How times have changed. Now the fear of terrorism — particularly from suicide attacks — is part of every American’s psyche, something we live with when we are in large crowds or when flying.
But I’m more thankful for what we haven’t given up to the terrorists. In the days, months and years since 9/11, many wondered if the freedoms that are the bedrock of this country’s uniqueness would have to be compromised as we sought ways to confront this new threat.
But the U.S. has fought through the period since 9/11 and remained a bastion of freedom. As I watched NFL star Colin Kaepernick protest the treatment of African-Americans by kneeling during the national anthem, and the growing chorus of criticism against him — especially the athletes who kneeled on the 9/11 anniversary — I couldn’t help but be thankful for his right to make such a controversial gesture.
I put displays like this to the “dad test.” I’ve mentioned before that my father was a career military guy and that both my father-in-law and my brother served. Until I left for college, I had spent my entire life in military towns or living on bases.
I believe that patriotism has become a trait too often worn on the sleeve for public consumption rather than a heartfelt and sincere feeling. Kaepernick’s concern for one of this country’s very troubling social problem and his audacity to take a stand rather than just shut up and take his endorsements could be interpreted as perhaps more patriotic than the actions of some of those who are mouthing off about the kneeling.
In cases like this, I always wonder what my dad — after 24 years in the Navy — would say about someone like Kaepernick. As I recall, dad often used the word “jackass.” He’d probably use it to describe the quarterback, but in the next breath he’d defend his right to kneel on one knee, raise a fist in protest, or run naked around the stadium to make his point.
That’s the way it works in this country, the only way it can work. We defend to the death people’s right to do and say dumb things: racism, bigotry and homophobia are protected by the same laws that protect our most enlightened freedoms.
I appreciate the fact that, post 9/11, we now extend what I call our patriotic commitment to law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel where once it was reserved for the military. And a sincere thanks to all those people who dedicate their lives to protecting us and our freedoms.