Recently, there was an article in The Observer admonishing NFL players for kneeling during our national anthem. Many Americans share this same view and have quickly rallied to the cry that it is “disrespectful to the troops”. You’ll find this sentiment everywhere. What is most interesting though, is the debate almost never includes veterans.
I am a former student of Case Western Reserve University and a current soldier in the US Army. Every day I carefully put the flag on my uniform. I stand at attention for taps and salute our flag when the anthem plays. For me and for others, our service is a source of great pride.
And I and many other servicemen would like to ask: Please stop using us as a scapegoat.
We do not serve to protect a flag or a song, but the ideas that these things represent: Our fundamental right to the freedom of speech, of assembly, of ideas themselves. The fact that these players can protest should be a source of pride for all Americans, that we live in a society not of forced patriotism like North Korea, but where such dialogue is celebrated. Where we know that people don’t have to, as Steve Mnuchin puts it, “[practice] free speech on their own time.”
I see people who haven’t served, indeed those who have avoided the commitment, take up this false battle for us. You rarely hear any veterans themselves included in the argument. Instead, our service is included as a political punchline. Colin Kaepernick actually met with a Green Beret before beginning his protest to ask how best to make his point while still maintaining respect for the flag. In an age when the ultimate sacrifice of the slain sons and daughters of Gold Star families is used by pundits to score points, when over 60,000 veterans are homeless, when a mismanaged VA allows our most vulnerable to go without care and when a Senator who was captured and tortured is not a “hero”, it is insulting for this issue to be considered the insult.
It is disheartening to see servicemembers brought forward into American politics only when they can be used to justify shutting down discussion on how to make this country a more fair and better place to live. I ask, what is the greater disrespect? Not standing for a song, or to forget what the sacrifice of those in Arlington truly means.
Class of 2015