Not just stand with my hand over my heart. Salute.
When I stand and salute (vets have the privilege of saluting during our anthem), I am not saluting our flag, I am saluting what it represents.
It represents the courage to take on and defeat the greatest military power the world had seen to that date in order to gain our freedom. It stands for suffering more casualties in the war that freed the slaves than in all of our other wars combined. It flies for teachers in inner cities who struggle to help turn even one life around. It represents law enforcement and first responders. And parents who fight to be there for each other and their kids.
The flag waves quietly for the unsung heroes in every community who hold their neighborhoods, local charities and houses of worship together. These quiet heroes are also grappling with poverty and lack of sufficient access to medical and mental facilities. They are not in the official, government-sponsored war on poverty. But they are fighting it more efficiently.
Our military carries their own flags, but flags that others carry in non-military circumstances fly for them as well. And all too often, they are buried under that same flag. And just as there are state and city flags, proudly waving in pride as a part of our larger nation, our military has unit flags that wave in pride. State and city flags and military unit flags represent local pride, expressed partly in healthy competition with others of the same type, e.g., state vs. state and unit vs. unit. And that competition makes the overall nation and military stronger. Much stronger.
And, yes, I salute the America that works and struggles, grinding out successes over time, to correct its mistakes and horrors. Slave ships leading to human auctions and the abomination of slavery. The Trail of Tears, highlighting the butchery of Native Americans. The Ludlow Massacre, perhaps the lowest point in our treatment of labor. Bombing Cologne in WW II, the annihilation of a city over time with no military purpose. Vietnam, putting hundreds of thousands of our youth in harm’s way with an ill-defined, controversial purpose. Wasting and destroying lives there by giving our troops politically-limited tactical and strategic support.
I selected the above examples to show different types of egregious mistakes at different times in our history. Look at where we were. Now look at where we are. Are we making progress everywhere? Absolutely. Do we still have a substantial distance to go in every area? Of course. And we always will. That represents a major strength of our nation, America. Part of our strength as a nation is that we get it; no matter the progress in any area, we know that we must continue to improve. No matter how hard. And we do. Our flag waves for that, too.
I have been asked why kneeling is all that bad; isn’t kneeling a sign of respect–even reverence? After all, the question goes, one kneels to be knighted, and one often kneels to ask your intended to marry you. Neither standing or kneeling are inherently respectful or disrespectful; the context is key. Standing in church when asked to kneel in prayer would be disrespectful. Kneeling when asked to stand to honor a judge when entering a courtroom (“All rise!”), or when asked to stand to honor anything would be disrespectful. (Useful link here.) Take A Knee
I have heard people say that it is not their flag. Okay, if it is not your flag, I would understand if you do not stand and sing, hand over heart. But kneeling?Would you kneel if attending an event in a foreign country when the anthem of the host country was being played? And if you are here and it is not your flag, then I assume that you are a welcome visitor, getting good value for your time and money as you enjoy our people, sights, traditions and hospitality.
For me, not to salute would have me–in public–showing less honor than our nation deserves. To kneel would be unthinkable. And wrong.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.