April 24, 2019 | 63° F

COMMENTARY: Those kneeling are true American patriots

Seventy-five years ago this November, American forces began Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of fascist-occupied North Africa and the first action seen by American ground troops in the European Theater. At the same time, Marines were dying by the thousands to take the tiny Pacific Island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese. At the time, victory in either theater was no sure thing. Fascist forces controlled most of mainland Europe and were threatening Russia and Britain. On the other side of the globe, Japan controlled the waters of the Pacific while sweeping across Southeast Asia.

In a broader sense, the idea of self-government was, for the first time since Locke wrote of government derived from the “consent of the governed,” rapidly disappearing rather than expanding. The world was falling to forces who openly hated the very concept of natural rights. Even in a country riddled with inequalities and discrimination, and even without full knowledge of the genocidal nature of the Axis’ regimes, Americans recognized this threat and fully mobilized to defeat it.

Over 400,000 Americans would die in what would be human history’s deadliest conflict, fighting for the survival of democracy itself. These young men sacrificed everything so that future generations could experience the benefits a free society has to offer. The turbulent, messy and frustrating democratic process was something worth fighting for.

These heroes, and their millions of Allied counterparts in Britain, France, Poland and elsewhere, bestowed upon the world tools to continually improve the world in an orderly, peaceful manner. Institutions and customs we use to fight our civil disagreements with discourse rather than violence.They did not fight for us to self-censor in their name, or to make empty gestures based on nationalistic political correctness.

The best way to honor those who have served is to actually use the rights and freedoms they fought to maintain. Otherwise, their sacrifices were in vain.

The athletes in the NFL kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to issues in the criminal justice system are the ones who truly embody the values of liberty and national pride. Regardless of your thoughts on the specific issues they are speaking out on — and their case is a good one — they are using their platform to correct what they see as an injustice, an admirable display of leadership. As with the countless leaders of social movements that came before them, they are willing to face public ridicule and all that comes along with it in this quest. They are the real patriots.

Their case for criminal justice reform is indeed very strong. The War on Drugs has been an absolute disaster, tearing apart families and devastating inner cities without solving the underlying problem of drug addiction. The burden of this war has fallen disproportionately on black and Hispanic people, despite them using drugs at the same rates as white people. The intense militarization of police forces has made some feel more like they are in an occupied territory than a community being served by law enforcement. The value of assets seized through civil forfeiture laws – which is essentially legalized government theft – has eclipsed the value of assets stolen in burglaries. Our broken bail system leaves our poorest citizens in jail for months at a time for very minor crimes. Something is deeply wrong here, and America needs to have a national conversation about it, even if it interrupts some symbolic and mindless display of nationalism before a football game.

Previous generations did not risk their lives in far-off lands so that we could guilt and shame each other into not speaking out. In fact, they fought with the very purpose of protecting people like Colin Kaepernick, Bruce Maxwell, the Dallas Cowboys and others with controversial statements to make. They succeeded in building a country where unpopular firebrands like Martin Luther King Jr., Samuel Gompers and Susan B. Anthony could bring their then-offensive ideas to the nation and use the bully pulpit to alter the national character. They were all seen as anti-American heretics in their day who deeply upset traditional values, but we are all better off for the controversy they incited. Change never comes easy.

Lest we forget, the flag itself is just a piece of cloth flying above our stadiums and schools, an identifier of the nation whose territory these institutions inhabit. No one goes to war for a flag. Rather, they fight for the aspirational concepts of liberty and democracy, which require an unrelenting, unforgiving and unapologetic defense.

Connor O'Brien is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics with a minor in history.

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Connor O'Brien

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