It feels strange to put a post like this in the “Political” category, but at this point it can’t help but be that.
I am often told, especially today, that respect and support for one’s country and military in particular must be earned, not assumed. That seems to be a common go-to for the people defending those supposedly “brave” super-rich athletes sitting, kneeling, or air-fisting in protest of The Star-Spangled Banner, especially on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11.
Apparently D-Day, the Marshall Plan, the computer, the Internet, Little Rock Nine desegregation, digital photography, GPS guidance, the epipen, the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, the Eritrea evacuation, the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the execution of Abu Ghadiya, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden, the rescue of civilians from Somali Pirates and Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces (whether you agree with the war or not), and the fact that you almost certainly know at least one person currently serving in the military doesn’t command enough respect for it.
Putting aside the fact that I speak as someone who is proud to know many men and women in the military, the argument seems strange. Presumably the biggest reason to play the anthem before a sports match is to honor the military and remember the sacrifices of those who paved the way for our prosperity. The song itself is an ode to the resilience of the military and – by extension – the endurance of the American spirit during the bombardment of Fort McHenry. It is the military that faces our nation’s challenges and ensures the peace that affords us grand distractions (like football) in the first place. One would think that we, as citizens still capable of basic decency, can be plentifully discontent with the troubling modern realities for many people yet still appreciate and honor the men and women in uniform.
But okay, let’s say we can’t. Let’s say we are incapable of respecting the military until we respect the country. I suppose that could make sense in some twisted way, since apparently America as a whole is morally indicted when a police officer somewhere fatally shoots an unarmed black person. The next question then is, at what point in time was that respect lost and, if we’re assuming a scale of time, when does the clock reset and respect must be “earned” again? If we’re not assuming a sliding scale, what great sins of late did our nation commit that repudiated your respect? Maybe I’ve gone too far by assuming that said respect was “lost,” i.e. perhaps you didn’t have it to begin with. That might make sense if Howard Zinn’s revisionist myopia is your Bible, but if that’s true, then here are some additional questions: (1) How wrong are others to themselves salute the flag or keep their hands on their hearts during the anthem? If they’re wrong to respect the country that you believe hasn’t earned it, do you lose respect for them? (2) What will it take if this aforementioned list of the military’s great feats wasn’t enough? (3) Are you sure? There will always be problems even in your ideal. America’s legacy is, by any historical comparison, a fairly impressive one, one that brought down the Berlin Wall, that liberated millions and offered social upheaval to millions more. If all that isn’t enough to afford at least a baseline of your respect, I’m not sure what will.
These questions are, of course, all rhetorical, though the Leftists (and it is really only the Left where this applies) who wish to seriously make the case might wish to think about what their answers will be. Conservatives (the alt-right being a different matter given Donald Trump’s absurd campaign slogan), for all their attacks against President Obama, have never had difficulty loving the country and respecting the American military, and they didn’t need to know about its triumphant accomplishments to maintain it. It’s certainly unfair that they keep leveling the “unpatriotic” charge against Leftists for their incessant identity baiting and activist binging. Yet where the Left once pointed out (correctly) that dissent is a great staple of patriotism, many of its members now seem more determined than ever to wear the Right’s false label like a badge of honor. Like it or not, to answer “respect the country and military!” with “nah uh! respect is earned!” is to imply that you don’t. And if that’s true, no one has any good reason to bother listening to you.
The point of all this isn’t about who has the right to protest. Merely that even if you agree with the impulse behind it, that particular form isn’t necessary. It certainly isn’t constructive. America is not going to change the way you want it to faster just because someone’s self-benching in signal of respect they refuse to give “starts a conversation.” If that were true, there would be no reason to stop there; flag burners and outrage mongers should be getting their way a lot more often. All you’re doing is upsetting people, in part for sports purity reasons, and also for the void in perspective that such “statements” reflect on you. You’re embittering them (perhaps to the point where some might actually entertain the impulse to vote for Trump) not enlightening them.
This issue is probably the wrong hill to die on one way or another. I appear to be the one of the last to remember the lesson that it’s actually bad etiquette to applaud the performer after the national anthem is finished (unless it’s a guitar solo). Yet as the country slides toward chaos, we ought to be more mindful of that which brings us together. Surely the military, if nothing else, has earned that.