By Elmer Ellsworth
Yesterday I heard a perspective about Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem that compels me to help explain the Veterans’ Perspective on this issue. The view expressed on the radio was that Kaepernick’s should NOT sit on 9/11 because, while on any other day it is acceptable, to express one’s rights in such a manner on 9/11 it would be highly inappropriate.
It is important to point out that this comment was made by a New York radio commentator — so perhaps that explains his perspective’s emphasis on the New York – 9/11 emotional connection. After all, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks are a significantly emotionally event for many people. But, that brings us directly to the heart of the Veterans’ Perspective on this issue — which we also believe is the point that many people are missing.
First, the Veterans’ Perspective is based squarely on the overriding factual principal that EVERY Citizen has the right to sit (or not stand) for the National Anthem. We fight for that right — it is absolute. No question.
But having the legal “right” to do something, does not always make it appropriate. So, the following is what the Veterans’ Perspective would explain to Mr. Kaepernick ….and we are going to leave out the emotional examples of blood spilled and brothers and sisters lost in order to help explain this perspective as clearly and concisely as possible.
Everybody in this Nation has their issue. There are many issues of concern to people. In a large democracy comprised of imperfect human beings, there will always be incidents of unfairness or circumstances which leave one questioning whether justice had been properly served. Those of us who join the military are immediately taught that all of those differences — and all of our emotional feelings about those issues impacting our individual perspective — MUST be set aside for the good of the unit (or the Nation). We are further taught that the flag is the ONE thing that brings us all together. It does not represent perfection because it is not intended to represent perfection. It represents unity. It represents US.
No Single Issue is More Important than Unity. Getting young men and women to put aside self-interest and give themselves to a greater cause requires a sense of unity that many people in today’s America may not fully appreciate. Make no mistake that kids watch and follow sports figures. Once it is commonly accepted as the “norm” to place in importance one’s own individual agenda above the preservation of our unity, the foundation of our security is weakened. As this continues, it becomes even harder for people to recognize the truth that there is something more important than our differences that unites us all without exception. To be clear, we are not suggesting that one should ever be forced to stop pursuing or supporting their own interests. We are simply stating that there is a place or point when and where the method and manner of expressing that self-interest should be set aside or altered for the greater good. After all, everybody has their cause. Mr. Kaepernick is famous and has a tremendous podium from which to speak, but that does not mean his issue is more important or more righteous than others. As people continue to try and divide us over our differences, we fear that we will find it difficult or impossible to ever stand united.
ALWAYS Inappropriate Even if “Legal” – It seems Mr. Kaepernick believes his unique “perspective” trumps everybody and everything else. Perhaps he believes the “righteousness” of his cause is in fact the ultimate litmus test for his virtue on this matter. Perhaps he incorrectly views disagreement with his actions as a lack of support for his cause. Regardless, the Veterans’ Perspective is that the FLAG is the ONLY thing that trumps everybody’s individual issues. The radio commentator’s emotional plea to respect 9/11 is very admirable, but such a claim contradicts our premise. Is it acceptable to claim that 9/11 is “more” important than “Memorial Day”? To believe that it is acceptable to allow one person or group’s perspective determine when it is and when it is not “appropriate” to override unity completely contradicts the reasoning behind why this is even an issue. In other words, it either is appropriate ANY time for ANY issue or group, or it is inappropriate ALL the time without exception.
Never Unanimous Opinion – Of course there are many Veterans who will disagree with us. On every issue a dissenting view can always be found. We expect many veterans to be vocal in their belief that Mr. Kaepernick’s right to express himself is the overriding issue. To those Veterans we say that we actually do not disagree with their assertion. We simply disagree with their point of emphasis. It is precisely because unanimity in opinion is impossible that it is necessary to have something that rises above individual perspectives. America is all about individualism – so we understand how difficult this may be for many Americans to understand let alone practice. It is for these reasons that we believe it is inappropriate to place self-interest over the respect shown to the flag ALL the time without exception. And, this is not at all inconsistent with our view that it is unequivocally the right of a citizen to do so anytime and for any issue.
In the end, as American Veterans, we must accept that our perspective is just one view. It is one perspective – it is not more important than any other. But, perhaps this Veterans’ Perspective deserves a little more attention amongst all the noise that is out there when considering both the importance of paying respect to our Flag and the 15th Anniversary of 9/11.