*I want to reiterate an aforementioned disclaimer of this column, which is that I represent a perspective of military veterans, but in no way do I represent the whole. There are many veterans who I am sure disagree with my positions and opinions, and I make no claim to speak for the entire group. I am going to tread lightly, as this column was not meant to be a political platform, nor do I wish it to cause any readers to discontinue their visits to my small section of this publication. I only desire to be a catalyst for thoughts that otherwise may not be entertained, and to shed some light on the feelings of many in a community of which I happen to be a part.*
Colin Kaepernick. Yes, just when you thought you had heard enough about this in the maniacal, media gaggle to make you wish you were dead, you have to endure yet another article. But before you scroll on by, close your laptop, or click the little ‘X’ in the upper right hand corner, give me a chance to dissolve any apprehensions you may already be having.
For those of you who are unaware, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem at a preseason game last week. He said afterward that he was not going to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He also wore socks on the field that sported pig heads wearing police officer hats.
His actions outraged a lot of people. I want to provide a few reasons why the piece of fabric that we call the flag is so important to those people, and why Colin’s actions were infuriating to them. After all, the best way to have successful relationships is to understand the other side in order to establish mutual respect.
A nation’s flag is not merely a piece of cloth meant to be waved at the Olympic games or mounted on a pole at a government building. It is a symbol of the very fabric of a nation: the people and cultures that make up the population, and what these people have gone through to make their nation what it is today.
Many people in the US love their country, and so they desire to serve it in whatever way they can, be it military, community, political, or economical. For those of us that fit into the military or community first-responder categories, the flag can often represent loved ones we’ve lost or hardships we’ve endured in the line of duty. This is why we take it so seriously when someone treats the flag with disrespect; we feel they are disrespecting the blood, sweat, tears, and death that has gone into service of our nation and its people.
Most of us know, especially as university students, the troubled and dark past of our nation. Sadly, there were serious mistakes made. Many of these mistakes were woven deep into cultural and societal norms, which made them hard to recover from, and the road our nation has traveled has been a treacherous one.
But I would argue that we are stronger because of it. We are better. As students of history we can look back and learn from the mistakes; we can use this knowledge to make better choices in the future. Is our country perfect now? No. Will it ever be? No. We should only do what we can to treat each other with respect and to gather under our flag with arms around shoulders and hands interlocked.
Take a look around you. We are not a melting pot, as has been suggested in the past, but a stew full of myriad ingredients, each with their own tastes and fragrances that are separate but distinct and lend to the beautiful complexities of the overall flavor. We are a unique nation to which millions flock in order to plant their own garden and to offer their ingredients to our broth.
This is what our flag represents. It is a collage of the people that have gone before us, and the people that are here now; it is a mural of what has been accomplished; it is a history book of choices made, good and bad; it is the place that we all call home. It demonstrates, through paradoxical unions, the potential of human life, in spite of its fallibility. It shows humanity at its worst, and humanity at its best. It shows how morally depraved society can be, and it shows the incredible good that can still come out of that society. It shows foolishness and genius; despair and hope; cowardice and courage; hate and love. We can take pride in our flag because it shows just how far we’ve come and just how far we can go to positively impact the lives in the world around us.
For these reasons, I believe that Colin’s actions, as well as the actions of many protesters in the past, have caused such brash reactions. Was he wrong to disrespect the flag? No, he has every right to do so, another thing that makes our nation so great. Frankly, in our politically-correct culture, people need to grow thicker skin and realize that the words (or the national-anthem-sittings) of others only hurt if we let them, and that someone’s right to talk like an idiot is more important than what they say.
I do believe that Colin’s motives were pure, but his method was flawed. Rather than using such a rich symbol of an entire nation to get his message across, perhaps he should have used his status and monetary assets to get involved in communities and make an actual difference.
And yes, in his defense, he took my advice before I even gave it to him! A week after his incident heard ‘round the media desks, he met with former Green Beret Nate Boyer to discuss how to better present his message without showing disrespect, and has since clarified his position of loving the US. He also pledged to donate $1 million to community organizations that need funding. Good on you, Colin!
(No word yet on if he apologized to police officers everywhere for further propagating a juvenile slur with his socks.)