Washington — I doubt that I could come up with a neat definition of patriotism -- post-Vietnam style. But I know patriotism when I see it and I see mounting signs of old-fashioned patriotism which you couldn't have found under a rock 10 to 15 years ago.
I'm not saying that brass bands, Fourth of July oratory, or the Star Spangled Banner stir the emotions as they used to do in simpler times.
I'm not saying that there still isn't widespread alienation from government -- an alienation which government has earned in recent years -- and a deep instinctive feeling that elected officials have not been doing their job very well. This is summed up by the "none-of-the-above" mood of voters toward the 1980 presidential candidates.
I'm not saying that the bearded, brooding figure of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian seizure of the hostages did not stimulate a rallying around a nation whose citizens were held under the gun for 444 days.
But I am reporting that there is much evidence of a restored and renewed affection for country which is manifesting itself in many different ways today. If it is not quite yet an old-fashioned love of country, there is a growing awareness in a world of violence and aggression that we are living in a very precious democracy which is the last best hope of freedom and peace.
Some of the manifestations I have been noticing are these:
A recent Gallup-Time magazine survey showed that most Vietnamese veterans say they are glad they served their nation despite the fact that they were in a war which many believed we never should have fought. Their answers to questions indicated that they are neither bitter nor resentful that they had to serve.
Enrollment in the collegiate ROTC is going up steadily, 25 percent higher in the latest two-year period.
Another poll reveals that 70 percent of all Americans are as strongly behind NATO as they were when it was first formed and favor the US defending our European allies with force if necessary, if any member is attacked.
There is more and it shows that there is far less dissent from the new law reinstituting draft registration than the headlines indicated. A Gallup survey reports that 59 percent not only approve registration but beginning the draft immediately. This is a gain of 14 percent since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
I admit that it is not easy to put your finger on what are the most meaningful ingredients of patriotism. Willingness to defend your country is only one of them and perhaps not the most important. From the Civil War, through two world wars plus Korea and Vietnam, the United States has never been in a major conflict without conscription.
The ingredients of patriotism which I would put first are these:
* Willingness to live by "government by the democratic consent of the governed."
* Total dedication to the freedoms without which free elections are meaningless -- freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion.
* Devotion to giving unto others the freedom you wish to retain for yourself.
This, it seems to me, is the kind of patriotism we most need to cherish.
One of the last best acts performed by President Carter was to proclaim National Patriotism Week to begin Feb. 16. He called on us to commemorate it "with appropriate observances." More important, he asked "all primary and secondary schools to adopt an appropriate curriculum for that week."
But shouldn't such teaching be a standard, full-semester course, not just a week's celebration? It could bear the title "Understanding Democracy." We risk losing our democracy unless our understanding of its values and its working is renewed with every upcoming generation of young Americans.
This would be a good time to start.