by Mike Pyatt
Our military branches boast a motto or creed, officially or otherwise, designed to convey the character of the men and women who serve in their respective uniforms. The Navy boast one that bears repeating-Non sibs sed partriae. ”Not for self, but county.” In our current culture, that glorifies self-serving, flies in the face of the Navy’s motto. Unless one’s a recluse, who could ignore this “bending a knee” during the National Anthem that has divided many since Colin Kaepernick, who occupies a multi-million dollar, secure, gated fortress, refused to stand because he believed the flag represented police oppression of minorities. Pundits claim disputing the issue only perpetuates its life. That’s why critics quickly blamed President Trump for reigniting the rift, claiming it was waning, with his tweet about SOB’s disrespecting the American Flag.
Who knows what lurks in the heart of a spoiled, over-paid quarterback, known more for his knee than his arm. When Vice President Pence protested, ditching the Colts, San Francisco game in Indianapolis, when some Forty-niner players kneeled during the playing of the Stars and Stripes, the media called it “a stunt.” When the NFL players do, it’s a legitimate expression of their First Amendment. Hypocritical? Most understand the First Amendment implications and the players right to express themselves, to kneel or not. There are other times to protest. Now ten year olds, at Pop Warner football level, mimic the highly paid entertainers, caving to pressure from misguided peers and parents, who are likely ill-equipped to articulate a cogent polemic for their actions.
While the Star Spangled Banner was not designated by the president until 1916, and Congress until,1931, the anthem has long been favored by the military. After the war between the North and South, the song remained the unofficial anthem of the U.S. military. Historically, it appears that standing during the anthem was not a tradition until it gained prominence during WWII. Our Flag suffered irrevocably when the Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson in 1989, ruled that burning the flag is an act of expression and “symbolic speech,” exactly the type of action that the First Amendment was designed to protect. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia joined the majority ruling. Most Americans find it craven, irksome and unpatriotic.
A 1891, article, in Arthur’s Home Magazine, published in Philadelphia, decried the manner in which the American public treated the anthem. According to that article, less than half of audiences, recognized the song. It read, “It is sad to note that often when the national anthem is played people fail even to recognize it. Last year nearly all the leading theaters in the country played the “Star Spangled Banner” after performances, and often not one-half the audience knew what was being played. This is all wrong, and shows arrogance that should not be tolerated. Even people who do not know one tune or another should be made aware by the action of those who do that to the national anthem is being played. Some outward tribute of respect should be shown, then all would learn to recognize the air.” The journal article went on to suggest that the public should follow the example of Julius C. Burrows, U.S. Senator from Michigan, who had implored an audience to stand during a West Point graduations ceremony to a resounding response in 1891. Later in 1914, Senator Burrows recounted the incident, “Soldiers should not be heedless to the sentiment of their songs and to the music of their bands. I would like to see every American soldier or citizen, when he hears the grand notes of our National air, rise to his feet in patriotic recognition.” As a consequence of Senator Burrows agitation, the Army Regulations were made to prescribe this action, but it required no legislation to have the custom to become universally popular.
By 1900, the Republican Party was standing up for the anthem at their convention in Philadelphia. The Army Regulations, paragraph 383, U.S. Army, Ed. 1904, had been codified. In 1916, the Army and Navy, and some cities began to adopt codes to designate how the National Anthem should be performed. It specified that the performers of the anthem be compelled to stand, in Baltimore, though no mention of the audience so ordered. Surprisingly, there was a pamphlet circulated in 1918, by a Baltimore group stating, “Words and music of the Star Spangled Banner, oppose the Spirit of Democracy which the Declaration of Independence Embodies.” Sound familiar? That small group didn’t sway many either in the wave of nationalism of WWI.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, a relatively recent cult on the American religious scene, refuse to salute the Flag, sing the National Anthem, or participate in related ceremonies based on their view that such conduct is idolatrous, claiming the reverence of country has supplanted God. They don’t observe birthdays or holidays either. Evangelicals dispute their sincere, albeit spurious Scriptural interpretations and conclusions. Some think Jehovah’s Witnesses’ case has more standing than Kapernick’s unarticulated claim that our Flag symbolizes racial oppression. Christians can simultaneously respect our country, honor God’s dominion over every element of our existence, yet acknowledge any aspect of our lives are subject to idolatrous dimensions.
In the 1918, World Series, that was originally slated to be cancelled, out of respect for those serving in uniform, the series was revived when it was discovered soldiers oversees had anticipated hearing about the results. As customary in Boston, the anthem was played during the seventh inning stretch. The audience rose to their feet with the players singing along. Some cited this event to advance the anthem in sports. Standing was new. In the 1916 World Series, the custom was merely to remove one’s hat.
Eventually the National Anthem would become a fixture of baseball. This tradition later moved to football. The tradition of players standing on the sidelines during the National Anthem is much more recent. The NFL defends the practice of kneeling, though they claim to encourage players to comport to a respectful standard. The Winston Group survey indicates men from age 34 to 47, only 42% say they have a favorable rating of NFL. Six months earlier it hovered around 70%. Does the NFL have amnesia, forgetting how long it took fans to return from the national baseball strike in 1994-95? With the average NFL ticket price nearly $175, some may spend it elsewhere.
According to TMZ, a tweet reportedly went out from Kaepernick, claiming that he would stand for the anthem, if he could play again. Few swallowed that. President Trump would label it “fake news.” Sadly, over time, the playing and singing of The Star Spangled Banner, at sporting venues became as routine as cracker jack and hot dogs. The patriotic fervor faded. By the middle 1950’s, with the nation at peace, and increasingly fat and prosperous, crowds were less respectful when the National Anthem was played. Nine-eleven changed that patriotic malaise. Every national tragedy or catastrophe, the patriotic spirit’s renewed, and returned to its proper status in our Republic.
Not everyone’s convinced this dispute’s about the First Amendment. Selfishness often masquerades itself in noble causes. It’s not what one can do, but what one should do to honor and respect the National Anthem, our Flag, and all who served, and died for this Republic. We’re being lectured that most people don’t care how others react to our National Anthem, by haughty ESPN broadcasters, arrogant athletes, ivory tower scholars, and media elites, who’re suddenly smitten with renewed veneration for free speech, after ignoring ours for years. President Trump, most veterans, and many freedom loving, grateful Americans disagree. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org