An American flag has been flying from the front porch of our home all day long. I put it up three days each year: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and today (Veterans Day). I’ve always felt that it means a little more if it’s only there three days out of the year. Three-hundred and sixty two days out of the year, passersby just see the front porch, unadorned. But on those three days, there it is. I realize a flag is just a piece of cloth or nylon with various symbols on it. I also know that it’s held great significance for people operating in the most trying and desperate of circumstances (the Marines on Mount Suribachi in 1945 come immediately to mind). I honor veterans. I’ll never be a soldier, but I’ve researched and written enough about them to never take their calling lightly. My maternal grandfather, John Elco, served in France in World War I; and my father, the artist David Hanna, served in Laos during the period of the Vietnam War. The former (my grandfather) was a life-long Republican and ardent Reaganite, and my father was, as near as I could tell, a life-long political agnostic (though I do recall him speaking highly of John F. Kennedy). Neither used their military service to further a political agenda. To them, it was something they did, it was important, and it was very personal. Were they patriots? I think each in his own way would fit the definition. But in today’s America, it seems that a more superficial patriotism has gained ascendance.
The controversy over professional football players taking a knee in silent protest against what they perceive as a national sickness of racial injustice, seems to drive many to distraction, if not outright hysterics. My purpose in writing this post is not to evaluate the merits of the protesters’ position. Rather, I am interested in the genuine feeling of patriotism as opposed to its external display, or gestures. Those protesting are exercising their right of free speech, or, in a larger sense, their liberty of conscience. The First Amendment is pretty explicit on the point:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
I think in a larger, more abstract, sense, this is what my grandfather and father were fighting for. If those players want to take a knee, let them. It’s literally their right. Furthermore, what sort of demonstration of patriotism would it be if they’re forced to stand? I know for myself I would rather, if in a room of twenty people, stand with just three others that genuinely share my solidarity with a country or a cause etc. than stand with 19 others who do it as unthinking routine, or worse yet, who are bullied and shamed into doing so. That sort of patriotism isn’t genuine. It’s nothing but a forced show of false unity. You’ve got to believe. No one can make you believe.
Do I believe? I must admit, my patriotism has taken a bit of a beating since last year’s presidential campaign and election, and in the months since. I think to a certain degree this has been a healthy thing for me personally. I’m an American. But that’s more than a government.