A book that shaped my mistrust not only of the Vietnam War in particular but the United States government in general was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a novel about the Air Force during World War II. I’m sure it was no accident that the Vietnam conflict was getting into full swing when it was published in the 1960’s. I’m constantly amazed how current events manage to awaken my memories of the book.
Now here comes a flurry of demands for athletes to stand during the National Anthem. To kneel, remain seated, or hide out in the locker room is labeled by many as un-American.
In Catch 22 Captain Black is passed over for promotion, and in retaliation plans the Glorious Loyalty Oath Campaign demanding that the men of the bomber squadron sign more and more loyalty oaths before they can do their work. And taking it up a notch he insists that they not only sign oaths, but recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem before they can do anything, including eat their meals. The whole farce is finally concluded when Major ________ de Coverly returns from Rome, sees the long lines of singing and signing men in the mess hall, and demands, “Gimme eat!”
For me, this whole anthem business is misguided. Somehow it has been connected with respect for the flag, a symbol that has a multitude of meanings for those who do, or don’t, revere it. I am deeply appreciative of the sacrifices so many have made for freedom. I am also aware of the many who have sacrificed for more power, more money, or for nothing. The danger resides in having enthusiasm drift into flag (or national) idolatry. Biblically that’s a risky road. There is a difference between having an appreciation for one’s freedom and granting Congress, the President, the military, or the police carte blanche when it comes to employing force. There is an even greater danger when one applauds everything the government has done in the past, regardless of how greedy or craven.
Jesus and the Prophets were closely attuned to caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, and protecting strangers in their midst. My assumption is that this included immigrants. They were remarkably indifferent to or even critical of nationalism and, for that matter, capitalism. But if we are really fortunate maybe someone will come up with a rule about applauding profit motives – and we can sing songs about it.