ALEX DAHLEM ’20
The National Anthem is a cherished tradition in American history, oftentimes unifying different strands of American life in our country’s most fractured moments. However, we have recently encountered a tough dilemma; what happens when our unifying mechanism becomes the staging ground for protests on race relations, one of the most divisive subjects in American life? How can we unify when the very song that was meant to unify us has morphed into the controversy? As football season approaches and more protests inevitably unfold, our nation should respect the Constitutional rights of these protesters and acknowledge the legitimate grievances they hold. If we care about making our country better for everyone, then we need to respect those that peacefully protest, and even join them.
The key error in judgement committed by most critics of the protests is the belief that the act of service to our country, specifically through the military, is the main reason why we sing the National Anthem. In fact, many even believe that it is the only reason.
Of course it is important to honor and respect the lives of those who have fought for American freedoms. I myself come from a military family (my father was in the Navy and my grandfather in the Army-Air Force) and am reverent of their courage, valor, and sacrifice in the face of enemies. I understand that freedom isn’t free and that if American citizens hadn’t trudged up the beaches of Normandy or sustained torture in the Hanoi Hilton we might not have the luxury of speaking our beliefs.
However, viewing service solely through the narrow lens of war is an error in judgement that undermines the sacrifices made by so many others. Every time a Kaepernick critic alludes to war veterans as a reason to stand, they are failing to equally cite those who have struggled or suffered in service to this country by other means. Were the beatings suffered by peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 any less valorous than those sustained by soldiers in Vietnam? Was Patton’s military campaign really more meaningful than the peaceful actions of MLK? Anyone who has studied just a shred of Civil Rights history should know that it is ridiculous to place the heroic actions of military troops above the domestic heroes that have saved the United States.
I am not saying that there aren’t Americans who respect the domestic heroes of the Civil Rights era. In fact, one of the reasons for our polarity on this issue is our impetuous and regrettable habit of shunning “the other” before hearing their story. But what the critics don’t realize is that those who kneel do so because the same struggles that challenged and occasionally killed American heroes during the Civil Rights movement have not been alleviated today. Internal racial battles are just as threatening to the fabric of our country as ISIS terrorists and Russian hackers.
While military and intelligence budgets have continued to rise since 2002 (so far sufficient in preventing another terrible attack or military invasion) our country’s racial clashes still manifest themselves every day, causing many to ask; does the government really want to change things for the better? Are our elected officials upholding their oath to protect the Constitution and all of the rights that derive from it? The short answer is no. Policing and the use of brutal force is one of the starkest examples of every-day racism. A 2015 study by PLOS One journal found that the probability of being black, unarmed and shot by police is about 3.5 times the probability of being white, unarmed and shot by police. If you think that these protests are unjustified, just open up the newspaper.
Now, if you are one of those people who acknowledges the presence of racism in our country but says that protesting should be limited to another realm, then dust off those textbooks from tenth grade Civics class. The reality is that we live in a nation of laws, and the Constitution is the highest law in the land. The first amendment protects citizens’ right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Since it is legal for any citizen to peacefully protest anytime they want regarding any grievances they harbor, the rest of the country must respect the rule of law and allow them to do so, or else risk undermining the very document that holds our beautiful country together.
In the end, who is more patriotic: the person who uses the full extent of their rights in order to protest injustice and make our country a better place for all of its citizens? Or the person who ignores those issues and attempts to break the law by silencing those who stand up, or in this case, kneel? I won’t tell you how to answer, but just remember this as you watch the NFL this fall; meaningful change has never been born in a state of social comfort.