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Tag Archives: Patriotism

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.

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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.

History and the 4th of July

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150 years ago this week, an incredible battle was fought outside the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Over 160,000 soldiers faced off in an area approximately 25 square miles in size.  At the end of the three day battle, almost 8,000 men had died, another 27,000 were injured, and over 10,000 captured or missing.  Those casualties were the greatest of any battle during the Civil War.

I always wonder whether the legend of such events is over done.  Whether historians looking back inflate the significance.  If you read anything about Gettysburg you will be told that it was the battle that began the end of the Confederacy.  It was the battle when the North finally won in convincing fashion, virtually destroying Robert E. Lee’s army.  With the loss at Gettysburg, it was only a matter of time.  Is that really true though?  When you walk through the hallowed grounds of the Gettysburg battlefield, it’s easy to believe the historians.

I’ve been lucky enough to do this twice in my life.  Once when I was seven — I don’t remember that trip.  A second time three years ago when we took our kids back east for the obligatory American history tour.  Gettysburg was the only Civil War battlefield we stopped at.  We spent a day there driving through the monuments and statues.  I’d gladly go back and spend more time walking the battlefield.

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There are hundreds of them, memorializing the many units and corps from the many states that sent their soldiers to fight and die.  It is seeing all of those stone markers that renders the significance of the battle all too real.

The battlefield is spread out over relatively flat land.  Small ridges provided convenient locations for the Union forces to form their lines and hold back Confederate charges.  Small hills, barely deserving of the name “hill”, provided the focal points for the battle.  Whoever holds the high ground wins.  The ultimate test of King of the Hill.  Little Round Top.  Culp Hill.  Hundreds of men died, many more were injured for these little patches of land.  Here’s a view of the battlefield from Little Round Top.

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That the Union held and never gave up at Little Round Top was critical.  That one little hill.  If the Confederate troops had been able to overrun the Union at Little Round Top, maybe the battle would have turned and history would tell another story.  And that’s the thing that is so amazing.  Such a small thing and history’s story turns out one way instead of another.  The stories surrounding Gettysburg, as with so many historical events, are fascinating.  But for this general’s strategic misstep or that general’s gallantry in the line of fire, but for men who rose to the deed or those that failed no matter how hard they fought, history could have changed.  History’s story is frequently better than anything fiction can come up with.  If you have a chance to read a book about Gettysburg, do it.  It’s a fascinating tale.

As everybody celebrated the 4th of July yesterday with their barbecues and beer and fireworks, I wondered as I frequently do, whether I belong in this place and time.  We’re celebrating our freedom!!  Yippee!  Hooray!  But does anybody stop, really stop, and think about that word.  Freedom.  What it means.  What blood and sweat has gone into it.  Preserving it.  Strengthening it.  Weakening it.  Freedom.  Really.  Does anybody stop and think about it when they’re having their third hot dog and the fake rockets are flying into the air setting off dazzling displays of color?

Next year, I’m not doing the traditional thing again.  I’m going to find a soldier to thank.  Or something.  Anything other than the mind-numbing “celebration” that has become the norm.  If you were really to celebrate your freedom, to mark it in a real way, what would you do?

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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