Since 1869, the oath of enlistment has stayed essentially unchanged for our armed services. Everyone who joins the military — regardless of branch — has one thing in common: they must swear in by repeating the oath. It is something that every service member must promise and adhere to for his/her entire military career. From the oath, it’s clear that members are defending the Constitution — not a person, flag or song. Discipline and accepting orders is sworn to. If you betray your oaths, you are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I swore this exact oath on June 13, 1978, for the first time:
“I, Alan Vervaeke, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Before you raise your right hand, you make damned sure you understand what you are swearing or attesting to. Because servicemen and women don’t protect a flag. They protect your rights. The right to kneel. The right to burn a flag. The right to fly any flag. The right to curse in public. The right to march in protest.
If you served and you don’t get that, then you never understood the oath you swore. If you didn’t serve and you keep kvetching about “they’re disrespecting our service men and women!” then you need to keep quiet because you don’t get it and quite possibly you never will. Your sense of entitlement is huge and it stems from ignorance. As my friend Jim Wright says, making someone — anyone — salute the flag while your boot is on their throat isn’t patriotism. It’s fascism, and you should repeat that over and over until you get it because our military fought fascism for four long years and lost hundreds of thousands of young men and women to do so. Yet here you are supporting it and a man who faked medical issues to avoid military service. That’s a travesty.
Meanwhile, it’s OK for the vice president to cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000 for travel to an NFL game in order to protest a kneeling man who didn’t cost us a damned penny. That’s hypocrisy, blatant and horrific. Not surprisingly, it was orchestrated in advance by a president who called a man who was exercising his First Amendment rights a “son of a bitch.” When Trump did that, dozens more men took a knee. Dozens more linked arms in solidarity with those who knelt. Then the president escalated the situation further with more disparaging remarks. In a league where 70 percent of the players are people of color and 83 percent of the fans are white, it smacks of racism. White people telling black people to shut up about racial injustice and just play football. But why should the man who told us that some of the white supremacists in Charlottesville were “really fine people” — or those who voted for him — surprise us?
Perhaps people should comprehend why a football player chose to kneel at all. Originally he sat down, and people were furious. Then a former Green Beret named Nate Boyer talked to Mr. Kaepernick and told him that while he disagreed with what he was doing, it took significant courage to do it. He said “I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.”
Later on, Mr. Boyer proposed that Mr. Kaepernick instead kneel while facing the flag. Why? Because In a military funeral, after the flag is taken off the casket of the fallen military member, it is smartly folded 13 times and then presented to the parents, spouse or child of the fallen member by a fellow service member while KNEELING. The two of them decided that kneeling for the flag would symbolize his reverence for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice while still allowing Mr. Kaepernick to peacefully protest the injustices he saw.
Meanwhile, to exacerbate all of this, clearly demented televangelist Pat Robertson blamed the Las Vegas shooting on the NFL’s disrespect for Trump, God and the National Anthem. As though football players at ANY point ever demeaned God. Some people wonder why I detest the religious right getting involved in partisan politics that more resemble hate mongering than anything else? We’ve seen it here in this paper time and again. Religion truly is the last bastion for the ignorant to hide behind and rally ‘round.
Am I angry? You’re damned right I am. People are more upset about a black man kneeling than they are over a white man shooting 600 concert-goers. I’ve smelled the stink of white privilege while it tries to justify tearing our country apart in order to substantiate itself. And all the while, in the noise and confusion, the president of the United States continues to shred protections for women and minorities, the environment and the working class.
So if you truly want to live in a country where everyone is required to worship the flag and pretend that everything your leader is doing is just plain awesome, you’ll fit in perfectly in North Korea. Have a nice trip. Bring warm socks — you’ll need them. Bye, Felicia!
Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.