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Taking a Knee for Peace: Recalling the Veterans Who Sat


Taking a Knee for Peace: Recalling the Veterans Who Sat

Jerry Lembcke

It was my own moment of reckoning—stand and salute for the Star Spangled Banner or sit? The moment returns in memory, brought back by the current flap involving Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers football team who did not stand for the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before the start of the 49ers August 26 game against the Green Bay Packers. The next week vs. the San Diego Chargers, he sat again.


This is terrific and bears repeating:

"Contrary to the shibboleth that we were in Vietnam to “fight for the flag,” the common retort was that we were there “because of the flag!”—the meaning being that it was mindless patriotism that had put our lives and limbs at risk on the wrong side of a war that we were destined to lose. Commitments to “never stand for the flag again”—sometimes made promiscuously with the machismo-enhancement of good weed, for sure—were virtual credential checks of the warriors-against-the-war we were expected to have become."

Society changes when men cease to show up FOR war... and the heavens smile when warriors lift off the battle gear and swear never to go to war again. And commit to that.


Thank you for the insights. In several encounters, I've been schooled in the insignificance of my (and most USAmericans') true understanding of war. Dr. Lembcke has added to that education and strengthened my own resistance to idolatrous jingoistic displays.


It took a lot of courage to do what Koepernick did. Hope he turns the spotlight on oligarchy, the cause of racism.

Direct Democracy


Its the other way around. Ending the draft and going to a volunteer Army is unfortunately the reason wars go on without much public protest. Protests ended the war in Vietnam, when there was a draft that hit home.


In the Viet Nam era, a half century ago, we did not have a Captured Media, used to relentlessly bombard the public with the Corporate Point of View to the exclusion of all Dissenting Voices whether on TV, Radio or Print.

Also, at that time, Professional Corporate Sports was not used as the Military Recruitment Tool it is today.

I remember when the Draft was ended, thinking, "That was nice of them, I thought they hated us." only to eventually realize that there were nefarious reasons for that decision.

Also, the protests that I participated in, in NYC and Washington DC, would today be treated with far worse Police Responses than Tear Gas.


How 'bout we meet halfway and AGREE that both factors are significant.

After all, I am not the author of the doctrine that asserts: "What if THEY called a war and no one came?"



And don't forget the radio stations that relentlessly played anti-war music.

I LOVED that period of time.

Truly, it was a mini-Renaissance when youth--in the form of "Make love, not war," and boys growing their hair long to identify with the Yin Principle (and expressions) of peace --felt WE could finally alter the ways of our fathers and their fathers in endless calls to war!

Music was a HUGE factor.

That's why a Christian Fundamentalist outlet like "Clear Channel" buying up 1800 radio stations and blocking anti-war songs (including the faint critique mention by the Dixie Chicks) played a major role in disabling the anti-war fervor that typically is generated by and through youth (or a youth movement).

While the draft was a deadly enough authoritarian edict for all young men to oppose (along with the girls who loved them, mothers and fathers, too)... it is hardly the ONLY factor.

We even had an anti-war presidential candidate in the form of Eugene McCarthy!


True. And as you say:


Yes probably. Now the military has been turned into cheap mercenary corporate labor for young minorities with few job prospects, little different from cheap corporate prison labor. It pays a bit better than minimum wage, they can be "heroes", play real life video games, shoot real weapons and wear the latest cool uniforms to pose and impress. And the military will pay for some perks after they leave, even for funerals if they commit suicide.

Incidentally, young soldiers will learn discipline, unquestionably obey authority, become authoritarian conservatives themselves with a penchant for organization, neatness, explosive tempers and other thoroughly anal retentive characteristics.


I am sickened by baby camo.


Disappearing those who couldn't stand for hypocrisy


Another excellent piece. It speaks to the nature of power and how the people can be subjects of it as opposed to how they can exercise it at the level of the individual.

The type of society that evolves from this is contrasted by comparing Militaristic Countries such as the United States of America , to true peoples Democracies such as we see in Iceland.

Patriotism in essence is the means by which the State removes freedom and liberty. It is a control mechanism.


Good points. Also, Pierre Trudeau famously stated, " Canada should be a refuge from militarism ", and in doing so, Pierre Trudeau saved thousands of American boys from dying in Vietnam. Something I hope his son Justin Trudeau will do now, as well in the future.


In defense of those making a public statement by not "honoring the flag ..." from a Vietnam combat veteran.

Getting the flag like this below is the worst for all Gold Star families, and it is intended, and received, to honor the fallen. As it should be.
(Copy paste this link to see what pain looks like)

That kind of respect is for the soldier being honored by the country, the ceremony is not honoring the flag. To think otherwise is to get it backwards.

Not standing for an anthem is not disrespecting the soldier who died in service; it can't be in a country where freedom of speech is a core national value. Not standing is a statement that the country is disrespecting why the soldier risked death in the first place, as well diminishing the family's grief: why? because the country is not honoring its obligation to serve its people with freedom, justice and equality for ALL, therefore, speaking out is an obligation.

Most citizens, fortunately, don't know what it means to have been disillusioned by atrocities, or discouraged by racism and neglect, committed in its name either. Worse, to have been forced to be a participant, willing or unwilling.

Among those who have received the flag are those who didn't know that the country folding it has at times chosen to allow their loved one to die by consciously refusing to act, when rationalization offers a reason not to (in military terms) . It took me quite a while to be willing to stand after coming back from Vietnam knowing what I know that very few Americans are allowed to know in the name of "national security."

If you look you can find evidence in NSA archives that the USAF and Navy chose not to warn pilots of imminent shootdowns. When security concerns finally got resolved in 1972 the shootdown rate dropped nearly 75%. That means conservatively, at least 50% of the lost airmen in the entire war could have been prevented. You can figure it out, just Google 'SIGINT Operation Teaball' to find the declassified evidence from the NSA..

Worshiping the flag is part of the reason things like this, as well as all the otherwise hidden material released by Snowden can happen. Willingness not to stand, not to kneel, not to sit, or keep quiet when wrong exist is a civil responsibility. The disrespect is when you don't.


'Thank you for your service' is the biggest canard in America. This service includes slaughtering innocents abroad. In WW1 10% killed were civilians. WW2 40 % killed were civilians, Vietnam 70%, Iraq 90%. Drones and bully America is the greatest threat to world peace. The service we need is refusal to fight in America's wars of occupation based on lies.


Refusing to salute the American flag is not a new phenomenon. There was one instance back in 1943, when a Jehovah's Witness refused to salute the flag. Don't know what happened after that, though.

Back in the fall of 1984, however, shortly after Reagan had been elected to his second term as President of the United States, Susan Shapiro, a 17-year-old High School Senior from Randolph, MA (a suburb south of Boston, MA) refused to salute the flag, arguing that the flag is just a piece of cloth and a symbol, and that America is the people, not the flag. Although Ms. Shapiro's homeroom teacher during her Junior year at Randolph High School made nothing of Susan's simply sitting on her desk and not saluting the flag, Mrs. Jean Noblin, who was Susan Shapiro's homeroom teacher during her Senior year, had a totally different point of view, and told Susan to stand and salute the flag like everybody else, despite Ms. Shapiro's having shown her some pamphlets of her constitutional rights.

Susan Shapiro stood up for her Constitutional rights, and Mrs. Noblin said that not saluting the flag was like spitting on the Star of David, or even on the Cross. Ms. Shapiro took Mrs. Noblin's reference to the Star of David as being anti-semitic. Susan ended up being ostracized in school; she not only lost friends, but some kids even threatened to beat her up. Anti-semitic, hateful, and threatening phone calls were made to the Shapiro's home. Her parents decided not to send Susan back to school until school authorities could/would guarantee their daughter's safety.

When Susan Shapiro finally returned to school later that fall, she was not only escorted to and from school by a member from the Justice Department, but also had to be escorted to all her classes. That spring, Ms. Shapiro skipped her Senior Prom, and ended up dropping the charges against the school, and Mrs. Jean Noblin, her homeroom teacher, who finally issued Ms. Shapiro an apology, which is what she'd wanted all along.

There are two things that made this story as interesting as it was:

A) The Shapiros were not of a Leftist-Liberal Bend, but were much more Conservative. Susan Shapiro admitted that, had she been old enough to vote, she would have voted for Ronald Reagan.

B) What as also interesting is the fact that a kid that age was as aware of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution as she was.


"Taking a knee" suggest to me that it is appropriate to kneel during the National Anthem, because football spectatorship is a form of worship, and nationalism or patriotism is the religion.


Last week, I got banned from the sports website Bleacher Report because of the comments I wrote in support of Colin Kaepernick.

B/R's first article was about the Veterans for Kaepernick movement. There were initially plenty of comments on both sides, but the veterans themselves -- both those in the article and those writing comments -- came down loudly and strongly on Colin's side. Because their comments naturally carried a lot more weight (since the subject was about veterans), soon the entire comments section seemed to support Colin almost overwhelmingly.

Therefore, B/R shut down the comments section, making all those comments disappear. This often happens when comments become abusive, but in this case the comments were shut down for another reason.

Soon there was another article by B/R's controversial writer Mike Freeman. In the comments on the Freeman article, I documented why B/R had shut down the comments on the earlier Vets article. I also wrote a lot of other controversial comments, like how the pro-military stuff we're bombarded with when we watch football is nothing more than propaganda.

Some of what I said might even have been considered "dangerous." Like my suggestions that the powers that be enjoy racial controversy, because such divisive issues keep us all from uniting as the 99% to overthrow the 1% who rule.

No wonder they banned me. But you should all take heart. There's a lot more support for Colin than it appears. The corporations shout "patriotism" because it helps keep us in line. And they shout very loudly. But even though they're loud, they're only the 1%. There are a lot more of us than there are of them.


Yes so true we may yet see a true class struggle revolution and I'm afraid it will be violent as the 1% will unleash a massive retaliation like wha happened in Allende s Chile....is the left ready for that probable outcome????most lefties. Most lefties I know think the 22nd amenment is only in service to the NRA.....u have to know how to defend the revolution or we will end up like what happened in the Spanish Civil War....maybe we get lucky and have a Ghandi revolution???HOPE SO!!!!