When the National Anthem is played, I stand, place my hand over my heart, and listen respectfully. Some athletes have chosen not to do this as a protest against certain conditions in our country—the treatment of African-Americans or LGBTQ people, for example.
Some individuals have charged that this type of action shows disrespect for those who serve in the military. They are wrong. When the Anthem is played and the flag displayed, we are expressing our allegiance to our country, not any particular part of it. This is not directed toward any group—the military, police, educators, etc. An important value of our country is the right to dissent in an orderly and respectful way. I join other veterans in arguing that this is the reason we served—to guarantee that right.
This is a very personal matter for me. I served in the United States Army during the war in Vietnam. During that conflict, many protested America’s involvement in the war. On some occasions, these protesters showed personal disrespect for members of the military. Although I never experienced this type of dissent, I returned to civilian life to find friends who disparaged my service in an unpopular cause. Did that hurt? Yes, it did. I was not a hero, but I was not a villain either. I did not serve from a selfish motivation but because of my commitment to serve in the military.
Even during that time, I don’t think that I questioned the right of my fellow Americans to voice dissent from United States policy in Southeast Asia. In fact, as one who had seen first-hand what was taking place, I saw the short-comings in our strategy and spoke about them as a civilian.
In our present situation, we should honor our service members for their willingness to make the sacrifices to serve. We should argue with our politicians and dissent when we think they are following the wrong course of action. I think I can do the latter without compromising on the former.
Appropriate dissent is good and promotes dialogue about significant issues. Such dissent, in fact, may be the ultimate testimony to one’s love of country.