Monday, May 28, 2018

Do we salute a flag that represents forced displays of what you don't believe?

     I love the flag.
     Mine is frayed and faded from use. I'll put it out on Memorial Day, to honor the fallen, place my flat palm over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
     Nobody forces me.
     Like all loves, there was the initial infatuation period. Making construction paper pilgrims in elementary school, becoming fascinated with American history. Reading Samuel Eliot Morison's epic "The Oxford History of the American People" at summer camp in my mid-teens.
     We were the good guys. The Americans kicked Hitler out of Europe. The Rangers up the ropes and into the teeth of the German machine guns at Pointe du Hoc and the raid on the ball-bearing plant at Schweinfurt. When my boys were old enough, I gave them a copy of "Air War Against Hitler's Germany" thinking they'd love it like I did.
     They didn't. Times change. The parts of history that were hardly a distant murmur when I was growing up took their places in the narrative, like silent witnesses slipping into the back of a courtroom. One by one, called to the stand to testify.
     The more you learn about our country, the more conflicted the story becomes. I like to think it's still a basically good story about good people, with continuous lapses. But I understand those who think otherwise. The only actual U.S. Army Ranger I know went into the service a gung-ho patriot and came out a radical anti-imperialist, someone for whom the American tale is one long atrocity, sodden with horror.
     Am I supposed to contradict him? I think he's right, factually. But I'm a basically cheery fellow, and want to believe I live in a good place, with exceptions.
     This mutual respect, despite disagreement — I think he respects me, we drive up together to the same pal's place on Lake Superior every summer — is what makes America a great nation, and not one of those fractured nest of warring wasps that ruins so many others. America: I love it, you condemn it. I think you're wrong, you think I'm wrong, and we have a conversation, driving to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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  1. Your friend evidently must question Doctor Johnson's assertion that "every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or gone to sea."

    I'm not a combat veteran but have known quite a few, some admirable human beings, some the opposite. Whether the experience changed any of them for the better is hard to tell, but most must view equivocally simplistic, "civilian" views of war and it's outcomes. As that soldier's soldier, the Duke of Wellington put it, "Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained."


  2. The national anthem is an us against them/good conquers evil/strut your stuff song. Nothing wrong with that. I love it. What is wrong is that professional sports comandeered the anthem to whip up the home-team crowd. Notice how they play it at the beginning of the game instead of at the end, or between quarters or innings. The anthem being played at the game is a battle-cry. It touches some latent, tribalistic survival instinct. The trouble is, it's all about the game. National pride is forgotten and team pride steals the moment. Maybe if the NFL had to pay royalties for the use of the song, they'd drop their self-righteous act, and let Americans act like Americans.

  3. I'm glad you've kept the faith in America and thank you for the lovely article in honor of the good folks in the military.

    The past year and a half has made my faith in America waver. There was a white supremacist Nazi march in America, a person died, and our president said "there's good people on both sides". Astonishing. I will be driving to Montgomery Alabama to visit it's new monument and museum this summer. I want to learn more about a history that is connected to that white supremacist march, a history that is rarely told.

    Now people are being threatened with punishment if they don't stand for a song. That doesn't sound like the America of my ideals. It does sound like the America Kapernick is protesting.

  4. Neil, this is a peripheral issue, but bravo for the shout-out to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Oxford History of the American People.” It is indeed an epic text that recounts and interprets American history comprehensively, logically and wisely. If I had my way, it would be a standard high-school history resource, instead of the vapid piles of predigested mush that pass for history textbooks today.

  5. in high school at the end of the Viet nam war my girlfriend and I decided not to stand for the anthem at my sisters graduation.

    at a recent reunion people I hadn't seen since mentioned it to me.

    while I support the NFL players protest and basically agree with the reason behind it I wouldn't refuse to stand at my sons sporting events out of respect to him and his views and to not aggravate people in my community.

    I just stay in the parking lot for one last smoke and avoid the entire matter.

    there are a lot of things I dislike about our countries past and many of the things that are going on here and around the world now, but I avoid confrontation and realize the opportunities for civil discourse with people who have different views are very limited.

    I feel a bit ashamed for concealing my views from people I know but rationalize it by telling myself I'm protecting the people I love from being ostracized due to association. its sad and makes me feel weak.

    I also realize its possible I'm wrong

  6. Is the Ranger Rory Fanning? Worth Fighting For is a great book, honest and true. Now that I think about it, seems that you were the one who recommended the it.


    1. Yes, and I agree about the book.

    2. I read Rory's book, too. It addresses some very important issues. I'm glad Neil brought it to my attention.


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