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Editorial: The unity that still eludes us
15 years ago, the nation stood together after 9-11; now a few athletes wont stand for flag
AP 16253562215375
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives gather for a ceremony Friday on Capitol Hill in Washington marking the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. - photo by Molly Riley

Editorial board adds community members

Three community members from varying backgrounds have been chosen to The Times editorial board. Each will serve a three-month term helping to inform opinions published on the editorial pages. “I think it will bring diversity to our opinions,” Managing Editor Shannon Casas said.

Members will include Cathy Drerup, retired executive director of Challenged Child; Brent Hoffman, a commercial real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway; and Susan DeCrescenzo, a retired newcomer to Hall County who quickly got involved in the community.

Drerup has served in numerous roles with nonprofits, is active in her church, Redwine United Methodist, and is a graduate of Leadership Hall.

Hoffman has served on boards with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Kiwanis Club as well as on the Hall County Citizens SPLOST review and transportation committees. He also is a graduate of Leadership Hall.

DeCrescenzo recently moved to the Cresswind subdivision from Gwinnett County, where she moved 10 years ago from the Northeast. She has participated in the chamber’s Wisdom Project, WomenSource and the Gainesville Newcomers Club as well as held various roles in the Cresswind community.

Picture these two images.

Sept. 11, 2001, a century’s “day that will live in infamy.” Following the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans standing side by side, gather at the Capitol and sing “God Bless America” as one united voice.

Fast forward 15 years to the anniversary of that event. As the pro football season begins today for most teams, many players will follow the lead of one backup quarterback and take a knee or remain seated during the national anthem in a protest over social injustice.

Two patriotic songs, two reactions: one inspiring, the other defiant. In their own way, they express Americans’ attitudes, for better or worse. And in particular, they reveal how far removed we are from that day 15 years ago.

Following the attacks of that horrible Tuesday morning, the nation came together for a period of time as it had for other historical moments burned in memory: Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the moon walk. Partisan bickering was set aside — for awhile.

But even as they celebrated a shared national purpose, most knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t. Though both parties agreed to launch the responding attacks in Afghanistan, by the time the next elections rolled around and Iraq and other issues took precedence, the partisan gulf opened wide again.

Today the nation seems to be, at times, splitting at the seams. As players protest police shootings, others support police themselves targeted by shooters. Acts of terrorism, both homegrown and foreign, strain our social fabric. Politics has us waist deep in the most divisive election in history, with candidates disliked even within their own parties. And the U.S. still can’t get out of the endless swamp of hatred and jihad in the Middle East.

And now, millionaire athletes are refusing to salute the same flag everyone rallied behind in 2001.

It is, of course, their constitutional right to do so. No one wants to live in a country that requires such forced loyalty ordered by emperors and despots. Our nation embraces free will by protecting the right not to love it, if one so chooses.

The NFL or its teams could force their hand, if they chose to, as employer of these men and owner of the sidelines they occupy and uniforms they wear. The First Amendment protects the expression of one’s views but not from all consequences of doing so. But the league wisely has chosen to stand aside rather than stir up more resentment and turn the kneelers into martyrs.

We wonder why these players can’t show a love for country and still seek to improve it. Expressing patriotism isn’t a full endorsement of everything the nation does, and never has been. Social activists like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and others before and since sought to make their homeland live up to its stated goals of freedom and equality by ridding it of the discrimination holding it back, and made it a better nation in the process. Working within the legal, political and cultural systems to effect change is the best way to persuade others to join the effort.

Anyone can say, “I love my country, but ...” if what follows is a constructive approach to improving the ideals our founders penned on paper. Every nation has flaws, but no one works harder than Americans to overcome them.

Such protests are a particular slap in the face to those who wear and have worn different uniforms and helmets while serving their country in combat. To them, American symbols mean even more, and any disrespect shown is an affront to their sacrifice, intended or not.

Those players who spurn the anthem would be well-served to remember that and seek to better the country that has given them an opportunity to earn fortune and fame playing a kid’s game. Sitting on the bench during the anthem is a selfish expression that won’t bring back victims, change public policy or win anyone over, particularly as the world marks this revered anniversary.

Which brings us back to 9/11. Why does it take a horrible event to bring us together, only to see us split into factions afterward? Why can’t we maintain this shared sense of purpose that ties us together as one people? If warring political factions can “stand beside her and guide her” in harmony, why can’t they do so now in halls of government? Will we ever stand as one again without a catastrophe to light that fuse?

Perhaps it’s just our nature. A nation formed from so many backgrounds, faiths and a grab bag of ideals will never be just one thing all the time, but many things. We continue to reinvent ourselves in a democratic experiment with more detours than straightaways. When we agree, it’s a beautiful thing, but there is honor in honest disagreement, provided it is fueled by the same love of country.

And how we love it can be expressed in many different ways, by conservatives and liberals, young and old, whether one prefers John Philip Sousa and soaring eagles or the stars and stripes on dirty denim and screech of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar wailing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. Patriotism can embody many sights, sounds and symbols.

This is a much different United States than it was 15 years ago, as those disparate images prove. And 15 years from now, and 15 beyond that, what pictures will be added? Let’s just hope we can continue to note when the time is right to leave our neutral corners and shake hands in the middle of the ring before the fisticuffs begin again.

Fight. Salute. Kneel. Pray. Sing. Or ignore. One act of free will is just as American as another.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.

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