It’s not easy to articulate precisely how America’s decades long wars have impacted Americans. Wars that aren’t won or lost, but instead simply carry on, produce few concise accomplishments to celebrate and few points of distinct failure from which to learn. The modern American is left to wonder what we should have done or can do about it in the future. We may ask who we can hold accountable for wars that last a generation. And we may find few useful answers.
Accountability is best aimed at failure or success. It’s an ineffective tool for perpetuity. We go to war to forward our interests. We stay at war for complex reasons. What we have to show for these wars likely won’t be obvious in our time.
Our wars have produced at least one thing very real and very American though.
The 21st Century American voluntary veteran.
We vets hold sacred ground in modern America. We are the standard for the American ideals of sacrifice, toughness and strength. Excluded from American appreciation or even maligned by cultural norms are the likes of government institutions, the dynamism of industry or the endurance of American infrastructure, built these last 200 plus years to create the great American life we all live. All that’s left now that’s worthy of appreciation is the American war fighter.
The argument we will have isn’t whether or not vets were used justly in our service or if we ought to exist in any other scope or purpose. The argument is whether or not any issue pleases us. Or offends us.
The American veteran has become a political deity.
Service members do have a monopoly on the expectation of ultimate sacrifice in the face of the evils of foreign foes. The argument follows that all other sacrifices warrant little credit. First responders may get honorable mention. But no one else. My brothers and sisters in arms are the sole American creditors to American freedom. And so, we are the logical stewards of America’s symbols.
Or so my Twitter feed tells me.
The idea that the flag and the national anthem are the unique domain of the roughly 1% of Americans serving is something I’ve always found odd. I also struggle with the notion that protesting in their presence is an act of disrespect that falls squarely on American people like me. It leaves me wondering a bit about what type of actions we should be thinking about that may be disrespectful to the other 99% of Americans not serving. Or the 93% that never served.
NFL players protesting during the national anthem while millions of Americans watch a game that would not exist if not for the players protesting in a country that would not exist as it does if not for the right to protest, should be, on face value, something that most Americans can tolerate. Yet, it is not. The debate that should follow is whether or not the cause to protest is just. Yet, that debate does not follow.
The debate that follows is whether or not the protest is disrespectful to people like me who served.
Do the protests honor or offend the gods of war?
There are no gods of war though. Just people who chose a good and honorable profession. And like any other good and honorable profession we feel the way we feel about things as a virtue of our own personal beliefs. Binding us together as one consciousness to please or offend is political nonsense.
America’s political debate presently stands where conservative ideology holds nationalistic views of America as territory and resources to be protected at most costs. Progressive views hold the individual dignity of all Americans as what needs to be protected at most costs. And so, protesting during ceremonial appreciation for the symbols of that land and resources on behalf of the personal dignity of the marginalized among us is an issue that breaks squarely along political lines.
Conservative vets don’t like the protests. Progressive ones will tell you that they fought so that others may protest. As someone that doesn’t identify with any one political ideology, I’m free to decide for myself. I can both understand Nike’s selection of Colin Kaepernick for their ad campaign and be critical of the specific creative content they chose to use when claiming he sacrificed everything.
In reality, Colin Kaepernick didn’t sacrifice everything. He sacrificed some portion of an NFL career, no small deed, to stand up for what he believed in. I can both appreciate Kaepernick and what the Nike campaign is trying to accomplish and call BS on Nike at the same time for overstating their tag line and opening up the campaign to unnecessary criticism.
As for my Nike gear, I don’t burn clothes I’ve already paid for. But I also won’t tell the parents, spouse or child of a fallen service member to believe that Coin Kaepernick sacrificed what they have either.
In time though, we’re going to have to find something else to universally honor besides the American veteran. We once viewed the rule of law to be the one thing we refused to argue but instead argued whether or not an issue pleased or offended it’s sensibilities.
Here’s to hoping we find our way back.