If you think that kneeling when the national anthem of the United States plays in any way disrespects soldiers and veterans, think again.
This is what the Oath of Enlistment that all enlisted men and women take as they join the Armed Forces of the United States:
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The oath establishes that servicemembers defend the constitution- not a person. They swear to follow the orders of their superiors all the way to the office of the Commander in Chief- or the president of the United States. But following orders has its limits as established by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Soldiers have the right, in fact are obligated, to refuse to discharge unlawful orders.
Recruiters advice prospective recruits to think about the oath they are about to take for they will be bound by it for the duration of their contract. Many servicemembers, however, see their oath as a lifetime obligation- and feel bound to it after being discharged from service. That is how I see it too.
I do not consider myself a veteran for I only served for a decade and I was never deployed to a combat zone. However, when I took this oath I took it seriously and I was always willing to fulfill my duties.
A decade in the military means that you participate in countless ceremonies and that you salute the flag and stand for the anthem daily. During my time in Redstone Arsenal in Alabama I was often in flag detail (raising and lowering the flag) because our First Sergeant was impressed with how well I kept my uniform and how serious I took performing drills and ceremonies. The reason I took that ceremony so seriously is because every time we raised the flag it was a reminder that we could find ourselves in combat, that we would likely have to kill other humans, and that my peers and myself would be in harms way.
I‘m telling you all this so you understand how important raising the flag and playing the anthem were and are for me. Don’t be surprised when I tell you: KNEELING DURING THE ANTHEM DOES NOT DISRESPECT SERVICEMEMBERS AND VETERANS! If you remember the oath taken by soldiers, the main concern is to defend the Constitution of the United States against foreign and domestic enemies. The oath is not about defending a flag, an anthem, or a person but the constitution. The flag and the anthem are both symbols that remind the soldiers of their oath.
The Constitution on the other hand is more than a piece of paper. It is the how the will of the people is expressed so we do not fall under tyrannical rule. It is a set of guarantees the people of the United States established so the individual won’t be violated by the state. It is meant to protect our Democracy against domestic enemies.
For that matter, when athletes kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality, they are exercising a right guaranteed to them by the very same constitution soldiers swore to defend. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech- plain and simple.
I may sound romantic in my views about what the constitution is and stands for- that is ok with me, I’ll proudly wear the label.
I’m aware that the Constitution is an imperfect document and that much of what is in it doesn’t translate into practice. I’m aware that “we the people” has been incredibly exclusive and restrictive.
Exactly because I understand all of this is that I support those kneeling during the anthem. Not only they are exercising their constitutional right to free speech, they are in fact demanding a more perfect union and an inclusive democracy in which “we the people” means all of us.
There is nothing more patriotic than that.
As for ways of honoring our veterans and servicemembers, what about this? Stop sending them into harms way to advance imperial policies and to fight endless wars with no exit strategy. Invest in robust comprehensive mental health programs for veterans and stop stigmatizing veterans with PTSD or moral trauma and injury. Do not play politics with their service (like tying more funding for the VA to cutting much needed programs which assist the very same communities from which most our service members come from). Stop the fake patriotism.
And most of all, stop pitting our military against the People of the United States as they exercise their constitutional rights for they are the sole reason for the constitution to exist in the first place, “we the people”.