That Old Piece of Cloth As a child of the 1960s, comic-book artist Frank Miller thought patriotism was a sentimental value. After the Sept. 11 attacks, though, Miller believes patriotism is essential to our national survival.
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That Old Piece of Cloth

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That Old Piece of Cloth

That Old Piece of Cloth

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe...

Unidentified Woman: I believe that everyone.

Unidentified Man #4: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #5: This, I believe.


As you might gather from this tape, it's time again for THIS I BELIEVE. Today's essay comes from comic book writer and artist Frank Miller, best known for his stark film noir style comics, featuring Batman and Daredevil, and for his original graphic novel Sin City.

Here's our series curator, Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: In the 1950s, people wrote this I believe essays in response to the fear of nuclear destruction. Fifty years later, the great fear is terrorism.

Frank Miller's personal beliefs were changed by terrorism, and are now built around his response to it. Here he is with his essay, for THIS I BELIEVE.

Mr. FRANK MILLER (Author, Illustrator): I was just a boy in the 1960s. My adolescence wasn't infused with the civil rights struggle, or the sexual revolution, or the Vietnam War, but with their aftermath.

My high school teachers were ex-hippies and Vietnam vets - people who protested the war and people who served as soldiers. I was taught more about John Lennon than I was about Thomas Jefferson. Both of my parents were World War II veterans, FDR-era patriots, and I was exactly the age to rebel against them. It all fit together rather neatly.

I could never stomach the flower child twaddle of the 60's crowd, and I was ready to believe that our flag was just an old piece of cloth, and that patriotism was just some quaint relic best left behind us. It was all about the ideas. I schooled myself in the writings of Madison, and Franklin Adams, and Jefferson. I came to love those noble, indestructible ideas. They were ideas, to my young mind, of rebellion and independence - not of idolatry. But not that piece of old cloth.

To me that stood for unthinking patriotism. It meant about as much to me as that insipid peace sign that was everywhere I looked - just another symbol of a generation's sentimentality, of its narcissistic worship of its own past glories.

Then came that sunny September morning, when airplanes crashed into towers a very few miles from my home, and thousands of my neighbors were ruthlessly incinerated, reduced to ash. Now I write and draw comic books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys, imagining human villainy in all its forms.

Now the real thing had shown up. The real thing murdered my neighbors in my city. In my country.

Breathing in that awful, chalky crap that filled the lungs of every New Yorker, then coughing it right out, not knowing what I was coughing up; for the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden, I realized what my parents were talking about all those years. Patriotism, I now believe, isn't some sentimental old conceit; it's self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation's survival.

Ben Franklin said it: if we don't all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on them to watch your own back, so you've got to do what you can to help your country survive. That's if you think your country is worth a damn. Warts and all.

So I've gotten rather fond of that old piece of cloth. Now when I look at it, I see something precious. I see something perishable.

ALLISON: Frank Miller, with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Miller recently announced that he's working on a new graphic novel in which Batman pits himself against terrorists.

Our project invites essays from everyone. You can find out how to submit an essay at Or call, toll free, 888-577-9977.

For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: Our series, THIS I BELIEVE, continues next Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We'll have an essay from a man who believes in his connection to those who went before and for those who will come after.

(Soundbite of music)


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