BURN OUR FLAG IF YOU MUST
I realized when I sat down to write this article that it might not be all that popular amongst some of my fellow Veterans and brothers. Yet, I still feel compelled to write it anyway so here goes!
Civil unrest, racial, and political turmoil seem to be at the highest point that I can remember in my lifetime thus far.
As a 40-year old in 2017, I can’t speak to the tension and atmosphere during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s or the feelings of millions of Men standing in the unemployment lines during the great depression of the 30’s.
I can’t convey the feelings of millions of Americans as the country fractured over the ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973. This landmark decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court over the issue and legality of abortion.
Perhaps you are at an age where you do remember these periods of time in our nation’s history.
Whether it be in our distant past like in the cases mentioned above, or in our more recent history like the riots over Rodney King in 1991 or the nationwide legalization of gay marriage passed in 2015.
One thing continues to stand in the middle and is consistent amongst all of these highly controversial milestones in our nation’s history. That is the burning of the American Flag in protest of one’s point of view over another.
As a Combat Veteran (and I’m making this distinction because it is relevant here), I have a very specific position on the matter of burning the American Flag. This position doesn’t always win the popular vote amongst my Veteran counterparts.
I am ok with those that burn the American Flag.
I’m going to let that prior sentence stand alone all by itself for a moment and just let it breathe…
Not the easiest thing to admit or write down etched forever in our unforgiving online existence, but there it is for all eternity.
Now, let me explain. As a combat veteran, I know what it means to fight for something greater than oneself, to be a part of something just and noble. Holding my dead soldier in my arms, I can even tell you that I know what ultimate sacrifice looks and feels like.
To be clear, I would never let our sacred flag touch the ground let alone stomp on it, spit on it, or burn it. So why then would I EVER be ok with those that feel inclined to burn the symbol of our nation and all that it stands for?
It’s really very simple. My soldiers did not die for the American Flag, but for the Freedom of those who burn it.
This concept or idea of Freedom is overwhelmingly poorly understood, particularly by those who benefit from its protective shadow. Even as a Soldier serving for its cause, I too was once amongst the naïve. It wasn’t until I landed in Iraq and saw for myself what life really looks like in a country absent of Freedom.
Freedom to vote, talk, disagree, even to protest. The Freedom to become educated, go where you want, do what you want, marry who you want, and practice whatever religion you want.
The Freedom to have as many kids as you want, run for elected positions within government, lobby those who have been elected, and to own and carry a weapon if you want.
We have tens of thousands of TV channels, podcasts and radio stations we can watch and listen to unfiltered, and unregulated. We can wear whatever clothes we want and even choose our own gender.
The freedom to do and become whatever you want. And YES even the Freedom to burn our flag as an expression of your free speech.
Where does Freedom come from, why are we so lucky, and how do we keep it?
This was best explained by Sergeant Alvin C. York a highly decorated WWI hero in May of 1942 as he addressed the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division preparing to enter the fight of WWII.
Last time after the Germans hung out the white rag and we sailed home, we thought there’d never be another war. We doughboy’s didn’t realize then and some of the men in our places didn’t realize that freedom is not a thing you can win once and for all.
We never owned freedom, we only had a lease on it. A payment came due in ’17 and ’18, now, another one is due. But this time we are going to make such a big payment that it will be a many of a year before another one is demanded of us”
There is no way Sergeant York could have known at the time of his address, but this “Big Payment” he spoke of would end up resulting in over 400,000 US Military deaths between 1941-1945 This was approximately 0.30% of the US population in 1940.
Payments for our Freedom continued to come due after WWII in the form of the Korean War, Vietnam, Kosovo, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Not to mention all the other lesser known (or unknown) conflicts in between.
There is no doubt that we will need to continue to renew this ticket of Freedom as other payments come due in years to come.
So remember, as cliché as it now sounds, Freedom just isn’t free. It never has been and never will be. I for one am forever grateful and appreciative of my Freedom, and for the Men and Women that volunteer every day to make that payment when it comes due to secure our Freedom!
So burn our Flag if you must, just remember those who afforded you the right to do so.