LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Picking apart the false flags of patriotism

Of the squealing and hissing through bared teeth on the opinion pages this year, the vilification of NFL players taking a kneeling stand for principle are as pompous and mean-spirited a view of America as any. Of those swearing allegiance to ignorance and arrogance, Dave Skocik’s lament (“Kneeling cards would commemorate disdainful athletes” Nov. 12) reads as the most shallow.

First, let’s get something straight. You don’t speak for me. And you don’t speak for the Vietnam veterans with whom I served and count as family. Of a dozen or so combat arms veterans I know, maybe two might agree with your tone and tactic of character assassination, but those two earned the right to be wrong.

As a former grunt [U S Army / 11Bravo–air mobile light weapons infantry], I am one of those you ask the reader to ask about the flag and the controversy surrounding it. Since you asked — I feel no disrespect from those kneeling. I believe the flag doesn’t either. My flag and I are plenty sturdy enough to withstand unconventional protocol in the pursuit of justice. But the flag is diminished every time authoritarian loyalty oaths like, “America, love it or leave it” are imposed to squelch dissent. Now that’s un-American.

Our flag means different things to different people. It’s been the enduring, mutable badge of both the admirable and less than honorable qualities of America since the Revolution. Some have always assumed certain social entitlements that excluded and repressed others while America’s potential inclusiveness and tolerance are literally written into the blueprint by constitution, case law, and tradition.

Problems arise when those ideals fall short and the redress sought seems contrary to privileged interests. Recognizing our flaws does not tarnish the flag or the greatness of what it represents. Instead openness and accountability shine a brighter light on America when a wrong is righted. Not much is more American than that.

NFL protesters are generally very solid citizens and positive contributors to their communities. Characterizing them as “hostage” takers who entertain the objective of “publicly disrespect(ing) the nation” or “believ(ing) their country deserves public distain.” is just wrong and a juvenile distortion. These men are obviously not trashing the country or disrespecting veterans or their families, or denigrating the flag.

The clear and often stated goal of the “kneel down” movement is to draw attention to and encourage discussion of societal problems, many of which are racially based.

Several questions immediately come to my mind: Why does the shooting of unarmed black men and boys by police usually without credible justification keep happening unabated and why are police shooters often given a pass and usually acquitted of murder or even lesser charges? Why are these successful young men willing to risk rancor and their futures for what they believe? These are the kind of questions that need answering. Kneeling publicly on camera in supplication is the asking.

One may disagree with the players’ pathway to the goal, but the goal is legitimate and unassailable. The first step toward understanding that is to talk about it. That’s what this about. But equating peaceful protests by Americans with a pack of Baath Party murderers and sadists working for Saddam Hussein is probably not a promising first step toward dialogue. But starting a dialogue is not really what you’re after, is it?

Furling false flags:

1. Any relationship between a guy in combat and the flag is incidental. It really doesn’t exist on a conscious level in battle. The flag and the grunt do not typically co-exist except maybe on a parade field after the fact.

2. Grunts don’t fight for the flag or huddle next to “the banner under which (they) rally, fight, die…” A flag on his coffin represents the soldier’s death certificate and familial remembrance, not his inspiration. Soldiers in combat fight for themselves, for each other and their collective survival — considerations more important than accomplishing the mission or even emotional motivations like the concept of avenging a brother. Flags don’t really enter into it.

3. You missed the meaning of the Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. Claiming its “focus … is the flag because it represented America on an island battlefront that killed 6,800 Americans,” is wrong. The focus of the photograph is the men raising the flag. They attest to an emotionally positive image of the American fighting man — the Marines here are alive, resilient, and victorious, portrayed as an adrenaline rush full of life, not a snapshot of death. In an Iwo Jima context the flag is shorthand for and and an identifier confirming that the tiny, patriotic little fellowship posed at the top of the hill are Americans. It’s the men not the flag.

Patriots aren’t defined by wearing a flag pin, “talking tough,” or maligning someone you don’t agree with. They know that what makes America great are the resilience and diversity of the American people and foundational blessings like a constitutional government, the Bill of Rights, a free press, freedom of speech and religion. The flag signifies liberties realized and freedoms yet to be attained.

Being an American means respecting the freedom and rights of all Americans and defending the country against any enemy. That means exposing and confronting threats from anywhere including the White House and Wall Street as well as from the Kremlin and native terrorism.

Will Gillespie
Schwenksville, Pa.

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