This will make some of you uneasy. It will make some of you angry.
In this campaign year where two of our major candidates are making as much hay as they can by emphasizing their military service, it is worth remembering—-
Jason Kander and Eric Greitens served for the right of Colin Kaepernick and others to kneel during the National Anthem.
They served for the right of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to have the right to run for President of the United States and say things, true or lies, about each other.
They served for the right of some, on college campuses and elsewhere, to shout racial or cultural epithets at others.
They served for the right of some to picket at the funerals of their military colleagues.
They served for the rights of others to brand the Kaepernicks of this country as idiots and traitors.
They served for the rights of others to brand Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as liars and traitors.
They served for the rights of others to protest a culture that allows racial and cultural epithets to be applied to them.
They served for the right to be wrong from whichever side of right and wrong you choose to take. They served for this observer’s right to observe and for your right to react to those observations.
They served for the rights of all of us to see our country and our society with different eyes influenced by different backgrounds and experiences. They served against philosophies that dictate only one idea of patriotism, nationalism, and religion can be allowed, often with fatal consequences to those to differ.
They served so that each of us can stand for the national anthem, if we wish to do so, in a country that allows us to decide what the song and the flag stand for or should stand for—-and thinking such thoughts is not an unhealthy exercise in a nation that is unafraid to admit it has flaws. We are unafraid, aren’t we? Or have we forfeited the freedom to be unafraid?
A few days ago, the first enlisted black Marine to both be selected for the Naval Academy Preparatory School and graduate from the Naval Academy, wrote of this issue. He served twenty-two years in the Navy and the Marines before going into television. The Montel Williams Show last seventeen years.
Williams thinks some of Kaepernick’s behavior has been “childish and counterproductive” and ignores “the OVERWHELMING majorities of police officers who serve with honor and distinction.” But he also thinks “the threats and cruelty directed against many of these athletes should scare every freedom-loving American.”
“So too should those who propose to coerce or force these athletes to stand. In this country, may I remind you, we allow individuals to define patriotism for themselves. Unless you want scripted patriotism—North Korea, anyone?”
Reactions to incidents such as those inspired by Kaepernick tend to quickly ignore one of this country’s traditionally greatest strengths, as mentioned by Williams: We allow individuals to define patriotism for themselves. AND, we allow others to think what they will about the way each of us defines patriotism.
New Yorker magazine writer Jeffrey Toobin thinks Kaepernick’s right to not stand for the anthem is rooted in a 1943 Freedom of Religion case that challenged the right of a school district to expel children from a Jehovah’s Witness family for refusing to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance which was then required by West Virginia Law. U. S. Supreme Court Robert Jackson’s opinion, writes Toobin, “demands that those in power allow others to think for themselves.”
“To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”
And he reminds us that freedom of expression means a government—or a league—cannot tell citizens or players what they may say or think or express.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
You are free to consider this entry disloyal and disrespectful of the things Greitens and Kander served to protect. I am grateful that they served to protect my right to compose it. You and I are free to go to a polling place in a few weeks and decide whether we want to vote for either of these men who served with millions of colleagues in uniform who surely were not uniform in their reasons for service so that we might differ with each other, with Colin Kaepernick, or even with them.
Let us not wrap ourselves in the flag so tightly that we cannot breathe the air of freedom.