The pretense of patriotism

Sunday, September 9, 2018


This week, 11 veterans facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs received the lowestpossible rating from the agency based on quality of care and results of surprise inspections. At one Bedford, Mass., facility, 200 veterans were subjected to bedsores, decline in health and unusually high rates of medication. Other reports from VA facilities over the past two years have included accounts of a veteran lying naked in bed covered by a sheet stained with urine and feces; one veteran who tried to shove food into his mouth with his hands when he could receive no assistance using a spoon from nearby staffers; and another veteran who died while the nurse’s aide tasked with checking on him hourly played video games.

However, you might not have heard this story over the shouting about Colin Kaepernick, the NFL and Nike. This is because patriotism is most often a public display rather than a heartfelt expression. The latest chapter in the Kaepernick-NFL story is a perfect example. Kaepernick is the former pro-footballer who chose to protest instances of police brutality by kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance. This week, it was announced that Nike had chosen the athlete to be featured a new ad campaign.

Many who feel pledge protesters are disrespecting current military; veterans and law enforcement by not standing and reciting the American pledge have bashed Kaepernick and his supporters. Some have boycotted the NFL (and some have pretended to boycott the NFL) in response to athletes’ protests. With Nike’s announcement this week, some are further infuriated. They feel Nike is slapping veterans and law enforcement officers in the face by milking Kaepernick for publicity. Naturally, people are boycotting Nike. Some have even opted to burn the quite expensive Nike gear they already purchased (because it hurts Nike when you give them money then burn what you paid way too much money for in the first place).

Since word about Kaepernick’s Nike deal broke, many have continuously shared their anger about it. “How un-American! How unpatriotic! How disrespectful!”

Let’s be honest — the average self-described patriot, who stands for every pledge and puts their hand over their heart during every anthem performance, is vocal about respecting veterans. Why are those whose blood pressure is spiking over the NFL and Nike not as outraged about the reports regarding the VA facilities? Why is there no public outcry from the patriots? The truth is, you will seldom find such individuals expressing outrage over the real issues plaguing veterans. It’s easy to call yourself a patriot because you boycott a certain brand or sport, or by standing up with a crowd and repeating words you memorized in elementary. It takes no energy or effort but the situation can still be used to feign patriotism. You don’t have to mean any of the words you recite from the pledge or the anthem. Just stand up, move your mouth, maybe wear some red, white and blue for added effect, and you will be considered the quintessential patriot. It’s like the churchgoer who is in the building every time the doors are open. It’s faithless work, with nothing behind the facade.

I’m more outraged over a veteran dying in a government facility because his nurse’s aide was playing video games than I am about the personal and political convictions of any athlete, sport or brand. In the nearly two years this NFL protest debate has carried on, so have reports of repeated, gross errors by Veterans Affairs. Veterans have died because of the lack of care or poor quality of care they receive. Some veterans in local care facilities never receive one outside visitor. Veterans’ facilities beg for volunteers but never find any.

If someone is so outraged by the pledge protests then they must be livid regarding the real issues…right? Surely these people have regularly pressured officials, veterans advocate groups and media to sound the alarm on poor medical care for our vets? Surely they volunteer with groups that assist veterans, right? What about veterans being denied their rightful government benefits? What about veterans who don’t have enough food, or don’t have transportation, who struggle with chronic illnesses, etc.?

If your only contribution to “supporting” and respecting veterans has been public displays of patriotism, then really you have done nothing but operate under the pretense of patriotism. I’m just sayin’, if we put as much energy into highlighting and fighting the true obstacles faced by our veterans, our veterans would actually be well taken care of, and we would be true patriots.