What, Seriously America?

I love the first lines of the Star Spangled Banner, our National Anthem here in the United States. They are poetic and full of strong symbolism. Evocative of wartime emotion and national pride, it is difficult to imagine a more patriotic song. I always get a little tingle when I hear Francis Scott Key's poem, now anthem, played or sung well. 

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there, O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, In full glory reflected now shines in the stream, 'Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

I grew up an Army brat. They played that song at the opening of every movie at the theater. And we all stood, hand over heart, while it played. Remember that? Then I was a Soldier, and I stood so many long ceremonies, at rigid attention, shoulders screaming and burning in pain at the long stiff position. I remember returning from a deployment, and hearing that song played, and taking such pride that I was part of the tradition, a long line of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and later Air Force and Coast Guardsmen who had sworn an oath and been at the least willing to fight and maybe die for their country and all it stood for. It's a good song. It stirs the heart, as an anthem should.

This week an NFL player sat while a poem, written by a rebellious slave owner and set to a bar ditty, played at a sporting event... and the country lost its collective mind.

Know what else happened this week?

  • The governor of New Jersey disregarded the will of the voters and his own state government, and vetoed a law to increase minimum wages to $15.00 an hour in his state. Discuss amongst yourselves.
  • A SpaceX rocket exploded just before launch. Luckily, no lives were lost. Consider and discuss.
  • Tropical Storm Hermine was upgraded to a hurricane and will flood parts of Florida. Probably, that will require more federal disaster relief funds. It will definitely affect Florida tourism and economics. What do you think about that?

I point out these headlines not because I don't think it's possible to be concerned about more than one thing at a time, we can. And I don't point them out because I think they are more important than the NFL player and the Star Spangled Banner. I point them out because you heard of them, and are allowed to comment on them-- regardless of your positions-- because the Constitution of the United States says you can. It's right there in the very first amendment to the constitution. The First Amendment says you have the right to speak, publicly, even if your words are intemperate, mean spirited, and unpopular. It says other things too, like you have the right to worship as you see fit, and can't be compelled to worship or say things against your interest. There are other rights enumerated in that document that apply here to. 

Lots of people have stated that this young man whose name I had never heard prior to this latest kerfuffle, was being disrespectful of the nation or of its armed services and our fighting men and women. What utter nonsense. He is in fact upholding the best traditions of all the above. He is using his First Amendment rights. He is refusing to be told to shut up. 

"Men died to give you that right. You should respect them." A fair enough point, but one badly made because it doesn't go quite far enough. Men and women fought and died to give him the right to speak or not, to stand or not, to believe or not, to love or not. They fought and bled and sometimes died to make it possible for us to have our voices heard. It does not respect those sacrifices to hand one's individuality, one's voice over to the crowd and bow to popular sentiment. What good is a right that may only be exercised when others approve not only of the message, but of the way it's expressed? I find those telling him to shut up to be most disrespectful for all I fought for. I spent my twenty plus years in uniform, going where I was told, training and completing the mission, risking my life in a hundred small ways, so that no one might ever take that right away from me, my friends, my family, or my fellow countrymen. How dare you take from him what my sacrifice gave him? You want to take back your sacrifice? Be my guest. You don't get to take back mine.  I gave it freely and willingly and would do it again. 

And here also they forget that other war, the one that took far more lives than any other American conflict, that most American war, the American Civil War. This war was fought to settle once and for all the conflict of rights of men, versus the rights of states, and of ownership. While the southerners still waving the Robert E. Lee battle flag today would say that war was over states' rights, who even among them could argue that those state rights did not include the right to hold slaves, and to enter other states to retrieve them whence they had run away? Ah, that's the rub, isn't it? Whenever we grant to people individual rights, it is inevitable that they will exercise those rights in a way that interferes with the rights, will, desires, or purpose of others. And then we must decide whose right takes precedence. Should we grant to states the rights to decide such matters for themselves, even if they will decide that some individuals residing within their borders have no rights? Should we enforce the states' rights to retrieve their property, even if doing so interferes with their neighboring states' rights to control the people living within their borders? This isn't just a question of slavery either, but applies to nearly all our rights and countless questions we still argue about today, from vaccination mandates to GMO legislation to minimum wage laws. The older maxim that "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose," is often hard to apply when the length of your neighbor's nose extends right through your living room window at times. And the soldiers and sailors who fought and died in that war were no less patriots, regardless of side they fought on, than were the revolutionary soldiers of 1775. Sitting during the playing of a song penned by a slave owner who continued to advocate for slavery throughout his life would surely not dishonor the sacrifices of the brave men (and a few women) who died fighting for the freedom of all men, including the black slaves, in 1861.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Here is the oath of enlistment, right off the Army's website, where they also list the Army values.

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962). 

See the part I bolded? We don't promise to support and defend the President, the flag, or the National Anthem. The Constitution frames our guiding principles and forms the backbone of our government. It expresses our core values as a nation. If ever it fails in this task, we work mightily to amend it.

How can someone exercising their rights insult me? How can someone making a protest against what he believes is unfair treatment of a class of US citizens ever be seen as violating Constitutional principles? How then can it be un-American, as some have suggested? I am not insulted. 

A Flicker user posted the perfect protest sign.

A Flicker user posted the perfect protest sign.

I find it strangely hypocritical of a vocal part of our citizenry of which I am often a member, that we regularly lament the violent displays of our fellow citizens when they protest by burning, looting, overturning cars, assaulting the police, damaging property, or blocking traffic, but seem to leave no room for an alternate form of protest. We shame them for their way of protesting, suggesting that surely they can find a better way. This footballer seems to have done just that. He isn't burning the flag, nor stomping on it. He did not interrupt the playing of the anthem, nor streak across the field in his birthday suit. He did not fling feces as a group of anti-GMO protesters in Zurich recently did. He didn't throw a shoe at the president. He didn't pull a gun, or a knife, or shout Allahu Akbar! He did not make a scene, attempt to grab the microphone, or disrupt the event in any way. He didn't even hold up a sign in protest. He merely remained seated while the National Anthem played, quietly demonstrating his protest of a what he sees as a policy of discriminatory behavior and violence directed at one segment of the population with which he relates. 

Some have criticized him for not speaking up sooner, and have suggested he is trying to draw attention to himself, or insulate himself from his failing performance. I hardly see how any of that matters in the least. He would not have fewer rights if he were either a better or worse player. He would not have fewer or more rights if he had spoken out at the beginning of the sportsball season, or waited until it was over. He would not have fewer or more rights if he drew less attention to himself. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more low key protest being made than merely sitting silently for a couple games during the playing of the anthem. Note, he did not call a press conference afterward. A single reporter noticed his failure to stand, and took the time to ask him why? This led to his explanation. All that followed therefrom was not his doing, but ours, the press and the public. He has not written any articles, blog posts, or books. He has not produced a Youtube video, or paid for a commercial. He just answered the questions asked of him. Yes, shameless promotion, that. And what of attention seeking? If Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton made some grandstand protest for our attention, would we give less attention to the message, than to the hypothesis that they only did it for the attention? We've already had our answer, as they have all done exactly that, and gotten great attention to whatever cause they were attempting to draw attention too. That is not to say they were not also called on their attention seeking behavior. Rather, we recognized both the message, and the motivation behind delivering it. 

Just my opinion. But what would I know?

Just my opinion. But what would I know?

I love the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. I will always rise for it, stand at attention with hand on heart when appropriate, stop my car while on base until it has played. But I will not condemn anyone who does not, whether out of laziness, as a protest, or simply because they didn't feel it as I do. I don't want a feigned reaction, an empty act. When I see you standing at attention, hand on heart, I want to recognize a fellow proud citizen, one in a long line who love not a flag or a song, but a country and her ideas.