Respect means different things to different people.
More to the point, respect means something very different for those of us in civilian circles than it does for those on active duty in the military. I couldn’t begin to do the latter subject justice, but I will hazard the observation that respect seems to an elaborate theme in military life. It is reflected in a number of practices and ritualized in a number of ways. It forms a prominent them in stories told by soldiers from just about every generation. Those of us who’ve never been there have the luxury of putting respect in the back our minds, We notice outright disrespect when we see it, and we may even notice markedly respectful behavior when we see it, but most of the time, we can let the issue ride, so to speak. The very notion of respect must mean something very different to someone who has to live in a world where rank matters and salutation is obligatory. For them, respect is an affirmative obligation. For the rest of us it is assumed.
I keep this in mind when I hear veteran’s complain about failure to stand for the flag. I also keep it in mind when I hear demagogues working damned hard to put veterans between protesters and the rest of us. It’s a dilemma. I want to respect someone’s service, but I am also keenly aware that the terms of that respect can be a real threat to my freedom and those of my fellow citizens.
There is a reason that militarism is a prominent theme in fascist circles, and it isn’t because those in such circles have any special respect for the military. No. The elaborate ritualism of respect which is such a part of military life is precisely what fascists want from the rest of us. It’s a kind of ethic, they would very much like to see generalized to the rest of the population. This kind of agenda is easily framed in terms of respect forthe military,
The likes of Donald Trump want us to salute just as a soldier would; they want us all to affirm our loyalty to the state, in terms we do not choose, at times and places wherein failure to do so will cost us something, the respect of our peers if not our actual freedom. Herein lies the perverse trick behind the argument that we must all stand for the pledge or the Anthem, that failure to do so amounts to a direct and willful attack on our military and the veterans who have served in it. That messages seeks to impose a dose of military discipline on the rest of us. Those pushing this message are effectively packaging a very real act of aggression against the citizenry as a simple courtesy.
It’s significant that this message comes nw in direct response to protests over the health and welfare of a significant portion of the American public. The protests carried out by so many players taking a knee in the NFL have a significance of their own, and that significance is NOT a willful attack on the military. They are protesting police abuse and violence directed at African-Americans. The protests are aimed at trying to get something done to curb such abuse and give African-Americans (among others) a
fighting chance cooperating chance of surviving a traffic stop or just a walk down the street. Putting respect for the military front and center in the response to these protests effectively replaces any dialogue the protesters might hope to generate about civil rights with a debate about respect for the military. It answers a legitimate concern about the rights of American citizens with a demand for express loyalty from those very citizens. It should be said those responding to the protests have been remarkably successful in this regard. We talk less now about police abuse and much more about soldiers and flags.
We can argue about whether or not pressure from the Trump administration to stop protests at football games actually violates the U.S. Constitution, but the central symbolism remains the same. What the Trump administration has effectively done is to say; “fuck your civil rights, give us our due!” In requiring its players to stand for the Anthem, in direct response to such pressures, the NFL has effectively bent its knee, and the end result will be a national gesture of obedience unparalleled in recent years. Whatever else the National Anthem meant before, this coming football season it will also mean obedience.
The message is rendered just a little more toxic when one considers that the Star Spangled Banner contains a passage mocking the hopes of escaping slaves. Folks don’t sing that line anymore, but it certainly does raise questions about what the song really means to various American citizens. Those demanding we all stand and put our hands over our hearts typically envision a pure statement of love for our nation, a nation that serves us all equally, and one whose claims on our loyalty is pretty much the same for all.
And still, the line is there…
A reasonable person might see that line as a problem. A reasonable person might understand how a black football player might not want to pay his respects through a gesture that denigrates his own ancestors. Of course a reasonable person would understand the concerns over police abuse in the first place, and a reasonable person might think that quietly kneeling during the course of the Anthem was a reasonable response to the whole situation.
Downright moderate when you think about it!
Hell, a reasonable person might want to review a few police procedures, not the least of them being the role of civil asset forfeiture in police budgets, and as a source of escalating conflict between police and certain policed populations. A reasonable person might want to review bias (latent or overt) in police actions and see if there is anything more than can be done to ensure that officers treat citizens properly. A reasonable person might want to ask questions about the significance of increasing militarization in police training and equipment purchases (something right wingers were once concerned about, …back when cows were the main issue of the day). A reasonable person might respond to the whole taking-a-knee debacle by trying to do something about the situation that gave rise to the controversy in the first place.
Reasonable people might be interested in such things.
But these are not reasonable times.
And so, here we sit, watching the Manchurian Cheeto move the whole nation a little further down the road to outright fascism, all with the full flag-waving support of good ‘patriotic’ Americans, millions of whom will sit right on their asses drinking beer next season as players are forced to bend the knee by standing for the anthem. These folks will happily remind us that the players are rich, and so they shouldn’t complain, so we are told. They will mock Black Lives Matter, remind us of the worst excesses done in its name, and they will enjoy the hope that the whole thing makes liberals a little less happy. What they won’t do is anything about the abuse of their fellow citizens at the hands of at least some Police
Consumer patriotism isn’t worth the price of the bean dip served with it.
We are often told that we should be mindful that soldiers have fought and died for the freedoms the rest of us enjoy. That’s a far more problematic claim than most seem to think. Our soldiers are as often used to protect financial interests (which may or may not include the welfare of the average citizen) as they are the rights or even the safety of the American population. That’s not there fault (they don’t get to choose when and where they fight), but the American military is far more abused by politicians using it for purposes other than the noble causes making their way into such rhetoric as it is by any protester in any cause out there. That’s something to consider when this thoughtless crap is tossed in the faces of those exercising the very freedoms in question. More to the point, if we are to remember people who fought and died in the name of American freedoms, that memory would surely include an awful lot of activists, protesters just like those people seek to silence with this feigned respect for the military. And its a perverse irony that respect for the one could so easily be used as a means of silencing the other.
…which brings me back to my first point salutation is an obligation for those in the military. For the rest of us, it simply isn’t. Whatever respect we owe those that have served, that respect itself is poorly served when we collectively take on the rituals and the obligations of the military, when we surrender the freedoms that the military has supposedly fault for. Those rights include the right to refrain from public gestures of fealty; they also include the right to walk down the street without fear of assault by law enforcement.
It’s a painful thing to think that some sincere people may be hurt by protests such as those taking a knee. It is at least as painful to think that some very insincere people will get the obedience they demand by manipulating a civilian public’s regard for military service.
At the end of the day, all of this leaves the primary issue untouched. We still have a law enforcement problem in this country. Some folks want to change that.
And some would rather us drink a beer and watch the gladiators salute the emperor before bashing their brains out for our viewing pleasure.