Before I get into the guts of what I want to talk about today, let me just say, unequivocally, that I 100% support our troops, love my country think our flag is one of the best in the world. Keep that in mind …
I was doing some thinking the other day, the kind of thinking one does when the Twins are down three runs in the late innings and one is a few IPAs in to the point where one’s mind begins to wander.
It was 9/11, the anniversary of the darkest day in American history. All the feels were on display around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A lot of folks urging everyone to never forget. Some even reposting images of Osama Bin Laden side by side with Rep. Ilham Omar, trying to make some ridiculous, backward comparison.
And I got to thinking about about what patriotism means these days.
Is it a guy flying two flags off the bed of his pickup truck, flags that are collecting exhaust grime and mud splatter? Is the mandatory standing ovation at a sporting event when a veteran is announced — and the ostracization one would encounter for failing to participate in this new, obligatory show of support?
What about something as simple as taking your hat off during the national anthem?
Ever wonder why we do that?
I was wondering. So I did the Google on it and here’s what I found, from a great website called Today I Found Out. I’m going to quote a lengthy excerpt because I think it’s important to get the full explanation.
The origins of this tradition happen to be the same as the origins of the tradition of saluting. Knights, wearing helmets that covered their heads, would typically lift their visors to show their faces to their monarchs and others as a sign of friendliness and possibly respect in some cases. The tradition of using ones right hand also comes from this. Most people are right handed and thus, if your right hand is exposed and busy lifting your visor, it can’t contain a weapon. This then is a sign symbolic of submission.
Fast forward a bit in history and this developed into the salute for soldiers. At first, the soldiers would doff their helmets or other head-ware as a sign of respect. However, the Coldstream Guards in 1745 were the first to forbid this: “The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass them.”
This practice quickly caught on, owing to the fact that the helmet or hat is a part of the uniform and thus it began to be thought of as disrespectful to take it off. It also could be dangerous to take off a helmet in battle with gunfire and other shrapnel about.
Fast forward through history though and doffing a hat is still firmly entrenched as a sign of respect in a non-military setting, except in the case of women. It was once considered very disrespectful for a woman to take her hat off during the national anthem and still is today to some extent.
Here’s the problem though with all of this; there is no other reason besides “respect” for doing so today. It’s on the fringes of circular reasoning; not quite there, but almost. We are to take our hats off because it is respectful, but it’s respectful because it’s respectful. Hats do not typically cover faces and I don’t know anyone who takes weapons to ball games or other sporting events where the anthem is traditionally played these days.
So there. That’s it, apparently. We take off our hats during the national anthem to show respect for the flag, and the foundation for the gesture is literally empty. It’s actually written into law now (a law with no apparent penalty for noncompliance, but a law, nonetheless).
How many times have you seen someone throw a disparaging look at “offenders” of this law? It happens all the time. Super patriots can’t say “SHOW THE FLAG SOME RESPECT!” fast enough.
A few weeks ago in Montana, a 39-year-old idiot assaulted a 13-year-old boy because the boy didn’t take his hat off during a national anthem just prior to a rodeo. The kid had to be rushed to a local hospital, then airlifted to a better hospital, one better staffed for a bleeding brain.
I’m honestly afraid to leave my hat on during the national anthem at sporting events. It’s always seemed to me to be a gesture riddled with false patriotism.
But it’s a very visible gesture, and it’s a very easy gesture. And maybe that’s the important part here. In one motion, for a mere two minutes, you can send the message that you’re behind this country in every way, land of the free, home of the brave, U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.!
But what about the other 99.9 percent of your life? Are you helping make this country a better place, are you reaching out to the poor, the sick, the disabled? When you walk by a homeless person, do you turn the other way and ignore them, or do you look them in the eye, maybe give them a buck?
There are a lot of people who look down upon the Colin Kaepernicks of the world. But at least when he took a knee, he knew exactly why he was doing it, and it had nothing to do with disrespecting the troops. Until you read the above explanation, did you have any idea why we all take our hats off? Neither did I.
But I, for one, like attending sporting events in such a way that doesn’t get me scowled at or airlifted to a better hospital. So I’ll keep doing it. I’m guess we all will.