Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the Military-Idolatrous Complex

Fortunately, when Colin Kaepernick chose to sit out the National Anthem, the instinctive offense of patriotic Americans, and the equally instinctive disdain of American critics, soon gave way to some rational debate. What arises in cases like this can be called the Freedom Fighting Free-Speech Paradox: Is it appropriate for someone to disrespect soldiers when the very freedom to disrespect soldiers came from the efforts of those soldiers? Each side believes it is on solid logical ground:

The supporters of the soldiers believe it is contradictory to protest that which gave one the right to protest.

The protesters believe it is contradictory to criticize someone who is using, in its most general sense, the right that the soldiers gave to them. 

Such a debate probably has a solution that depends on how general one thinks about freedom. So considered, the protesters are probably right. Freedom has to involve the ability to disrespect freedom, or else it is not freedom.

But both sides seem to share a misguided assumption, namely that the American soldier has actually defended the American citizens' right to free speech. Recent history shows nothing indicating that Americans' right to free speech was ever threatened, much less defended, through military action. Scanning the world from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, we find no country that has ever threatened Kaepernick or any other American here. I also do not believe that there is a significant internal threat in this respect, whether from terrorists or politicians. And yet the reflexive reference by both sides of the Kaepernick Conundrum to the supposedly protective troops deserves our attention. I find it disturbing, not because I have a problem with the troops, but because I notice in myself a compulsion to tell people that I do not have a problem with the troops whenever I express an opinion about the significance of the troops in American culture.

It is as if all ethical debate goes through the American soldier. From setting off excessive fireworks to burning an American flag, the raised-up image of the American solider is supposed to determine the appropriateness of our actions. The sacredness of this icon is beyond question, so much that we fail to realize the deeper issue. Let's call this the American Military-Idolatrous Complex: In a country believed by many to be essentially Christian, a belief that makes Jesus and the American Soldier functionally equivalent is not considered blasphemous.

--Tadd Ruetenik