Conflating Military Might and Colin Kaepernick

Nike Colin Kaepernick

My older brother is a lieutenant in the US Navy.

For as long as I’ve known my brother, he’s always been obsessed with the military. He was always going on about fighter jets and helicopters, wartime carriers and submarines. He’d tell me stories about military strategy and how we won this battle and that, and I’d listen, but sometimes only half paying attention.

I don’t think I actually believed he’d go into the military, not because I didn’t think he was capable, but it seemed like such a foreign concept. And it seemed dangerous. There was no way our parents would let him do something like that.

But as time went on, his interest never waned, and our parents, who were always supportive of us, let him go.

And off he went! After graduating with his degree in biomedical engineering, of all things, he left for Officer Candidate School, or OCS. From there, he bounced around the country for a bit before settling for a few years over in San Diego. I imagine it won’t be long before he bounces from there, too.

I’d mentioned that the idea of my brother joining the Navy seemed like a foreign concept. Allow me to explain.

Our parents had immigrated to this country from Guyana, South America, so we didn’t exactly come from a line of generals. Our grandparents didn’t fight in WWII, my dad’s never been to Vietnam, and we’ve never been known to march, for any reason. Guyana, once a very, very small part of the British Empire, has a small military force and doesn’t really get involved with anything they don’t have to.

But even as immigrants, they understood and appreciated the might of the US military. The whole world did. When my brothers and I (who were all born in Connecticut, by the way) went to school, we learned about the wars and battles that the Americans would always, inevitably and obviously, win. It was never a question of if they won, but rather how they did it.

One thing that was never in question, though?

They did it for our freedom.

We’re the Land of the Free. The Home of the Brave. We are a mighty, mighty force on this planet, and that’s something to be proud of.

But – and this is a huge “but” – should anyone dare criticize the military in any way, they’re shunned, harassed, and accused of being ungrateful and anti-American.

I don’t think that’s entirely fair.

Millions of people have died defending this country, and were it not for them, we wouldn’t be able to live the lives we’re so privileged to live today. That is no small thing, and giving your life for your country is more than many of us could or would ever do. I feel like that much should go without saying.

However, a public school education will afford students with enough information to make up their minds regarding the might of the military. Specifically, we should be able to ponder the question – Are we protectors of the weak and defenders of human rights, or are we world-stage bullies with our own agendas, however hidden or transparent?

During the Revolutionary War, we fought for our own independence from the British. It was a fight that we had to fight, no matter how rag-tag or green or underdog-ish we were at the time. Through sheer determination, pride in our budding nation, strong national identity, and some bad calls by the Brits, we won an impossible war.

I’m nowhere near as eloquent as Lin-Manuel Miranda, but just listening to the Hamilton soundtrack makes me cry. That Battle of Yorktown, though…

But the Revolutionary War is a rare occurrence of the US fighting directly for the US.

I’m generalizing here, but we then went on to fight for other things – threats to our nation’s ideology and way of life, threats to our allies, etc. After our nation survived the Civil War only a century after the revolution, we then fought against tyranny and genocide. We fought for democracy. We fought against non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

The wave of anti-war sentiment that took place in our country during and following the Vietnam War and the unofficial War on Terror is indicative of the fact that many Americans believed, at least at the time, that military might is not the answer to every problem around the world, especially when that problem isn’t really a problem.

Those who serve in our military, along with their families, are willing to make sacrifices when the threat is real. When it isn’t…what are our men and women dying for?

Not to delve into conspiracy theory territory here, but the government has to essentially sell a war to the people in order to gain public support. Vietnam was a hard sell, especially when it became increasingly clear that we were losing over there. The War of Terror was problematic from the beginning for reasons most of us, I’m sure, remember.

But do you remember how we boycotted the word “French” because they insulted us? We went around eating Freedom fries and talking about “the red, white, and blue,” not realizing that the French flag bears those exact same colors?

And remember when 3,000 Americans died in the September 11th attacks, the first attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor, so the government used it as justification to attack the Middle East in an unofficial war that’s still going on, killing thousands of innocent Middle Eastern civilians and American soldiers?

And let’s not talk about the cost of these military operations.

The argument is that if we hadn’t gone over to these places, Communists would have taken over in Vietnam, or terrorist groups would have taken over the Middle East and continued to attack the US. Who knows.

The 2019 proposed defense budget, which has already been signed and approved by the president and Congress, allocated $717 billion dollars to the military.

This includes…Space Force.

Anyway, war is a tricky and sensitive subject because it capitalizes on two very real human emotions – fear and love. We’re afraid of what’s out there, so we arm ourselves against it and attempt to quash any threat before it becomes a problem. We love our family members and friends who are out there, both on the front lines and behind the scenes, so to rebuke the military is to rebuke their life’s work and sacrifices.

But no one is arguing that fighting for your country isn’t brave or admirable. The argument is that people should at least know what they’re fighting for.

They’re not fighting for the American flag.

This time, the argument is that they’re fighting for what the flag represents, which in my opinion, is a weak argument, but it’s also the backbone of the public opinion that Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling during the national anthem at football games is disrespectful to the flag and thereby disrespectful to the United States.

Never mind that their reasons for kneeling have nothing to do with the flag itself. It was simply a time and place for a man with a platform to peacefully protest an issue that he believed needed attention.

But critics claim that yes, there is a time and a place for protesting, but the football field ain’t it. “Do it on your own time, not NFL time,” they say. “If I was insubordinate at work, I’d get fired,” they say. Those critics seem to miss the point of protesting. What good is it if no one knows it’s happening? If a tree falls in the forest…

Oh, and Kaepernick did lose his job. He no longer plays for the NFL.

By the way, I’m not sure when kneeling became an act of disrespect. In fact, it’s often been found as a sign of great respect throughout history.

Nike recently released an ad featuring Kaepernick. They didn’t have to do this. They could have chosen any of the popular pro athletes the US has to choose from. But they went with Kaep.

Knowing what he stands for and knowing the controversy that surrounded him, Nike still chose to feature him, in so doing standing with him in his fight against police brutality. Nike knew this would alienate some of their customers and I’m sure they anticipated a drop in their stock price, but despite people burning the sneakers they already paid for in protest against Nike, the company will probably be just fine.

Oh yeah…that’s why he was kneeling. Police brutality. However, the Nike ad succeeded in reigniting the debate over whether or not kneeling during the national anthem is respectful or appropriate.

That’s the wrong debate.

One of the big successes of the anti-kneeling faction is that they’ve been able to completely derail the original argument. They turned an issue of police brutality specifically against black communities into a question of patriotism…or nationalism. There’s a fine line between the two, but that line is important to recognize.

Instead of discussing ways to ameliorate a problem that statistical information proves is an actual problem, we’re discussing the dignity of our military, the dignity of those who have served and are currently serving, whether or not a political stance should be taken in the middle of a football game, whether insubordination is grounds for firing, whether or not Kaepernick actually broke any rules at all, when and where peaceful protests should take place, blah, blah, blah.

Are we really so easily distracted? It’s like every social justice warrior out there, from either side of the aisle, has ADHD.

That’s right, both sides. Now, activists on the left are complaining about how much money Kaepernick is getting paid for his ad, even though if it wasn’t him, it’d be another celebrity being paid that same endorsement money. They’re upset that the millions that he’s sure to getting paid isn’t instead going to Nike employees, or rather, Nike sweatshop workers. How dare Nike take a stand on one issue when they’re offenders of another completely separate issue?

Stay focused, guys. Yes, that’s a big issue, but it’s not the one we’re talking about now. By piling problem on top of problem, it only serves to dilute the original point and any subsequent ones, and a productive discussion can’t be held about any of them.

It’s out of scope.

This all begs the question – what even is a productive discussion anymore? There will never be a unanimous consensus on anything in this country. The most we can hope for, apart from completely changing people’s minds on something, is to at least get people on the other side to understand and empathize with where we’re coming from. We have to be reminded about the humanity of people, especially in a digital age where people can so easily be reduced to a hashtag or Instagram handle.

So when something like police brutality against the black community comes up, there are people who deny that it’s even happening, despite countless examples of black people, including the youth, being shot to death by trigger-happy police officers. When a black 17-year old was shot 16 times while a white mass murderer was kept alive and given a fair trial for his crimes, it’s hard to deny.

I’m not sure why people bother denying it, though. Who benefits from denial? Is it just to stick it to the libs? Is it just to preserve a bubble of ignorance where you can pretend that ugly things aren’t still happening domestically within our nation? Of course, the extreme reason for denying this is that people don’t care about the black community.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter if the victims are black or not. Unwarranted police aggression is, well, unwarranted. While it’s easy to sympathize with law enforcement officials – they face dangerous, life-threatening situations on a daily basis for the sake of the people and city they serve – it’s also easy to point fingers and talk about how something should be done, when in reality, who’s to say how we’d react when faced with the exact same scenarios? Either way, none of that means there isn’t room for improvement.

Why isn’t this a conversation we can have?

I spent the majority of my Labor Day weekend binging on Harry Potter movies. I’m not mad about that in the slightest. I love those movies (and books).

By the end of The Order of the Phoenix, the wizarding world finally acknowledges that Voldemort has come back. He’s evil, destructive, and gaining followers. Of course, he’d actually been back since the previous movie, but it was easier for people to deny that fact and dismiss Harry and Dumbledore as liars.

Hermione, Harry’s friend, rightfully realizes that everything will be different from that point on.

But as they’re leaving Hogwarts for the summer, Harry recalls something Dumbledore told him – something they had that Voldemort didn’t…

Something worth fighting for.

We all have a fight in us. Our fight may not matter to everyone all the time, but for those of us who are directly affected by injustices, those of us who can’t simply turn off the news when the problems of the outside world become too overwhelming or depressing, and those of us who can’t pretend that problems aren’t problems because we haven’t physically seen them with our own eyes, we can’t afford to be distracted by opponents operating on someone else’s obscure agenda.

People who are fighting for something bigger than themselves don’t go away easily.

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