OPINION — In the tumultuous ideological tug o’ war that has erupted over the decision by some NFL players to kneel in silent protest during the national anthem, one group has, sadly, been dragged unwillingly into the fight: our military veterans.
Some are not terribly comfortable with the idea of a protest during the anthem. Most, however, understand that their oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” means that they served for all of us to be protected by the rights deemed essential to our lives.
That includes the First Amendment.
I have encountered very few veterans who believe that the silent sideline protests by these players is aimed at them or their brothers and sisters who served in uniform.
The matter receives much louder, forceful vocalization from those who oppose the protests and would have those who take a knee fired or worse.
It’s easy to see why our veterans would get pulled into this nastiness.
They are symbols, of course, of a certain patriotism that, quite frankly, is ebbing.
But patriotism is exhibited in many different forms. You do not have to don the uniform to be a patriot. You can serve your country in any number of ways – from the simple act of voting and participating in our system of government to participating in any number of AmeriCorps programs.
You can enlist in the National Civilian Community Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, the Senior Corps, the USA Freedom Corps, JumpStart, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and, of course, the Peace Corps. They are all local and world community service organizations that require time and energy that benefit our nation and humanity.
But, we hold those who served in the military in a special place of honor.
They, after all, placed their lives on the line.
Instead of jamming them in the middle of this debate, we should step back and realize that there truly are better ways to support our military veterans.
There is a whirlwind going across the internet these days about how 22 veterans take their lives each day.
That is an extraordinary number by any account.
And, while, like most things, it is exaggerated – the number is now about 20, which is still outrageous – and misunderstood – those taking their own lives are, for the most part, veterans older than 50 – we, as a nation, are not doing enough to help them.
It’s easy to drag out an emotional tie-in, as false as it may be, to claim that taking a knee during the anthem is disrespectful to our veterans.
But, it is not accurate.
It is disrespectful to think their service was only to protect those freedoms and actions that we approve and revoke those that may be upsetting, disagreeable or inconvenient.
If you don’t like the silent protest, then petition to have the First Amendment altered; don’t dress up your opinions in a uniform you never wore.
The only people who can speak for the veterans on this issue are the veterans themselves. Those who didn’t serve, never walked in their boots, never toted a gun, endured the rigors of military training or the horror of combat should speak for themselves or button their lip. Our vets are strong enough, thank you, to offer their own opinions.
They served not only for those who couldn’t or were ill-suited for military service, but also for those who get all fired up in patriotic fervor after letting others take care of the messy business of war. You know, the chicken hawks who think a war is for somebody else to fight.
Still, there are some things we can and should do.
I mean, if you sincerely support our veterans, have you contacted your congressional representatives to ask for increases in veteran services? Have you ever stepped into a Veterans Affairs office and looked around to see how it operates, visit with the volunteers who put in many hours there on their own dime?
Would you be willing to accept a tax hike that would increase veteran services, from housing for the homeless to training for the unemployed to medical and mental services for those afflicted with the long-term infliction of post-traumatic stress disorder?
Assistance for veterans who separate from the military with physical or mental health issues can be a crapshoot.
I’ve been to the VA office in St. George a number of times.
The care there is excellent, prompt, courteous.
I understand that is not the case in other locations that are vastly understaffed and underfunded.
Why can’t it all be the same?
Why can’t a veteran in an urban setting be assured the same level of care and cooperation as those in a smaller town?
That, dear reader, is disrespect, not the act of kneeling during the anthem. In fact, the kneel was intended as a sign of respect after Colin Kaepernick’s meeting with former Seattle Seahawk player Nate Boyer.
Boyer served six years in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret, including multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before enrolling at the University of Texas and walking onto the football program. He was later signed by the Seahawks as a free agent and played during the preseason.
Boyer contacted Kaepernick when he learned of the quarterback’s protest and suggested that instead of sitting during the anthem he should take a knee.
“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer said, recounting their meeting for an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.”
“Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee and we pull security.”
Boyer went on to tell Gumbel that Kaepernick was “very receptive” to the idea and invited him to take a knee with him during pregame ceremonies.
Boyer said he wouldn’t do that, but that he would stand next to him as a sign of support.
“I got called a lotta things from both sides,” Boyer said. “I was told I was a disgrace to the green beret by a couple Green Berets, one of ’em I was friends with. And that hurts, you know? It really does. But then I also had a lot of people in the military and people in Special Forces that said, ‘Man, I hadn’t really thought about that before. And I think you’re onto something.'”
Boyer later posted a photo on Twitter of his meeting with Kaepernick with the caption: “Thanks for the invite brother… Good talk. Let’s just keep moving forward. This is what America should be all about.”
But, it isn’t.
We keep waving false flags, dividing ourselves over ideology and prejudice.
But, that desire to demonize those who would kneel in silent protest has further corrupted an already skewed view of patriotism.
You think it is disgraceful to take a knee during the anthem, yet think it is OK to wear your American flag flip flops or bikini on the Fourth of July?
You’re inconsistent at the very least, perhaps a hypocrite who ignores proper flag etiquette.
You think exercising your right to free speech in this matter is an affront to the U.S. soldier and veterans?
You truly do not understand the oath those military men and women took to uphold that right.
You want to honor those who served in uniform?
Then do something about it.
Write your congressional leaders and demand greater funding for veteran services.
Vote out those who refuse to expand the VA budget.
Understand that war does horrible, unspeakable things to the human mind and spirit, often breaking it beyond repair.
We have a number of these veterans among us.
They came home from the European Theater, the war in the Pacific, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the hot, dry deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing with them nightmares that will never end.
Welcome them home, help them with medical care, find them homes and jobs.
Thank them for their service.
Honor them for their sacrifices.
But, don’t use them as pawns in your political games.
They’ve been through enough battles.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.