Fifteen years ago, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes, hijacked them and crashed them into New York skyscrapers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
By that night, our country was unified.
Remember the feeling? We were all together. We were all one. We felt a deep sense of national community, and our individual complaints seemed small. We sang "Proud to be an American" without a hint of sarcasm.
Time fades everything.
We're in the midst of a presidential campaign whose candidates are all but using bazookas on one another. An NFL quarterback will likely kneel down again Monday night during the national anthem, and many will hail him as a hero. Our president defended that man's "constitutional right" to sit, even credited him for stirring conversation on "topics that need to be talked about."
And recently, in Chicago, a 15-year-old high school student refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. He reportedly told his teacher, "America sucks."
His mother later told the media she was "so proud" of her son's convictions.
So this isn't your old 9/11.
KAEPERNICK SHOULD STAND
Perhaps we need a reset. We shouldn't require burning buildings to fuel national pride. But it seems the less we worry about enemies destroying our country, the more we rip it apart ourselves.
Let's consider that quarterback, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, and the debate his actions have spawned. A biracial American male raised by two adoptive American white parents, Kaepernick told the media that America oppresses black people -- and cited recent police abuse cases as reason for kneeling during the national anthem.
Kaepernick is fully entitled to his views. And he has every right not to stand for the anthem.
But that's the very reason he ought to.
Because he could try his protest in other countries. Cuba, for example, where the government, on the mere suspicion of contradictory views, can charge you with "dangerousness" -- and lock you up before you even commit a crime.
Or Myanmar (formerly Burma), where torture techniques for protesters include hanging people upside down and beating them senseless, and where a writer was sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison for a speech that criticized Buddhism.
How about Syria? There, protesters have been shot and killed by the government, and, when wounded, denied access to medical treatment.
Or China, where three years ago, a human rights activist named Cao Shunli was arrested for "provoking trouble" after staging a sit-in. Her act of sitting down -- unlike Kaepernick's -- got her put in a detention center for months, where she, too, was denied medical treatment, despite suffering serious illnesses including tuberculosis. She died before being freed.
A TIME TO UNITE
Kaepernick is incredibly fortunate to live where he lives. He not only has the right to ignore the flag or the anthem, he doesn't even need a reason.
But his given reason makes his action seem misguided. First of all, it's the national anthem, not the anthem of the United Police Departments. Abuse by police, when it happens (and if it happens once, it's too much) is not a federally sanctioned act. The Justice Department having the power to oversee local police departments does not mean they send out directives.
Is it a problem? Of course. A big one. And one of many we face as a nation. But by Kaepernick's thinking, any group that feels injured in this country could take a seat during anthems.
Don't American Indians have a list a mile long? How about Mexican Americans intimidated by our immigration policies? For that matter, why shouldn't ardent Christian football players (of which there are many) take a seat if they disagree with recent Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage? Don't many of them feel their way of life is, if not physically then ideologically, under attack by our changing laws?
Yet people still manage to stand for the flag or anthem, to show respect, not just for fallen soldiers or those who died to protect our liberties. But for the very idea of the country itself. The idea that we can speak our minds and freely vote to solve our problems. That's what the ritual should symbolize.
Instead, a Chicago teen tells a teacher that "America sucks," and his teacher is disciplined (yes, really) for attempting to make him stand up. That teacher might have been better served to remind the kid that around the time he was born, this nation was mourning, people looked at our flag atop a rubble heap with tears in their eyes, they embraced it, honored it, swore to protect it, without a single note of the anthem playing.
We will not solve any problem -- police or otherwise -- by retreating to our separate corners and pointing fingers. The first word of our country's name is "united." We should try to live up to that, especially today.