A Symbol, for Which it Stands

The power of symbols is not lost on me, and I often find myself divided between two camps. On the one hand, symbols can carry a tremendous amount of weight and history. On the other, symbols can be repurposed and reclaimed to support anything.

The most obvious historical example is the swastika, which originally was a sign of luck across various cultures that became a symbol of oppression and hatred. Unfortunately, negative connotations often carry more weight than positives, easily rendering the positive meaning impotent. Now, the swastika is avoided in Western culture because of its connection to the Holocaust.

In the United States, the Confederate Battle Flag is a prevalent symbol south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and is used to rally southern pride. Developed during the American Civil War as a distinctive symbol (since the Confederate States of America’s official flag was confusingly similar to that of the United States), each star signified a member state in the new nation, and was indicative of the unified drive for states’ rights that sparked the rebellion. It has two visually similar cousins, the Second Confederate Navy Jack and the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee.

The battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, commonly displayed as the Confederate flag.

As it signified “states’ rights,” I supported the South’s continued use of the flag, even with the understanding that the Civil War was also partly driven by the topic of slavery.  I had no concrete proof that slavery was the prime reason for the tensions, but was instead a secondary concern. Even in 1860, a year or so before the Civil War began, slavery was treated as a states’ rights issue; Southern Democrats endorsed the practice, Republicans denounced it, and Northern Democrats said democracy required the people to decide locally, state by state, territory by territory.

It should go without saying that I do not personally support slavery, but to understand the motivations of the time, I also need to consider the era. It wasn’t necessarily a moral issue, but rather a political one.

Then I found the Cornerstone Address.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was adopted on March 11, 1861. Ten days later, Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the new nation, delivered a speech in Athens, Georgia that outlined the fundamental differences between the CSA and the USA. Among those differences was what he called the “immediate cause” of secession and rebellion: Slavery.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Deeper into the address, Stephens elaborates on this fundamental difference, lamenting that the United States was “attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

After applying the lens of modern society to this revelation, I had no choice but to step back from my support of the states’ rights argument: It’s plain as day that the core point of contention between the Blue and the Gray wasn’t state autonomy at all, but instead a policy of oppression and subjugation that we deplore in modern times. In fact, this nation fights against such policies and regimes in foreign countries all the time. Why is it any different when the conflict is here at home?

Historians often ignore this speech, and detractors suggest that it was only one speech by one man over a century ago, so it shouldn’t matter. The problem lies in the man who delivered the address. The Office of the Vice President was nearly identical between both the United States and the Confederate States, and therefore held the same authority when speaking with the power of the position. Consider if any sitting Vice President in the modern era made a similar speech about using executive or legislative policy to enable subjugation of a race. He or she would be castigated, repudiated, and likely forced to immediately resign.

The articles of secession provide further evidence: Four of the states issued additional declarations of cause that strongly defended slavery as a reason to secede. Those four states – Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina – were among the first seven to leave the Union. Texas and two other states – Alabama and Virginia, the fourth and eighth states to secede, respectively – mentioned slavery in their secession acts. Of the six states with slavery as a declared priority, five of them were among the seven state signatories to the Confederate Constitution. That’s a clear majority of the founders of the Confederacy.

It’s clear with respect to history that the Confederacy stood for racism to achieve states’ rights, and the ends cannot justify the means.

I certainly don’t suggest that anyone who uses the symbols of the Confederacy is a racist or supports slavery, but I do believe that the motivations of the past should be considered when voicing support. Boldly proclaiming that “the South shall rise again” takes on a whole new tone when the true aims of the defeated Confederate States are added to the mix.

I believe citizens and governments should honestly deliberate over state-sponsored use of Confederate symbols. These symbols have power and history, and as mentioned before, the negatives tend to outweigh the positives. States speak for their citizens, and should not wave the sins of the past over the families of the oppressed.

I don’t support a full ban of the symbols, as bans create an allure of mystery and taboo. We as a people need to learn from our history and mistakes, and never forget the past. To that end, I believe that the southern states should seriously consider removing the Stars and Bars from flagpoles, and to paraphrase Indiana Jones, place them where they belong – in a museum.

A Challenge to President Obama and the 114th United States Congress

Dear Elected Officials,

Election Day has come and gone, and regardless of the outcome, we exercised our right to vote. We took the time to express our opinion on the course of the country and hire those who we believe will lead us in the direction we want to go.

Well, to be fair, one-third of the eligible voters in the country did. Yes, it troubles me that so many in this country feel so disenfranchised, but this year’s numbers follow the trend of previous midterm election participation, so that’s not my focus.

I’m a political moderate who usually votes slightly left of center. I have voted in every Presidential election during which I have been eligible. I have participated in midterms when I wasn’t moving between states with the Navy. Most importantly, in my opinion, I have never voted a straight-party ticket.

That same mentality applied to the 111th Congress: I value honest and sincere discussion and debate between ideologies, and that was lacking with one party running two branches of government. Quite honestly, it had been lacking since the 2000 Presidential elections established a single-party supermajority for six years. I realize that they have been happening for a long time, but that was before the time that I could (or, frankly, was intelligent enough to) vote.

That said, since the 2010 midterms, I have been dismayed and frustrated by the state of our government. I’ve never been a fan of the TEA Party because I feel that their methods, in general, are too extreme. I believe that the polarizing attitude brought to bear on both sides since the 112th Congress was sworn in has done more harm than good.

Time and time again since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011, we’ve seen last minute deals to avoid fiscal emergencies, blocking of presidential nominations, and even a sixteen day shutdown of the government. We’ve also seen at least 33 attempts to repeal Obamacare, each of which has failed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I truly understand the public face of your discontent. I also have my reservations about how things have been done under this administration, but I also strongly feel that secret meetings to sabotage a presidency before it even begins betray the trust that the American people put in our legislators.

Since (at least) the 2008 Presidential elections, the polarizing attitude has been growing, and it spiked in the 2010 midterms. In the public sphere, there no longer appears to be room for ideological debate, as the people of this country have adopted the words of President George W. Bush in 2001 – “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” – as political gospel. There is no middle ground, and no room for compromise.

As a veteran, the son of a veteran, and the most recent in a long family tradition of proud American veterans, I’ve almost lost faith in the dream. I don’t believe that the leaders of the people, a talented group of men and women who were hired by the people to work for the people, have the interests of the people at heart. This doesn’t feel like the country I agreed to fight for and die for, and no single person – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – has failed that ideal.

Instead, all of them have.

Enough is enough.

As I see it, the 114th Congress has the potential to get a lot of work done. Holding the majority in the House and Senate allows the Republican Party to make great strides for important conservative measures, and having a Democrat in the Oval Office means that to pass those bills into law, you need to successfully sell them to the Democrats.

To that end, the President is the current face of the Democratic Party, and he needs to work with the Republicans to get the wheels turning. Additionally, we were promised the most transparent administration ever, so let’s do that. If something doesn’t pass muster, we the people deserve to know why exactly it doesn’t work, and what steps are being taken to find a mutually acceptable solution.

The legislative majority does not have the power to override a Presidential veto. Similarly, unless the Senate breaks out the infamous “Nuclear Option” – an act which I believe would highlight an inability to lead and work together – the majority faces the threat of filibuster and further gridlock. Work can get done, but it can’t be “my way or the highway.” The American people need you to be the leaders you promised us you could be.

Compromise is not a dirty word. Anywhere else than Washington, it is a well-developed method to achieve progress. As it stands, the United States needs to improve our poorly-aged transit and energy infrastructures, needs to find solutions to the rising incidents of gun violence, and needs to meaningfully address immigration, tax, and election reform. I also believe that we should be seriously investigating climate change.

In my opinion, job one on day one also needs to be the Federal budget. It’s been a major sticking point over the last six years, and now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. Prove to us that it can be done.

We’re asking you to do the jobs you were hired to do. I know that there is great potential in this Congress to show us that you work for the people. Not for interests and not for parties, but for the men and women who live, work, play, and die for the dream of the men who founded this nation.

No more symbolic gestures. No more votes in futility. No more partisan games. No more spin.

Help me to believe again. Help America to believe again.

Now, get to work.

Upping the Hyper-Partisan Ante

In case you haven’t been following the news, things are going to hell in Syria. As is the trend in the Middle East right now, protestors have risen up against the government, calling for reforms and re-instatement of civil rights, and the government has responded by arresting and killing the protestors. President Obama took steps in May of 2011 to effect sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort “to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people.” This act effectively freezes any assets President Assad and those named in the Executive Order have in the jurisdiction of the United States. Similar steps were taken by the European Union and Canada, but have had no effect on President Assad’s campaign.

At the end of 2011, estimates showed that over 5,000 citizens had been killed since the revolution began in January. President Assad claimed that the uprisings were driven by foreign powers and that his “victory was near.”

In early February 2012, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took the issue to the United Nations in an effort to enact global sanctions through the Security Council. The resolution was vetoed by the countries of China and Russia, and the immediate response by one of our leaders here at home was disgusting.

 

Congressman John Fleming, a Tea Party Representative from Louisiana took the veto as a victory against an attempt by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to “decide Syria’s destiny.” Never mind the fact that people are dying for something they believe in, and are being killed by an oppressive government, by all that is holy and American, the Conservatives won.

It occurs to me that Congressman Fleming doesn’t really have an understanding of American history or the Constitution he claims to serve. Lest we forget that 237 years ago, a group of rebellious citizens stood up against an oppressive British government for their right to governance with representation. This started an eight year war we call the American Revolutionary War which eventually resulted in the founding of this very country. In eight years, approximately 103,000 people were killed or wounded on both sides in the quest for reforms and civil rights.

The Constitution was written to ensure those rights remained in place, and over the following 230 years, those rights have been expanded from the Bill of Rights to include 17 further amendments to an ever-evolving document.

Not the same issue? I disagree, but I also digress. The real issue is this case is one of hyper-partisan politics. It’s almost as if there’s a script out there for this kind of childish tit-for-tat slap-fighting.

President Obama’s intervening on the global stage? He’s meddling in things!

President Obama’s not intervening on the global stage? The godless man is letting innocent women and children die!

President Obama wants to bring the troops home? He’s supporting terrorism!

President Obama deploys troops? He’s a warmonger!

President Obama announces plans to people to work? Socialist usurper!

President Obama announces a spike in unemployment? Where’s the jobs?!

Enough! This government has had absolutely no problem providing aid and assistance, for better or worse, to governments and people fighting against oppression for their rights. It is an American mission, whether we admit it or not, to not only promote but defend the concept of democracy around the world. It started with Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, and it continues today. It got us into the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It also was partially used as justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks.

This isn’t an issue of Democrat and Republican or Liberal and Conservative fighting for their slice of the First World pie. This is reality. There are people dying at the hand of an oppressive government because they want basic human rights, and the United Nations, for all of its failings, is the body to enact sanctions to sway that government to stop. China and Russia have enabled President Assad to continue his tyranny, and Congressman Fleming is celebrating 5,000 deaths in one year because it blocked the will of his enemy. This is also the same congressman who opposed a tax hike because he could barely survive on $400,000 a year. He also rallied his supporters because he believed The Onion’s satirical attack on Planned Parethood and posted it as news.

This kind of attitude goes against the spirit of the country and our Constitution. It also goes against very ideals and morals this congressman claims to hold as a leader in his Christian faith.

Honestly, Congressman Fleming, whose side are you on?

Sources:

United States Department of Treasury: Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People

BBC World News: Russia and China veto resolution on Syria at UN

ThinkProgress: Multi-Millionaire Rep. Says He Can’t Afford A Tax Hike Because He Only Has $400K A Year After Feeding Family

ThinkProgress: Congressman Posts Satirical Attack On Planned Parenthood From The Onion As News

Wikipedia: 2011–2012 Syrian uprising

Wikipedia: Congressman John Fleming

Wikipedia: American Revolution

Wikipedia: American Revolutionary War

Wikipedia: Manifest Destiny

Facebook: Congressman John Fleming

United States House of Representatives: About Congressman John Fleming

 

 

Be Careful What You Ask For

This is a humorous write-up about school prayer, shamelessly copied from an unattributed source.  If you know who originally wrote this, let me know and I’ll update with credit.

––

Dear John,

As you know, we’ve been working real hard in our town to get prayer back in the schools. Finally, the school board approved a plan of teacher-led prayer with the children participating at their own option. Children not wishing to participate were to be allowed to stand out in the hallway during the prayer time. We hoped someone would sue us so we could go all the way to the Supreme Court and get that old devil-inspired ruling reversed.

Naturally, we were all excited by the school board’s action. As you know, our own little Billy (not so little, any more, though) is now in the second grade. Of course, Margaret and I explained to him no matter what the other kids did, he was going to stay in the classroom and participate.

After the first day of school, I asked him, “How did the prayer time go?

“Fine.”

“Did many kids go out into the hallway?”

“Two.”

“Excellent. How did you like your teacher’s prayer?”

“It was different, Dad. Real different from the way you pray.”

“Oh? Like how?”

“She said, ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…'”

The next day I talked with the principal. I politely explained I wasn’t prejudiced against Catholics but I would appreciate Billy being transferred to a non-Catholic teacher. The principal said it would be done right away.

At supper that evening I asked Billy to say the blessings. He slipped out of his chair, sat cross-legged on the floor, closed his eyes, raised his hands palms up and began to hum.

You’d better believe I was at the principal’s office at eight o’clock the next morning. “Look,” I said. “I don’t really know much about these Transcendental Meditationists, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if you could move Billy to a room where the teacher practices an older, more established religion.”

That afternoon I met Billy as soon as he walked in the door after school. “I don’t think you’re going to like Mrs. Nakasone’s prayer, either, Dad.”

“Out with it.”

“She kept calling God ‘O Great Buddha…'”

The following morning I was waiting for the principal in the school parking lot. “Look, I don’t want my son praying to the Eternal Spirit of whatever or to Buddha. I want him to have a teacher that prays in Jesus’ name!”

“What about Bertha Smith?”

“Excellent.”

I could hardly wait to hear about Mrs. Smith’s prayer. I was standing on the front steps of the school when the final bell rang.

“Well?” I asked Billy as we walked towards the car.

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Mrs. Smith asked God to bless us and ended her prayer in Jesus’ name, amen, just like you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we’re getting someplace.”

“She even taught us a verse of scripture about prayer,” said Billy.

I beamed. “Wonderful. What was the verse?”

“Let’s see…” he mused for a moment. ” ‘And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.’ “

We had reached the car. “Fantastic,” I said, reaching for the door handle. Then I paused. I couldn’t place the scripture. “Billy, did Mrs. Smith say what book that verse was from?”

“Third Nephi, chapter 19, verse 18.”

“Third what?”

“Nephi,” he said, “It’s in the Book of Mormon.”

The school board doesn’t meet for a month. I’ve given Billy very definite instructions that at prayer time each day he’s to go out into the hallway. I plan to be at that board meeting. If they don’t do something about this situation, I’ll sue. I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to. I don’t need the schools or anybody else teaching my son about religion.

We can take care of that ourselves at home and at church, thank you very much.

Give my love to Sandi and the boys.

Your friend, Jack

Journalists and Vigilante Justice in Atlanta?

Local news station CBS Atlanta ran a story about a DeKalb County teacher who resigned from his job after journalists investigated his checkered past. You see, CBS Atlanta has a segment they call “Tough Questions” in which they (appropriately enough) ask tough questions about what they consider to be possible problems in the metropolitan area. They have investigated problems with the water supply, code violations at local day cares, gang problems, and sex offenders.

It seems only fitting that they should level their aim at Lester Caldwell, who was arrested after being accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two students, including intercourse with a cheerleader. Atlanta Public Schools fired him following the accusations, but CBS Atlanta was tipped off that he has been rehired in 2008 to teach at an elementary school. After all, he does have a valid teaching license, so he should be able to work, right?

Apparently not.

Read More »

Quote of the Day

On the heels of the unsurprising Supreme Court’s decision not to strike down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Kenny (@Geekyfanboy on Twitter) made this simple statement:

I couldn’t agree more.  I don’t understand why a country wouldn’t defend those who sacrifice everything to protect it and its people.

By the way, I’ll just leave this related gem here as well:

 

Amazon’s Latest Follies

This post covers both sides of the issue after a day of critical thought about this issue.  If you disagree with me, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.

Oh, Amazon, you are quite the hotbed of controversy, aren’t you? You had my brain wrestling over some fairly important issues yesterday with your little fracas, and it took a little while to figure out where I stood on this. I’ll get back to you at the end of this musing.

If you haven’t seen the news yet, take some time to read about it. I know several smaller outlets have picked it up, along with CNN and MSNBC. Amazon recently started selling a Kindle-based e-book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct, which has been taken down as of late Wednesday. The outrage was furious, up to and including folks boycotting Amazon until the offending book was removed.

This is where I jumped off the train. I think we can reach a near unanimous agreement that pedophilia is not acceptable by any means. A how-to guide on the subject is equally unacceptable to me. However, at my core, I do not support censorship on any level. I do not believe that the information or entertainment I choose to enjoy should be filtered by any government organization or corporation. Such activity creates public animosity and backdoor trading sessions, and only serves to increase interest in the subject matter. Governments have tried in the past with religion, homosexuality, philosophy, pornography, alcohol, and even political ideologies themselves. We’re even doing it now every time someone refers to someone else as a “commie”.

Reading this guide would not directly make one a pedophile or even force them to conduct the illegal acts. Last I checked, human beings still have free agency to choose their own paths and actions. Do you seriously believe that reading the Bible instantly makes you Christian? Does watching Saw make you a torture aficionado and force you to kill? Does reading Harry Potter make you a witch or a fan of the occult? Does reading Mein Kampf make you a Nazi or a fan of genocide?  No, they do not.

Similarly, owning a gun does not make you a murderer or bank robber, nor does it enable you to be one.  Amazon is not responsible for acts conducted after purchasing this book any more than a car dealer is responsible for paying your speeding fines.

While the mob mentality can accomplish a great many things, some of those things are bad. I consider banning books and censorship to be one of those things. Remember that this same mob mentality has lead to very horrific acts in our past, including lynching of minorities, burning of witches, destruction of property, and outright warfare.

Information should be free within the confines of the creative rights of the artists. Only through careful interpretation and discussion do we find the true power of that information, the message it tries to convey, and how it will affect our lives.

Don’t censor. Don’t ban. Analyze, interpret, and discuss with an open mind, and then decide if the material is useful or utter dreck.

Hang on, Amazon!  I’m not done yet.

To you, I urge caution and mindful consideration of your future projects. After the homosexual censorship debacle last April, you’re under watch and on notice with me.  While you and I share the philosophy against censorship, you also need to consider good taste in your publishing and sales choices.  You can only make so many bad choices before your faithful walk out the door.  Good luck getting them back.

Your choice with marketing that book is disgusting and disappointing. You had to know that this uproar would occur, and you know what the mob is capable of when fueled by anger, rage, and pain.  If you didn’t know that your choice would go this far, you need to change out your marketing department.

I refuse to boycott you because your customer service has been nothing but exemplary in my book.  I want you remember that just because someone submits something to you for publishing doesn’t mean it deserves to be published in your store.  That’s a marketing decision more than it is a call to censorship, and it should be common sense.

Fences: A Response

This is not an endorsement of any political party.

First, I will present the e-mail which sparked this brainstorm. Second, I will respond. I ask that you read through to the end with an open mind.

The Fence

You can’t get any more accurate than this!

 

Which side of the fence?

If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!

 

If a Republican doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.

If a Democrat doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.  

 

If a Republican is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.

If a Democrat is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.  

 

If a Republican is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.

If a Democrat is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.  

 

If a Republican is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.

A Democrat wonders who is going to take care of him.  

 

If a Republican doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.

Democrats demand that those they don’t like be shut down.  

 

If a Republican is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.

A Democrat non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.

 

If a Republican decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.

A Democrat demands that the rest of us pay for his.  

 

If a Republican reads this, he’ll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.

A Democrat will delete it because he’s “offended”.  

 

Well, I forwarded it.

 

I reply to this with the assumption that you have an open mind. I stand before you as a person affiliated with no political party whatsoever. I am a person concerned for the course of our great nation and its people.

This chain e-mail assumes that all Americans fit into two neat and easy groups: Democrat and Republican. The truth of this matter lies in the symbol it uses to describe the nation. Fences are used to divide and separate, and in the case of American politics, divisiveness is the last thing we need, particularly in our current time of strife.

Walls and fences, both literal and not, have been used throughout history as a means to divide nations and philosophies. The Berlin Wall divided East and West. The race barrier was used during the era of segregation to divide whites and blacks. The gender gap currently divides men and women in many matters. There’s even a great wall that served to divide people in China.

The problem is that fences have more than one side. There are two easy sides to stand on and fire shots at one another, however there are those who sit on the fence and watch the antics. Those people make their decisions based on the best and worst they see, choosing who they believe to be the right candidate for the right job, regardless of party affiliation. There are also those who live under the fence, off the proverbial grid, and only act to subvert and destroy the foundation beneath the law-abiding citizens above.

There are plenty of people on all sides who want different things, including rights for all people regardless of the differences, natural or assigned. Many rights are guaranteed by the Constitution that guides our mighty nation, but many are not. Mahatma Ghandi once said that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” John Dalberg-Acton said that “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Even the Christian religion believes that Jesus Christ said “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets,” as quoted in Matthew 7:12.

Our finest hour will not be judged on what side we were on but rather by how we treat one another. Is it constructive to “get a good laugh” at the expense of stereotypes and philosophical differences? Is it morally right?

In this time of national strife and hardship, we cannot afford to be divided by artificial labels and fences. We are Americans first, regardless of our beliefs. It’s time we started working as one nation and one people, not as a grouping of squabbling schoolchildren.

Only together can we survive. Only together will we prosper. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

“I Saw America Today”

As many of you know, I was in the Navy for seven years. This continues my family’s tradition of military service; my dad retired from the Air Force after 20 years, and both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family have members who served honorably throughout the years. The same goes for my wife’s family.

I received the following from my parents the other day. Naturally, I checked its veracity and it looks legit. They also included a note:

I thought of you as I read this and how many times I have thanked God that you and your father both came home safe. God bless you son and thank you for all you did to help make this country as safer place for all of us. Words can never express how proud of you we are and how much we love you.

The note included my wife as well:

Thank you for being the person you are and for standing by our son while he served his country. You have a special place in our hearts and you always will. You are more than a daughter-in-law, you are a daughter and a very special part of this family. We love you more than words can express.

After reading the following letter, which strikes me more as a poem than anything else, I felt a bit reinforced on a position that I’ve had for a long time. There are people in today’s American landscape that stand on either side of the actions in the Middle East, driven by the politics, logistics, and realities of war. While most people I’ve encountered, regardless of their stance on the war, have shown support for the people engaged there, I’ve debated with a few who can’t distance the two. For them, military action and the military itself are one and the same, and to support the troops is to support the actions they take.

It would be easy to dismiss their claims with a wave of the hand and a quick “if you’ve never served, you’ll never understand.” While certain parts of that are true, I feel it is my duty to help non-veterans understand as much as possible about how the military dynamic works and runs. Monday morning armchair quarterbacking is easy, as are most things with 20/20 hindsight, but the community dynamic is very different from the social dynamic the rest of the world shares.

In reality, the volunteers who serve in uniform are bound by an oath to obey lawful orders. There are methods to review orders if they are questioned, but if a military member disobeys orders deemed lawful upon review, they are punished, and that has repercussions beyond their the absolution of their consciences. After all, most of these brave Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and a punishment that garnishes half a month’s pay for several months could be the difference between their children eating the next week or paying the bills.

I firmly believe that you can support the troops without supporting the war. These brave men and women volunteer to sacrifice upwards of eighteen months at a time away from their families in support of a cause they believe in. Whether or not that cause is just, that level of sacrifice demands recognition.

Furthermore, the poem below reinforces that by detailing an honor guard’s trip to bring a fallen soldier home. Along the way, he encounters people who show their respect for the sacrifice one young man has made, regardless of politics, religion, age, gender, or any other label.

They are Americans first.

One other example of this is the film Taking Chance. If you have the opportunity to watch this powerful film, please do.

“I Saw America Today”

Eric Newman, 30, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded Oct. 14 in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan. He married Charidy Newman last year, and was planning to become a state trooper after his career in the military was over. The funeral was held on Saturday, October 24, 2010 with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and several other medals for his exemplary service.

I saw America today.

I was among more than 200 people gathered on the tarmac at the Meridian Air Naval Station to welcome Sgt. Eric C. Newman, 30, of Waynesboro, Miss. home from Afghanistan.

He did not exit to cheers and hugs but was greeted by respectful and women, bikers, policemen, firemen, all in formation riveted their attention as Sgt. Newman disembarked from the plane carrying him.

 He exited in a flag draped coffin, killed in action in Afghanistan.

 The family stood near the hearse and as Sgt. Newman’s casket approached he was greeted by his new wife and his mother as they draped their arms around the casket where their beloved husband and son lay. There would be no married life for the newly married couple and another mother had given her son in the name of freedom.

I saw America today.

The procession formed with a police escort in front leading the hearse carrying Sgt. Newman which was followed by his family, more than 100 bikers, including the Patriot Guard Riders, scores of police officers, firemen, and friends. I rode near the front and I never could see the end of the procession as we rolled over the hills from Meridian to Waynesboro.

I saw America today.

On the 60 mile journey truckers, the big rigs, pulled to the side of the road, exited their trucks and put hand over heart in honor of Sgt. Newman and the American flag. Down the road from one big shiny rig was a humble logging truck, driver standing on the ground, hand over heart.

For sixty miles a mixture of people stood by the side of the road, flag in hand as we rolled past. At every junction where a side road entered there were people. At the overpasses there was always a fire truck displaying a large American flag. Every fire department along the way had their fire truck standing by to honor this young American who gave his life for us.

There was a young Boy Scout, in uniform, proudly saluting Sgt. Newman and the American flags that passed him.

A man in bib overalls stood by a ragged old pickup truck giving honor. Just down the road was a man dressed in suit and tie by his expensive SUV.

Something in the bright blue sky above caught my eye. It was two jet fighter planes flying over the procession, the thoughtful action of fellow soldiers.

I could see a woman kneeling, holding something out in her hands. At first I thought it must be a camera but as I passed I could clearly see it was a folded American flag. Just like the one that was given to my mother when my father died. Yes, it was her way of saying, “I lost a loved one as well.”

I saw America today.

As we left the main road and entered Waynesboro two fire trucks were parked in such a way as to form an arch with a giant American flag suspended between the two.

The streets were lined solid with people. No cars were moving. I observed someone in a wheel chair on the side of the road. When we drew closer I saw several in wheel chairs, some on crutches. They were old, and fragile. They were residents of a nursing home. On down the road there was another group from yet another nursing home, all waving tiny American flags.

As we wound our way through town hundreds of people lined the sides of the streets. We passed an elementary school. The children lined the fence three deep, most with flags, some with red, white, and blue balloons which were later released.

Next we passed the high school. Again the students respectfully lined the streets adjacent to the school. All were standing respectfully in honor of Sgt. Newman.

And did I mention the yellow ribbons? They were on trees, mailboxes, fences, and anywhere people could place them.

I saw America today.

When we had finished the escort all the bikers were asked to meet at the First Baptist Church of Waynesboro. There they gathered us up and escorted us to the Western Sizzlin’ where the people of the town treated us to lunch for doing something of which we were proud to be a part.

Today, I saw America and I’m proud to be an American. God bless America.

Rod Smith, Patriot Guard Rider

October 21, 2010

Laurel, Mississippi