Notifications

This past week, President Donald Trump responded to the protests at major sporting events against the national anthem. This has since ignited a firestorm of responses from all across the political spectrum in opposition to and support of his statements.

While many have focused on his statements and the protests of people such as Colin Kaepernick, many others have ignored the very core of this issue and almost all commentators have failed to accurately articulate the true nature of the debate.

I have been watching the commentary on this topic, and as a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have grown increasingly disgusted and frustrated over the controversy. I cannot believe that after all this country has gone through, all the battles it has fought, and after all the sacrifice that has been paid by myself and all my fellow veterans before me, that we are debating the merits of the meaning of the national anthem and the flag itself.

How did we get to this point? How did we get to a point where the very symbol of our nation, that which binds us all as Americans, has become a topic of debate and controversy? When did this become an honorable debate?

Not many people dispute the right of any American to peacefully express their political views. Such expression is one of the bedrocks of this country. But so is the open discourse which challenges the logic of any such opinion and I am here to do just that.

I cannot, after all the sacrifice made before me around that flag, let this protest go unanswered. Let me be clear, my issue isn’t with the right of a protest, it’s with the merits of the logic used by the protesters to justify their divisive and negative perception of American identity.

From the first battle in the Revolutionary War, to the defense of Baltimore Harbor in 1814, to the victory which preserved the Union, to the victory over fascism in 1945, to the marches for Civil Rights, to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to the unity felt on September 11, 2001, and to the current generation, the American flag and the national anthem have served as an anchor upon which this great nation finds its soul.

It is through those symbols that we continue to remind ourselves of the loyalty to the best values of humanity which has made our modern world of freedom and prosperity possible. Those symbols have been used to bring more freedom, liberty, and hope to more people than any other symbol in human history.

Some, however, feel that they are symbols of hate and oppression. Some believe them able to be defined by a single person — but they fall victim to the trap of the very faults of humanity which they claim to oppose. The interpretations made by those who protest those symbols are marred in hate, victimization, and depression — not justice and empowerment.

Through this ignorance, what once was a bastion of American culture — where many could enjoy an absence of politics — has now become a flashpoint of divisive debate on whether the symbols of our nation are just and righteous.

That flag and national anthem represent freedom. They represent liberty. They represent an unwavering fight against tyranny and oppression. They represent the eternal rest and memory of those who have died in their defense, including many of my friends. They represent the dignified transfer of fallen service members back to their final resting places. They represent thousands of families and friends who have one less person to share new memories with. They represent our collective hope in an unwavering dedication to building a better future for us all.

Some have condemned the president for being “divisive” in his expression of his dislike for the protests we see spreading. But the question must be raised — is he the cause of the division or is he merely responding to it? These protests started with one man opposing the symbol of our nation. It was not a protest against a symbol representing one person or one political party or even an entire race of people, but a protest against the very unified essence of a country.

And with the national platform which comes along with being a professional athlete, instead of being leaders and unifiers, some have chosen to label entire sections of society as victims of some so-called oppressive symbol. But is the flag, national anthem or the president really to blame for the oppression or disenfranchisement they claim exists? Not even close.

While these protesters raise themselves up as unifying champions of the oppressed, they are anything but. Their protests are poisoned with misguided passion and willful ignorance which does nothing but insult the reality of the problems we have yet to overcome. They claim the basis of their righteous cause is the defense of the disenfranchised and oppressed under a system they feel is fixed against them. Yet here they stand in such success and opportunity. And instead of using that example as a means to bring others up, they use that platform to perpetuate a true cycle of individual oppression.

They have a national platform to set a positive example for the communities they represent and to show the country and the world how great this country truly is. Yet while they condemn the president for being divisive in their view, they have taken their national platform and turned it into a message not of hope and opportunity, but of victimization. That ideology of victimization and not self-empowerment is the ultimate cause of the injustice they decry. Their protests have become a perfect example of why they and their perception is a part of the problem and not the solution.

Where is their protest against the cities which ignore the massacre of innocent people on a daily basis? Where is their protest against the oppression of policies which condemn children to failing schools or economic minimum wage policies which disenfranchises low-skilled workers out of the labor force? Where are their protests against corrupt politicians who support policies which perpetuate the very cycle which destroys the dream and opportunities they enjoy today? Where is their call for unity and freedom in pursuing the American dream across all races? It doesn’t exist because at the end of the day, they don’t understand the problem and if you don’t understand the problem, you will never be a part of the solution.

Do you want to know what the solution is? The solution is more flags flying, the solution is more national anthems being sung, the solution is more standing proud in support of the values those national symbols represent, the answer is more citizens being courageous enough to unify around empowerment, the answer is more focus on that which unites us and the answer is to respond to the call of duty at the end of our national anthem with an unwavering respect and dedication to build on the sacrifice and values laid before us by those who gave everything, that we may enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom today.

Focusing on the values those symbols represent will empower us to find the path forward toward the type of future we all desire. If we do not have a unified symbol to rally to a better future for, then what do we have?

These protesters, such as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, are able to enjoy the freedom and prosperity they have today because of the victories won by braver men than them in standing up to defend and sacrifice everything for the values those symbols represent. For hundreds of years, many before us have died striving to give all of mankind the freedom to live their lives. Protesting the flag and anthem, in my opinion, insults and diminishes the honor of those sacrifices.

The flag represents the very promise best of our naturally flawed human nature, to build a better future for us all, to strive to a sense of empowerment not only as individuals, but also unified as a nation. So today and every day here out, let us show these protesters how great our country is and how unifying these symbols are. Let us all proudly fly our flags and let us post a picture every day on social media of the flags we see proudly flying across the globe by using the hashtag #usflagproject. Let us show to the protesters and all around the world that the spirit of freedom and liberty is alive and well and will unify us to overcome any obstacle which comes our way.

It is in the spirit of that very republic that I challenge Colin Kaepernick to a debate on the merits of the righteousness and meaning of those symbols. As we both feel our side has merit and this has become a national debate, let us come face to face and discuss the righteousness of our causes.

The national anthem ends with a question. I have answered that question myself in many ways. Your answer to that question, Kaepernick, will show me and the nation how brave you truly are in defending all which you claim to represent. I wait for your answer.

Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.

View Comments(40 comments)
Cathy Gast(28 likes)You my sir are so right. I thank you for your service and I applaud your definition of the flag and our athem. Maybe these guys need to take a history class on how our national athem and our flag came to be the symbols of this country.  Maybe just maybe then they could see and learn about really protesting.  I usually don't write comments on things but I have  family and a husband that served in the miltary.And sometime you really need to speak up Again I thank you for your service and your letter.  May  GOD keep you in his good graces
Carol Peterson(27 likes)Thank you for your service Mr. Longell.  My husband has and continues to serve this great country for 30 years. Today has been a difficult one for our household as we are football fans, but the display that took place today may have put an end to that - not one minute of the NFL has been viewed in our home and we will continue our own protest for the unforseeable future. Especially, today with it being Gold Star Mothers Day - it just adds to the complete lack of respect to those families. Your letter I believe is the best response I have read yet and I Thank you for speaking out. I truely hope Kaepernick receives this invitation for a debate and takes you up on it. After all, this is what he claims he wants and why he took a knee in the first place. 
IntegrityImportant(22 likes)Longel: " . . . I challenge Colin Kaepernick to a debate on the merits of the righteousness and meaning of those symbols. As we both feel our side has merit and this has become a national debate, let us come face to face and discuss the righteousness of our causes."Don't hold your breath as there wouldn't be anything in it for him to attempt to defend an indefensible position. But you sir are a real person. Thank you for your service and for your great words!BTW, remember how everyone dumped on Trump when he mentioned the silence of the Dim Gold Star mom? And then check out how the NFLers behaved on Gold Star Parents day! The hypocrisy goes on and on and on . . .