James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Flag Follies: Kaepernick, Patriotism and the Patriot Act

National flags do two things: 

  • Identify a nation and its people; for instance, you can tell where a soccer fan is from by the flag he carries with him at the World Cup.  
  • Represent the government of a nation, including its good and bad policies and its wars past and present. 

I could be wrong, but my perception is that the U.S. flag has more militaristic connotations than most. The National Anthem isn't about the nation, but its flag in a battle. Any "insult" directed at the flag, or political protest involving the flag, is perceived not as an insult to the government, but at servicemen and veterans. 
And as if the Star-Spangled Banner isn't enough, children are pressured in public school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to that flag.   

That's not my relationship to the flag. I'm American born, but most of my childhood was in Canada. When I saw the flag, I didn't think about wars that supposedly freed the slaves or ended the Holocaust. I didn't think about the flag standing for "freedom." When I saw the flag, I thought of the nation and its people; I thought of home.    

I've been moved by ceremonies involving the flag. All were at funerals of veterans, where current servicemen folded that flag and presented it to the widow. It was a reminder that the deceased, someone I cared enough about to attend the funeral, could have easily been killed. The ceremony causes one to think of all those who were not fortunate to come back alive. But that's different from attaching any thought that those wars were actually necessary or were fought for high ideals.  

Thus, when anyone, foreign or domestic, "insults" the flag by burning it, or by kneeling during the national anthem, I don't take personal offense and I don't pretend to be offended on behalf of veterans. These are protests against American governmental policy. 

I've been thinking about this since August when 49ers qb Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of police treatment of blacks. I probably wouldn't have done it. Usually, I'm dispassionately respectful of such proceedings. I stand during pregame performances of the National Anthem. I don't see the upside of calling attention to myself by staying seated. 

But I also think it's a stupid waste of time to play it. It's not performed before concerts or plays or the unveiling of art exhibits, is it? You don't stand at attention and hear it played when you show up at work, do you? So why at sporting events?   

Since the flag does represent the government and its policies, why is it wrong to protest the government by peacefully protesting the playing of the anthem? 

Today is the 15th Anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, which provided legal "authority" for the FBI and other law enforcement to infringe on our free speech, privacy, and liberty. If a prominent singer announced she would no longer sing the song about the "land of the free and the home of the brave" until the Patriot Act is repealed, I'd applaud that choice. 

If NFL players and other athletes kneeled at the playing of the national anthem, or otherwise protested the Patriot Act, I would have cheered them on. 

And I would have been even more enthusiastic if they protested the countless wars the U.S. has engaged in over those 15 years.  

After the Edward Snowden revelations, I would have loved to see the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers refusing to stand. More celebrities protesting the Surveillance State might have led to progress in repealing it. 
So what am I to do, tell the Kaepernicks of the world they shouldn't stand because they don't like a system where the "law" has an itchy trigger finger? 

Anyone with common sense understands that such protests are not about veterans or current servicemen. And if you claim that peacefully, quietly taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem is an "inappropriate" form of protest, I'd suspect that what you're really angry about is that there is a protest at all, that you don't agree that there's anything to protest. 

But I'd think it'd be patriotic to protest the Patriot Act by protesting the national anthem. I can only assume that Kaepernick's protest is also for patriotic reasons.
       
And if more Americans surrendered their quasi-religious attachment to their national flag and instead related to it as normal human beings in other countries do, perhaps they would be less offended by the protest and more concerned about what it is that's being protested. 

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