Enough with disrespecting our flag, veterans

Over the last few months, I have watched some NFL players kneel during the national anthem with great interest. Issues like this always stimulate extreme controversy.

These protests do nothing more than divide our country, and I believe there are more appropriate ways to express unease with our country’s current political climate. I believe football players cross the line when they choose to kneel for the national anthem.

I want to stress that I am supportive of the First Amendment. Everyone has the right to express their thoughts in a public arena, no matter the message. However, I have concerns with how these football players are voicing their opinions.

In this day and age, there are few things that a majority of us can agree on, but respecting our flag and national anthem is one that has withstood the test of time. The history of ceremoniously raising our flag at the commencement of public events is a tradition that spans over 200 years. Moreover, the original poem, which provides the lyrics to our national anthem, is also more than two centuries old.

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem after witnessing the British bombard Fort McHenry, an American-held fort, during the Battle of Baltimore. After the smoke had cleared, he looked over and saw our flag still flying high. He was so inspired by this image of defiance that he wrote the poem that would later become the Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem.

Over the decades, honoring the flag and playing the anthem has become a tradition at official ceremonies, war memorial services and, yes, even public sporting events. Because of this history, our flag and national anthem are not simply symbols, but rather the embodiment of our country and the American ideal of justice for all. Countless lives have been lost protecting our freedoms, and we should show the utmost respect for them.

In 2004, I had the opportunity to travel to Bosnia, a European country. This trip opened my eyes to the horrors that exist within the world. Our group was escorted around the country by the military because the fighting between two factions had become so bad. Between these two groups, thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered for no reason.

During the trip, my group visited an old battery factory, which was considered a peacekeeping facility that served as a meeting place for both sides. Our interpreter used to work at the factory with his family. In 2002, a combat team came to the factory and demanded four people come with them. By the end of that day, our interpreter’s brother, mother and father were all slaughtered in front of him. I cannot possibly imagine the horror of watching that happen. Bosnia experienced this kind of terror almost daily not so long ago. At one point, our guide said there were so many bodies in the water, they clogged the dam.

With tears in my eyes, I said, “I don’t see how you can talk about this.” He responded, “It’s simple. I need to do everything I can to ensure the U.S. stays in Bosnia to help our people.”

This is why I believe we should always stand for the national anthem. There are people around the world who are fighting to have what we have, and we must not take for granted the rights and security we enjoy.

We also have so many who have lost their lives and loved ones defending our great nation. I have a friend who served in the military during the Vietnam War. One night, he was over at my house, and, out of nowhere, he became extremely upset. He started telling me about his time overseas and his patrol partner. They were walking through the jungle for a routine patrol, and his partner stepped on a land mine. During the explosion, he lost his legs. As my friend was trying to comfort his partner, he just kept screaming, “Where are my legs? I can’t find my legs.” That soldier died, and the memory is still with my friend.

I tell you these things to show you there are real people out there, with real stories, who have made real sacrifices. This is why I stand for the national anthem.

Every day I’m proud to be an American, and I’m so thankful for the opportunities I have. I’m not against football players or any other athlete, but I do think that this has gone too far. Kneeling during the national anthem, no matter how peaceful or noble the cause may be, is an insult, albeit unintentional, to the men and women who have bravely defended our freedom, no matter the cost.

There are other avenues to express your opinion. I urge anyone who is upset about anything happening in our country to continue to speak out. It’s your right as an American citizen, but I ask that you do so in a way that does not disrespect our flag, national anthem and veterans.

State Rep. Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) represents a portion of Johnson County. Send
comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.