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Patriotic Buying
An Essay by NPR's Daniel Schorr

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Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr

Sept. 24, 2001 -- In 1942, President Roosevelt, in a call for sacrifice, called on the home front in World War II for self-denial, for the abandonment of many creature comforts. In 1961, President Kennedy, in his inaugural address, said that in the Cold War, Americans would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship in defense of liberty.

President Bush, in his speech to a joint session of Congress last Thursday, addressed himself to the home front in the war against terrorism, saying, "Americans are asking, 'What is expected of us?' I ask you to live your lives and hug your children." For one who remembers gas rationing, tin can collection and Rosie the Riveter, this is a strange kind of war that asks Americans to fly their flags, attend their memorial services and then go on living their lives.

Indeed, there's a new kind of patriotism that is expressed in consumerism and stock purchase, but it is not surprising that Americans are cutting back on spending, as job layoffs spread. Nor is it surprising if Americans decline the invitation to make risky investments. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote in The Washington Post, "There is no patriotism in being a spendthrift, no heroism in exposing one's family to unwarranted financial stress." Americans have found their own ways to express patriotism -- by giving blood, by volunteering for rescue and recovery tasks, by donating food and supplies, by extending consolation and counseling to the bereaved.

A return to normalcy is supposed to show the terrorists that they have not succeeded in bringing America down, but a call for normalcy strikes a jarring note for many Americans who find that two weeks after September 11th life does not feel normal at all. President Bush has asked Americans for continued participation and confidence in the American economy. If that's all Americans are asked for, the singular unity of this nation is likely to dribble away.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.