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Tag Archives: National Anthem

Memorial Day Thoughts

I’m just about as anti-war as a person can be, and being an American I have had to watch countless military adventures our country’s leaders have taken us on. I have opposed virtually every one of those adventures. I came of age with Grenada and Lebanon and useless fist-shaking military strikes authorized by President Reagan.

The one I supported … well, actually, there have been two. The first was our military intervention to put a stop to the ethnic slaughters that were taking place in the former Yugoslavia. I felt that was a situation where we could use our military might for a good cause that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with our strategic interests. We actually used our power for an unselfish purpose.

The second was the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan to put an end to the Taliban and al Qaeda and to help Afghanistan enter the modern world of nations. My support of this effort turned sour when it became clear that the Bush Administration actually had no real plan for accomplishing those objectives. Almost seventeen years later, that “war” grinds on with no end in sight, no clear idea of what the objective is, no exit strategy. nothing. Just soldiers continuing to try to do the right thing while fighting and dying.

As anti-war as I am I also am fascinated with the stories of war and the soldiers that fight them. A few months ago, I saw previews for Thank You For Your Service. The previews seemed far too jingoistic for me and I haven’t seen the movie. I did, however, buy the book and am reading it now. The author, David Finkel, also wrote The Good Soldiers, an excellent book about our Iraq War. The book is a no holds barred, in your face, gut-wrenching look at the after-effects of war on soldiers who return home.

I have read countless books on Afghanistan and Iraq, on World War II, Vietnam, the Civil War, The War to End All Wars (yeah, right), and others. I am fascinated with these stories. My favorite movie (if I’m not counting The Holy Grail) is Saving Private Ryan.  Band of Brothers is just incredible.

The point for me is this. I may be anti-war, but I honor those who serve and put their lives on the line. They do something I could never do, and I feel compelled to know their story. That’s the least I can do. So, on this Memorial Day, if you don’t want to read a book, read this. Honor a fallen hero by knowing his story and those who have lost him.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the NFL is a joke and our President is worse. The former announced a new policy that allows its players to continue protesting just so long as they do it behind closed doors so nobody can see it. They claim the owners supported it unanimously, but the 49ers abstained from the “vote” and the Jets have already said they won’t discipline any of their players if they continue to protest. So, not only did they adopt a policy that doesn’t stop the protesting, but treats the protesters like … well, they belong on the back of the bus … but they lied about it. I will do everything I can to skip the NFL this fall.

As for our President… After the NFL announced their new policy, he tweeted that players who kneel during the National Anthem should find another country. The idea that the only way to honor this country, to be patriotic, to demonstrate your love for this country, is to stand for the National Anthem — that kneeling during the song is disrespectful — is so dictatorial, authoritarian, and anti-American, I will not stand for the National Anthem as long as he is President. He has bastardized American and is destroying it from within. And disrespecting those who have fought and died for the freedoms and principles this country was founded on.

“Move to another country?” I think not. I’m staying right here, exercising my rights as an American to have a different opinion and to express it freely. I look forward to when we have a President again who respects those rights for all citizens.

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I Have Never …

My grandmother grew up in Switzerland.  At the age of 18 she came to America, settled in Sacramento and married the man of her dreams.  He died a few years later while she was pregnant with her second child and my grandmother never married.  She had an incredible vegetable garden in her backyard and made great rhubarb sauce and the best garlic bread.  She didn’t like it that my brother and I drank so much milk.

She also cried during the playing of the National Anthem because it meant so much to her.

Me, not so much.  Coming of political age in the era of Reagan-Bush, I had a lot of problems with what our country was doing outside its borders.  While I always stood for the Anthem when it was appropriate, I did so reluctantly and with less than positive thoughts about my country in my head.

Besides the political issues I had back in the 1980s, I have never liked our National Anthem.  It is a song about a war and that a piece of cloth survived the war.  It is not about how beautiful our country is, how wonderful our people are, it is not about anything other than a war and a piece of cloth.  I’d much rather America the Beautiful was our National Anthem and was played before every sporting event, if such a thing has to happen at all.

There was a change a few years ago, where the National Anthem wasn’t as bothersome to me.  A few years ago, I went to a Giants game after some horrible thing had happened and rather than having a singer sing the song, the entire crowd was invited to sign the National Anthem.  It was one of the most moving events I have ever been a part of.

But these things change and so to finish the thought started in the title of this post … I have never wanted to stand for the National Anthem less than I did last night.

I went to the Sacramento Kings game.  The flag went out across the court, the singer was introduced, and I wanted to stay in my seat.  The players on the Kings stood and linked arms.  The visiting team stood as well.  I wanted to kneel.  Why?  Because the President of our country has turned this into such a massive political crapfest, a test of patriotism as defined by him and his lunacy, that I want nothing to do with it.

I love my country, but the flag is a piece of cloth that means virtually nothing to me.  What matters to me vastly more are the rights and principles upon which this country was founded.  The rights to free thought and expression and assembly.  The right to not be forced to think what others think.  Marcus Breton, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee who I regularly disagree with, wrote a piece in today’s edition that pretty much speaks to what I think the problem is.

The leader of our country has decided that he has a right to try to force his brand of patriotism on the rest of the country.  That he has the right in the crudest terms possible to stifle dissent and differing opinions.  Our President, and yes he is our President.  He is not their President, he is not President of only the people who voted for him.  He is our President.  He is seeking to fan the flames of rage and hate and intolerance to further his divisive, vengeful political agenda.

I stood last night because I was surprised at my internal reaction to the idea.  I wasn’t ready for it.  The next time, I won’t.  I will remain in my seat or I will kneel.  I will not stand for the national anthem again as long as this man is our President.  Patriotism is something much deeper than a multi-colored cloth and a song.

Alejandro Villanueva Should Not Apologize

As a lot of people do, I have strong feelings about the whole “taking a knee” phenomenon going on in the NFL.  Started by Colin Kaepernick during the pre-season last year, it initially started as him sitting during the National Anthem.  He drew no attention to his actions, made no public statement, did nothing at all until somebody asked.

And all hell broke loose.

It makes no difference to me the political reasons for standing, sitting, kneeling, or napping during the National Anthem, I believe that peaceful protest is a fundamental part of the character of our nation. And each of us have the right to do so. There is no symbol that is greater than that right.

You all probably know what has happened in the last few days.  Trump tweeted. (I know, I was shocked too.) Trump’s tweet made things worse instead of better. (I know, I was shocked too.) And an uproar ensued. (I know, I was shocked too.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers was one of several teams that decided to remain in the locker room during the National Anthem. They described it as the best way to stay unified as a team and remove themselves from what had essentially become a political powder keg. I’m not sure that really makes sense, but okay. (Side note — I’m a lifelong Steelers fan, so accept that for whatever bias you want here.)

There was one exception to the Steelers’ decision. Alejandro Villaneuva, a graduate of U.S. Military Academy, played football for Army, served as an Army Ranger including three tours in Afghanistan. While the rest of his team stayed in the locker room, Villaneuva stood just outside the tunnel and held his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.

His coach expressed dismay at this, and today he has apologized for making his coach and teammates look bad.

No.

He didn’t make his teammates look bad.

Alejandro Villaneuva did the exact same thing his teammates and many others have demanded they have the right to do — to respond to the National Anthem as they see fit. Whether in “respect” for it, or as a means of protesting a larger issue.

There is nothing wrong with what Villanueva did and his decision should be respected and admired, just as much as those of us who support Kaepernick and the other protesters believe their actions should be respected.

Kaep and the National Anthem

Before last night’s pre-season game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaapernick did not stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  He stated afterwards that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

I’ve had a mixed history when it comes to our National Anthem.  First, that our National Anthem is about a war speaks to something embedded in our psyche that doesn’t speak to me.  I would much rather have our national song be something like America The Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

This speaks much more to the majesty of a country than does a tale of a tattered banner surviving a battle.

Second, I have had my times when I have struggled to stand for the National Anthem.  Times when I felt we were in the wrong and I felt my country was something other than what I imagined it could be.  Times during the Reagan presidency, when in my disgruntled youth, I attended baseball games and would rise but not place my hand over my heart.  Times in the early part of this century when we were destroying parts of the Middle East in misguided and illegal wars and torturing who knows how many people.  These were things my country was doing in my name and I couldn’t stand to be a part of it.

So, I get it, Mr. Kaepernick.  I really get it.  But I have a problem with your particular protest at this particular time in our nation’s history.  I will not deny that racism is alive and well in this country.  I will not deny that people of color and of less favored faiths continue to struggle for equality and fair treatment in many corners of our nation.  However …

In a time when our President is African-American, I simply cannot understand how you can think that “our country” continues to oppress black people.  Your refusal to stand for the National Anthem and your decision to call out the entire country for what you see as oppression of minorities is a generalized attack on all Americans.  It is an attack on me.  It is an attack on not just those who are involved in discrimination and oppression, but also those who fight it every day of their lives.  Because we are just as much a part of “our country” as the racists are.

Your protest, in tarring the entire country with the labels of oppression and racism is just as wrong as racial profiling by cops, different levels of force used against people of color as compared to white suspects, and the myriad forms in which racism exists.  We are not all racists and oppressors.  But you have just labeled us as such with your actions and particularly with your words.  Just as bad cops label any black male as a suspect.

Stand up for what you believe in, fight to save the oppressed and I will fight with you.  It’s time, however, to target the real oppressors, the real racists and not suggest with such blanket criticism that it is “the country,” that it is all of us.  It is not.  There are far more of us who support your objectives than who oppose them.

I’m guessing that the white couple that adopted you, took you in, raised you and provided you with the opportunities needed to become an NFL quarterback are the furthest thing from racists and oppressors.  But they are this country, too.  The flag and the anthem represents them just as much as it represents the oppressors.  Or at least it should.  If you can’t see that and stand for the National Anthem because of the good parts of our country that it represents, you should try a little harder.  There are other ways to attack the problem than to attack all of us.

[Edited to add:  Just to be clear, I am not denying that Kaepernick has the right to do this.  I firmly believe in the right of protesters to burn the flag, of a person’s right not to stand for the National Anthem, to speak publicly or privately their feelings about our country and the issues we face.  I just think that in this particular case, it was a misguided and somewhat ignorant act.]

[Edited to add yet more:  Over at Old Road Apples Junk Chuck just wrote about this also. He mentions a third reason I’ve struggled with the National Anthem tradition.  My general discomfort with mass oaths and mass allegiance statements.  It’s probably why, even if I ever change my mind about God, I won’t ever be a fan of organized religion.  Over the years, I have felt uncomfortable with the somewhat herd mentality of everybody rising, removing their hats, and covering their heart for the National Anthem.  There is something vaguely authoritarian and anti-democratic about the whole practice.  But lately, I have started having a different experience connected to the National Anthem.  In the good moments it is because I can look around me and see such a beautiful mix of people who are rising and showing their respect for something that isn’t material, isn’t technology, isn’t anything other than a statement that we, the masses gathered there (typically made up of every gender, every race, every everything) can stop everything else for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds and respect the same thing.]

The Sentimentality of Old Age

I’ve never liked our National Anthem. It’s a song about a war.  I’d prefer an anthem to be something like America the Beautiful.  But, not ours.  In some respects when you look at our history, maybe an anthem about a war makes sense.

I’ve also never been one to engage in displays of patriotism and I’m extremely put-off by those who do so.  All the flags and salutes and U-S-A chants just do nothing for me.  (It is, by the way, not just with respect to my country, but with respect to my teams as well.  Yes, I own a Giants hat and a couple of Giants T-Shirts, but other than those, I don’t own things that have my team names on them and I don’t have my car plastered with the stickers of my favorite teams.)  In other words, I’m mostly a quiet fan.  A quiet citizen.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going to the SF Giants game 6 playoff against the Cardinals.  I took my oldest, who is a senior in high school.  We had a conversation about the current China-Japan dispute about some islands that consist of a grand total of 2 square miles (I think).  I used it as an example of the stupidity of nations.  He responded that was why wars were stupid and mentioned how many of the battles in World War I were fought over a mile of land.  Thousands of men died for the advantage of a mile here and a mile there.

I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy.  (Well, except when I’m cheering the Giants on in their place in Game 6 of the NLCS.)  I’d prefer that nationalism go the way of the dinosaur.  I don’t like labels and categories and divisions.  We aren’t, or shouldn’t be, Italian-Americans and African-Americans, gays or straights, Catholics or Jews or Atheists.  Instead, we should be Americans.  But, that actually isn’t enough either.  We should be people — just like the people who reside elsewhere.

Which makes my feeling during the national anthem yesterday so weird.  Maybe it’s my age — I find myself tearing up more these days at odd things.  Like this.  The sight of a huge American flag unfurled in the outfield, a tugboat shooting fountains of water into the air, and two jets flying over the stadium in an ear-shattering roar, while the Kingston Trio harmonized the national anthem.

Just plain weird.

Which is really my long-winded way of telling you that I got to see the game last night and we’re moving on to game 7 tonight.  Go Giants!

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