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Is taking a knee disrespectful?

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Many life or death problems face America today, including possible nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, clean-up from three massively destructive hurricanes, a horrendous mass shooting in Las Vegas, horrible and deadly wild fires in California, a break with the rest of the world’s powers over the Iran nuclear deal, and whether NFL players disrespect American service personnel when they take a knee during the national anthem.

During this time of crisis, much news coverage has been devoted to the last issue.

Being a war veteran, I believe I have the credentials to give an opinion on that issue. That is, I voluntarily entered the U.S. Army in 1967, despite leg injuries that would have exempted me from the draft. When the Army did not honor my request to serve in Southeast Asia, I requested a transfer to Vietnam. Although I had a law degree, I chose to serve in an artillery unit. I served 407 days in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Province, most of it living with South Vietnamese soldiers. I did all of this to honor and respect American values.

One of the most sacred American values is the right to protest what we Americans regard as injustice. Our nation was founded in protest. Many Europeans came to America, having gotten in hot water in their homelands for protesting governmental or religious practices. Americans fought the Revolutionary War to protest British governmental oppression. Ever since, we have taken it for granted that we can protest practically anything the government does, so long as we do it peacefully. My service in the military was partly motivated to protect that right.

The NFL players and others say they are protesting to raise awareness of racial injustice. They have a valid point of view in that regard, although I think there are better ways of focusing attention on the issue. I have not heard any of them say that members of the U.S. military are not worthy of respect. I would recognize military disrespect if I saw it. While I was not personally subjected to disrespect when I got back from Vietnam, many of my brothers in arms were–raw, awful disrespect.

What does disrespect men and women in the military is to characterize swastika-toting neo-nazis as good people. They certainly have the right to brandish their flags and torches, while they utter anti-semitic chants, but let’s remember that many American service personnel, not to mention millions of European Jews, died at the hands of people who cherished the swastika and nazism. For that matter, many Americans died fighting secessionists who worshiped the confederate battle flag.

What also dishonors veterans of all wars is to demean an American prisoner of war like John McCain who served his country with distinction and who comported himself with honor and dignity while being subjected to inhuman treatment at the hands of his captors.

I would never fail to stand with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played, but I certainly would not condemn a person who chose that form of protest to bring attention to perceived failings of the government. The right to protest is deep in the soul of America and is among the rights that I and many other veterans went overseas to protect.

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