After the 49ers quarterback’s decision to not stand during the national anthem garnered national attention America is split on what to think. The two main arguments in support of Kaepernick are: “No one should have to stand during the pledge or national anthem” and “It’s a form a protest and he’s allowed to do that as an American.” Some of his supporters agree with his reasoning, to protest injustices against people of color, but don’t agree with how he’s going about it. They side with those who oppose Kaepernick’s decision, claiming that it is disrespectful to everyone who has ever served the armed forces of this country. Is it really though?
Well first we need to think about the anthem itself. Many Americans remember the Star Spangled Banner being written and defiantly sung during the American Revolutionary War. However, it was actually a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, during the War of 1812. Misleading naming of war aside, the timing and context of the writing of this poem is a lot less patriotic and prideful than I once though. The War of 1812, A.K.A. “The Time Canada Burned Down The White House”, was essentially about the U.S. trying to take over the British colonies that would eventually manifest as Canada. It’s not the brightest point in U.S. history and is mostly glossed over in school. The full poem in its original glory can be read here, with a little hint of pride in slavery in the third verse: “no refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” The song didn’t even become the national anthem until 1931, after consistent refusal to do so during the past three decades. With a little editing the poem became the anthem we know today.
Although the song was never explicitly about the military, it was adopted by veteran organization during the 20th century. Culturally speaking, the anthem is very much representative of the U.S. military. So, yes, Colin Kaepernick’s actions can be deemed disrespectful by veterans and current armed forces. However, the context of the anthem isn’t the only thing we should acknowledge; the context of Kaepernick’s decision should also be brought into the conversation. “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country […] they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone”, he says in an interview. He went on to talk about how his decision and protest is also for the veterans that are suffering from the same problems that he is protesting. “I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.” It’s true, the killings of Stanley Gibson, Denis Reynoso, and Parminder Singh Shergill were all by the hands of police; and were heavily criticised for the use of force. It’s important to note that many veterans have come out in support of the protest, with one saying he joined the military “to protect the rights [Kaepernick] acted under.” There’s even been a hashtag, #VeteransForKaepernick, in which many black veterans extend their support to the quarterback.
When discussing and analyzing Kaepernick’s decisions and how it relates to the military it would be ignorant and disingenuous to only acknowledge one side of the situation. While, him not standing for the national anthem can be disrespectful to veterans, there are also veterans of color that are being disrespected and even killed by the country they fought for. To ignore that aspect of his decision is to disrespect veterans more than his protest ever did.