I fear that when we speak about the national anthem and athlete protests, those who advocate standing as a simple act of respect sometimes don’t adequately communicate what that means. “Honor the troops” is a statement uttered so often that it’s become hollow. In my first piece on the Colin Kaepernick controversy, I asked if he could stand for Henry Johnson, one of America’s greatest warriors — an African-American who suffered immensely because of his race yet still fought and bled for this country. But the reality of war is about more than one hero’s experience. It’s about the decision of the few to face the hell of combat for the security and liberty of the many.
A young law student I know, an Army combat veteran named Nick Griepsma, put it like this in a text message he sent to a friend. He gave me permission to publish it. After speaking first about the enormous privileges of Kaepernick’s American life, he says this:
This privilege comes at an indescribably high cost. There truly are no words. It is suffering beyond imagination. It is blood. It is death. It is hell on earth. Kaepernick’s American forbearers and his generational peers have experienced hell on earth so that he may know nothing but American privilege. Thank God that 99% of the population will never experience such a hell and instead live a life free from the type of fear that comes with being a citizen of many other world regions.
If you have paid or truly understand the cost of American privilege, then you stand during the anthem. There is no other option. Even standing in solemn recognition seems inequitable to the gift received. We stand during the anthem in recognition of the cost of the privilege we have now, not in commentary of the extent of that privilege today.
I particularly liked this:
“Well,” say the protesters, “you can’t say I’m privileged because I truly believe that I might be killed during a routine traffic stop, or X, or X, or X.” Let’s throw our collective weight into every one of those problems, but none of them hold a candle to the evil that would flow over our borders but for the continued willingness of people to voluntarily experience hell on earth on your behalf.
Yes, I know that there are some (a few) combat veterans that will disagree with Griepsma and stand (kneel?) with Kaepernick and his ilk. The shame of any person who kneels is the shame that they are, in fact, communicating two messages they may or may not actually intend — first, that they are disrespecting a sacrifice that the vast majority of the kneelers can’t possibly comprehend and — second — that they simply don’t understand the horror and injustice of the world that would exist absent that sacrifice. Thus, while I can support (and fight for) the right to kneel, but I cannot and do not support or even respect the choice to kneel.