to show his collection of patriotic pins. Then he decided to do something much bigger and more complex.
"I think I had a sense of realization that there has to be something far greater than my collection that has a sense of embellishment about love of country," he says.
From the day in 1997 that he announced plans for a museum of patriotism, his advisors were concerned. Some feared the name suggested a right-wing conservative bias, but Mr. Snider saw it as mainstream.
"Because there is this center of America that says we speak to what America is about," he explains. "We make the sacrifices that we do and we have to build this country to be what it is. And historically, our successes far outweigh our mistakes as proven by how successful we are and how many people want to be a part of what we are about."
Nick Snider wanted the museum to celebrate that. There were lengthy discussions about what sort of exhibits would go into it, and some touchy topics were batted around. But he and his advisors decided that, at first, the museum would not explore the history of protests or consider what behavior is patriotic in a time of war or look at times in world history when atrocities were committed in the name of patriotism. Mr. Snider says he's not a scholar of history or experienced curator qualified to lead that kind of discussion.
"One of the challenges you face is if you don't have the right credentials to defend controversial subjects then don't take yourself down that road," he adds. "Because what will happen is you'll find yourself backed into a corner embarrassed and ashamed of whatever it is you thought you knew."
So controversial issues receive only a brief mention. A video on American Indians says they've come to symbolize collective responsibility for the environment. An exhibit on immigrants simply notes that African slaves were brought to the colonies. There is a nod to the civil rights movement with a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Museum of Patriotism opened on July 4 and visitors are starting to discover it. Melanie Johnson, whose husband is with the Army National Guard in Kuwait, says she believes the museum fills a need. "I think there a lot of people that just take so much for granted and just don't realize what it means to love your country, but sad to say it's the people who need to visit here the most that probably never will come," she says.
But the museum suggests that more and more people are discovering their patriotism and looking forward to exploring it. A multi-media exhibit of the aftermath of 9/11 shows Americans becoming aware of what they have in common.
"We are the power of one.
The power of one?
The power of one?
We are united.
We are America."