Jacksonville Jaguars players kneeling on Sunday, September 24, 2017 during the playing of the national anthem at the first NFL game since President Trump called for players who take a knee to be fired.
Like “taking a knee” during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” flag burning seems truly criminal to many of those who occupy that imaginary space called “mainstream America.” An assault upon either of these symbols is seen by most as an assault leveled against a unifying amalgam of memories, common ideals, and loyalties.
When asked what the flag means to them, most will immediately answer, “Freedom.” But since our history includes a long episode of slavery and the repression of various social and ethnic groups, does not the flag also connote these less palatable traces of national character? Indeed, it can be argued that for some Americans, the flag represents little more than social and economic marginalization.
Once a flag becomes old and worn, or stained, its proper disposal requires burning. How can the court of public opinion distinguish between these ceremonies and those initiated by citizens who view the country, and therefore the flag, as morally worn or stained: its courage turned cowardly, its purity violated, its justice compromised?
A nation must pay the price of tolerance if it is to honor the concept of free expression. A flag, or an anthem, worth its salt as a national symbol need not fear protest in any form, even if that means its immolation or irreverent dissent.
On national holidays, I fly two flags: the national symbol and the Marine Corps Globe and Anchor. As a former Marine, I honor both symbols for various reasons, but they remain just that: symbols of my country and symbols of part of my personal history.
By the way, is “taking a knee” any worse than sitting on your butt, legs up, sipping a Bud, while the National Anthem is being played.
Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science, and is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.
Mr. Britton’s comments are his own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communique. We have striven to encourage a free and open exchange of opinions. Through discussions like these we can all learn more about the topics themselves and the perspectives of others.