The Gods of War

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.


What We Stand For

I love my country. I’ve spent years away from my family and the comforts of home to pursue her interests. And I’ve taken the time to understand her history, her cultures and her flaws. That understanding is at the core of my love for her. Honest love is starved by ignorance.

It’s not fragile.

That’s the disclaimer I have to lead with.  Or the people who need to hear this most  won’t listen.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that we Americans have wandered into when it comes to expressing how much we love and owe our country though. I’m not sure exactly when it happened. But somewhere along the line, we’ve determined that the American people, in their entirety, owe their very existence to the service of arms. The troops.

Any slight or protest against her is an affront to the sacrifices they, the troops, have made. There’s a notion that the only appropriate sentiment towards America is gratitude and all truly grateful Americans should shout down any offenses to the contrary and make it known that we won’t tolerate them; not when those very troops have sacrificed so much in the name of our own freedom.

I’ll let that last word hang for a second. Freedom.

I’ve seen people commit offenses against America. Real offenses. I’ve heard them cheering over the radio when the towers fell on 9/11 as my ship floated helplessly on the other side of the world. I’ve watched them try and succeed in killing my teammates because they were American. I’ve seen them burn more than flags. They’ve burned bodies. American bodies. And yet, we’re still here.

So when a young American athlete, born to a mother who could not care for him and a father who disappeared becomes one of the 10% of foster children adopted through our horribly broken foster care system in America and makes it to the NFL, I marvel at it. So did the foster child that lived in my home. He was his favorite player. And when that American athlete decides not to stand during the national anthem before a football game to express his solidarity with the 90% who didn’t make it out and the many millions more doomed to the dead-end future of our racially disproportionate poor, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it.

My love of country is not that fragile.

I’m a vet. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t owe me much. He’s a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He’ll be paid $19 million this year-if he makes the team. Both of those things have everything to do with the fact that he has once in a generation athletic ability and nothing to do with my service. He wasn’t dependent on me. If I never served in Iraq or anywhere at all, it’s likely he’d still be playing quarterback. That’s the clear eyed truth-for him and just about every American who does what they do today.

He does owe me something though. He’s not entirely off the hook for my service.  He owes me his voice. Just about the only thing that has ever moved this country towards right is when people with a voice use it in service of those without one. That’s what Colin Kaepernick owes me and every other vet that hung it out there to protect his right to do it. When so many others in his situation are too scared to risk their sneaker deals to shine a light on the parts of our great country that are still wrong, he owes it to me, to let it fly. That’s what I fought for.

That’s why I served.

I didn’t serve so the collective voices of social media who didn’t serve or never opened up their homes to a poor minority foster child can protect me from his disrespect. Go ahead and tell me why he’s wrong. Tell me why you disagree with him and that you’d like to see him do more than just kneel before a football game. I won’t disagree. But don’t use my service as cause. We’ve got broad shoulders. We’ll be just fine without the outrage. I promise.

I stand for the national anthem to honor my country. But mostly because what’s honorable about her are the people who have done hard, unpopular things in the name of what they believed to be right.

The day we all have to stand for it, is the day we don’t stand for anything at all.