Friday, September 2, 2016

Kaepernick: Why Our Sense of Patriotism is as Pale as Our Skin

People never consider how the ordinary human life span effects the way we interpret the world around us. If the average human life span were 500 hundreds years instead of roughly 75, for example, far more people would probably remember what was going on in this country exactly 100 years ago, right after America had thrown its soldiers into the meat grinder of World War I. Like today, there were plenty of Americans who were deeply and emotionally connected to their sense of patriotism, as the world convulsed to the drum beats of war, and soldiers and citizens alike recited "that old lie," as the warrior poet Wilford Owen once put it,
"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (tis sweet and glorious to die for one's country).

And thanks to Edward Snowden, people would also understand that the ubiquitous system of surveillance being used today in America, on anyone who is arbitrarily deemed to be hostile to the American way of life, and is therefore defined as a potential "terrorist," likewise began with World War I . At that time, to quote Simon Garfinkel's book, Database Nation:

 "The US Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) had only a hundred agents. There was no way the Bureau could staff up in time for wartime activities. Fearful of sabotage and subversion with the U.S., Albert M. Briggs, a Chicago advertising executive, created the American Protective League to help out.

 By the middle of June 1917, the league had branches in almost 600 cities and towns and a membership of nearly 100,000.At its height the membership reached 250,000. Members paid $1.00 to get a badge which first said “Secret Service Division” and later (after the Treasury Department protested about possible confusion with its Secret Service) “Auxiliary to the U.S. Department of Justice.” From its Washington D.C. headquarters, the American Protective League used Justice Department stationary and operated as if its members were formal deputies of that body. The result was appalling to many. Having no formal statutory authority to makes arrests, operatives of the league engaged in a variety of investigations probing the loyalty of citizens, the actions of the draft exemption board, the actual status of conscientious objectors, and the monitoring, in thousands of cases, of suspicious activities reported by people throughout the country in response to appeals for vigilance in detecting spies and person’s guilty of sabotage. So vigorous did its members become in their crusade against disloyalty that the Justice Department eventually sought to restrain league agents.

The American Protective League was just one of many quasi-official organizations that sprung up during the war. Others were the Home Defense League, the Boy Spies of America, the Sedition Slammers, and the Terrible Threateners.  Originally, these organization found and punished Americans who spoke out against the war. But soon they started going after people who spoke out against any part of American Life.”[i]

This just goes to show how often we forget that history has a tendency to repeat itself. But there is still plenty of other stuff we often fail to realize as well.

I never knew, for example, that our national anthem included the line "no refuge for the slave" in the same stanza that boasted about America being "the land of the free." But when you think about it, the fact that so many people are practically demanding that Kaepernick stand during the playing of such an overtly racist song, especially in the face of the systemic racism that the Justice Department has routinely found to exist in its investigations (Here is a link to the latest investigation of Baltimore, for example:, seems only reminiscent of the kind of overly zealous "patriotism" detailed above. Such fanaticism over nationalism - which is really just modernity's "secular" equivalent of a religion based on a messianic hope in free market capitalism - is what Arundhati Roy put it, "was responsible for  most of the genocides of the 2oth Century."  

Nor is it surprising that so many people who want Kaepernick to "show a little respect" for the flag and the anthem, fail to see how much their own need to feel that a piece of cloth is getting the respect they believe it is due, are trying to pressure another human being into conforming to their sense of patriotism, instead of his own. That such thinking is now being used to crucify Kaepernick, and out of nothing other than some people's need to show more outrage over the treatment of a flag than the injustices suffered by a millions of minorities, only proves that flags are simply "bits of colored cloth," as Roy went on to explain, "used first to shrink wrap people's brains and then as shrouds to bury the dead." 
 Even more ironically is how those 'blue blooded patriots' who want Kaephernick to stand for the anthem and the flag, are only making the "land of the free" feel more and more like The Islamic State, North Korea, and China; which is perhaps the greatest disrespect anyone can show "the brave" men and women who sacrificed their lives to ensure that we would never be ruled by tyranny, even of the majority. And if all these people are really so unhappy with what this country is becoming, as they continually say, than rather than buying more guns, perhaps they should consider buying a one way ticket to anywhere else.  After all, Kaepernick's right to protest is the very reason so many soldiers, all of whom knew perfectly well that they may hate what a fellow American has to say, chose to fight to the death for his right to say it anyway. For as Noam Chomsky said succinctly, "if we do not believe in freedom of speech for the people we despise, we do not believe in it at all."

The worst part about all of this is how those who are so comfortable with oppression are willing to hijack the conversation about the injustices suffered by so many people in this country, and make it simply all about themselves. By being outraged by his actions, Kaepernick's critics divert attention away from the oppressed and the nature of their oppression, by refocusing the conversation entirely on how uncomfortable they personally feel when someone dares to treat their flag so poorly; and all while ignoring how poorly the very poor have always been treated in this country. If  Moses were around today, he would probably respond to all of this by wondering why so many people were treating their flag - which only divides them from people with other flags - like a golden calf. And if Jesus were asked about all of this, he would probably say "the flag was made for man, not man for the flag."  Or as Harry Belafonte quoted in a recent interview, "if you are comfortable with my oppression, than you are my oppressor." 
Perhaps the greatest irony of all, however, comes from all those people who condemn Kaepernick while at the same time defending the confederate flag, even though flying one is at least as rebellious  as sitting down to the other. The very same people who claim to be offended when someone protests the American flag as being oppressive, fly a confederate flag that essentially represents the same thing. Their patriotism is a paradox, in this respect, for it includes the idea that the Confederate States had a right to secede from the Union in 1861, and thus reject the American flag altogether, because of the threat posed by the Federal government to an economic way of life that ran almost exclusively on slavery. Indeed, practically everyone in America today believes the Colonists had every right to engage in the treasonous act of signing The Declaration of Independence, and starting a war with old King George. And because of all of this and more, one can't help but wonder if the real problem so many people have with Kaepernick is not that he decided to stand up against injustice by simply sitting down, and thereby refusing to honor the American flag as if it were a false God (which is the same thing that virtually every Christian martyr has done, in one way or another), but that a "black man" dared to symbolically disrespect the symbol of a white mans ideals, however imperfect those ideals have been implemented in practice. 

The bottom line is that every single person in America today, from across  every social, political, and economic spectrum, is equally fed up with all that is wrong with this country. But when one man choose to express his dissatisfaction about just some of the things that are so obviously wrong with this country, rather than the entire nation deciding to sit down with him in solidarity, half the country denounced him for doing though a single act what Donald Trump has been doing for his entire political campaign. And that only proves that for far too many of us, our patriotism is as pale as our skin.   

[i]. Garfinkel, Simpson, 2000. Database Nation, O'Reilly

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