The flag, the anthem, the pledge, the troops

September 27, 2017

politics / theology

I have thoughts about the flag, the anthem, the pledge that are not directly related to my thoughts about protesting during the anthem (which of course I support).

I don’t stand for the anthem. I sit. I have since the aftermath of 9/11, as clearly as I can remember (there may have been a gap, but it’s been more than a decade at least). It’s relatively rare that I’m in a place where people say the pledge, but if I am in such a place, I don’t say it. I wouldn’t go to a church that had a US flag in it, unless it also had a LOT of other flags. None of the flags or all of the flags, is what I’m saying.

I take this small stance because my allegiance is not to the United States. I’m certainly part of it; I’m a citizen, I vote, I am aware of what my elected officials do, sometimes I call them or engage with them in other ways. But those things, for me, that you could call electoral politics, are one part of political life. Politics is about how humans organize ourselves, about what we value as groups, who gets to be in which groups and who does not, and how we treat each other, including people who aren’t in whatever group we’ve defined as ours (especially, for me, if that group has less of what is required to flourish as humans than I have). So politics, for me, has nothing to do with allegiance to a nation-state, to borders, to the violence that still in many cases maintains borders, to the ideologies of nationalism or patriotism, to whatever groups I myself am part of.

My allegiance, instead, is to Jesus. Jesus is Lord, in the sense the first churches used the phrase: a political statement meaning Caesar is not. Baptism was designed at that time as partly a symbol of rejecting any other lord, including that of Rome. I take this seriously, and it is one of a few things that informs everything about politics for me.

Now. US troops are related to all of this, but not in the same way that flags and anthems and pledges are. Soldiers are individual humans, of course. They deserve dignity and justice and life and healthcare and peace as much as, and not more than, literally any other person in the world, with literally any other job or no job at all. I want these individuals to have better ways to live, as I want all of us to have. As, indeed, the early church requested of soldiers who wanted to join them.

But “the troops” are also symbols of a system; that is why we think it’s fine to talk about supporting them without actually doing anything for their material well-being. That is why we connect them in our minds to the flag and the anthem and the pledge. I do not support that military system. I want it dismantled. I don’t want individuals sent around the world doing and enduring unspeakable violence and dehumanization in my name. I want us all to live in such a way that we depend less on violence, not more.

I don’t believe troops are sent around the world to give their lives for mine. I don’t believe there’s a legitimate argument that we, in the US, have had existential dangers face us after 1945 that required the violence of military action to protect us. We can talk about the world wars and pacifism; that’s a valid conversation (without absolute answers, I think), but for now that isn’t a situation we live in. We use our vast military resources for other agendas. We could certainly also talk about the validity of those agendas and that’s a valid conversation as well, but let’s not act as though it is an agenda to protect our freedom, our lives, as we live here. That is shorthand language to get public support for imperialistic military activities around the world, but it’s also false shorthand language.

If we want to start funding – at the scale of military budgets – actual peacemakers around the world, not missiles called peacemakers or peacekeepers but people who will get in the way of injustice and violence without bringing violence with them, that is a different conversation (they’re still not making sacrifices for us as individuals in the US at that point, but they are making sacrifices for something utterly different than they currently are). But this is not a conversation we’ve ever seriously had in this country (or any other country that I’m aware of).