Enough with the patriotic symbolism already!

Those, like me, who have not grown up in America are often startled when attending some perfectly ordinary function to be suddenly asked to stand for the national anthem or to say the Pledge of Allegiance and, in the latter case, to watch everyone solemnly place their hands on their hearts and look devotedly at the large American flag that often adorns the venue. It has always struck me as silly and pointless as does anything associated with patriotism.

The only benefit of this patriotic symbolism is that it provides a way of highlighting protests such as when people choose to burn the flag or to not stand, which predictably causes outrage from those who take such symbolism very seriously indeed. The decision by some Cleveland Browns football players to kneel during the singing of the national anthem before their season-opening football game on September 10, a gesture started by Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality, has generated just such a fuss.

The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, led by the truly awful Steve Loomis, has said that this is an insult to the police and the fact that the Browns have not punished the players for similar acts during exhibition games makes the owners complicit in this insult and that they will respond accordingly.

Cleveland’s police union will not be holding the American flag for a pregame ceremony for the Brown’s first game Sept. 10, Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Steve Loomis said late Friday.

The players not standing for the national anthem is offensive because of the sacrifices that people make that allows these guys to enjoy the success that they have, Loomis said. While they’re benefiting from protection of the flag they are kneeling in disrespect of it, he said.

The Browns management and ownership condoned this disrespectful activity of their employees, Loomis said.

“It’s just ignorant for someone to do that,” he said. “It just defies logic to me. The fact that management was aware of what they planned on doing, that’s as offensive as it can get.”

So because some players are not engaging in a pointless patriotic gesture, in retaliation the police are going to … also not engage in a pointless patriotic gesture? No doubt that makes sense to Loomis.

The Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams is more sensible than Loomis and has said in a statement that what the CPPA is advocating does not represent official policy:

“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to serve and to protect. We protect the rights of all citizens to express their views as protected by the First Amendment of our constitution, no matter the issue.”

Why are there elaborate acts of patriotic symbolism at football games anyway? These are events where people eat overpriced ghastly ‘food’, drink vast quantities of equally over-priced alcohol that causes them to vomit all over the place, and insult fans of the opposing teams, when not cheering on steroid-fuelled massive men to cause permanent brain injuries to each other by colliding repeatedly with them. This is not like independence day or a state funeral where acts of patriotic symbolism have at least some rationale.

I have a slim hope that people will begin to realize that these ubiquitous symbolic acts of patriotism are a cause of division rather than solidarity and that they are more trouble than they are worth and will quietly drop them altogether.


  1. hyphenman says


    Here’s the bit that never ceases to amaze me.

    In my 11 years of military service—1974-1986—I never once encountered a single person who got teary eyed over patriotism, flags or 18th century drinking songs.

    What was important, in my experience, was the oath we took:

    I… do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

    We took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. Flags and anthems are symbols of freedom; the constitution is the real deal. Burn, spit on or wipe your ass with first two, but we were ready to die for the third.

    Those who don’t get that are posers in my book.


  2. hyphenman says


    Why are there elaborate acts of patriotic symbolism at football games anyway?

    In a word: Recruiting.

    The Defense Department spends millions each year sponsoring sporting events like professional football in order to convince young men and women to enlist.


  3. says

    The players not standing for the national anthem is offensive because of the sacrifices that people make that allows these guys to enjoy the success that they have…

    Really? I though the sacrifices were to ensure that the people have freedom and aren’t forced into meaningless displays of fidelity to the state.

  4. Steve Bruce says

    Be thankful that you are not in India. It is punishable by law for not standing up during the national anthem. In movie theatres, the anthem is played before the start of almost all movies and invariably there is some idiotic hyper nationalist vigilante who will keep a watch on who is not standing up. There have been instances of people being beaten up by the public and handed over to the police for disrespecting the national anthem.

  5. says

    I never stand for national anthems or flags, nor have I said a pledge since I realized that “it’s not my damn country.” I did swear some oath to uphold the constitution when I enlisted, but I concluded that it was voided when the government stopped upholding it with regards me. It wasn’t me that wiped my ass with the constitution -- the government dissolved the constitution leaving only some ink on some paper.

  6. rjw1 says

    I can remember a report a few years ago. Some Australians were at a football game in the US. They didn’t participate in the patriotic ceremony before the game and they were admonished by some of the spectators. They protested that they were Australians, however that didn’t seem to make any difference to the attitude of those spectators that they had offended. It’s possible that the hyper-patriots didn’t know what an Australian is, of course.

    Btw, I don’t know what goes on at football games in Australia since I have no interest in spectator sports.

    Steve Bruce @4

    It will probably become even more hysterical after a few more years of the current Hindu nationalist regime.

  7. hyphenman says

    @Marcus Runum, No. 5

    Oaths are odd agreements and what we back them with sometimes even odder.

    I think of an oath I recited weekly in my youth, the Boy Scout Oath which begins: “On my honor.”

    Discussing what “honor” means in the 21st century would have made a lively topic for the Socrates Cafes where I first met Mano more than a decade ago.

    While there is a contractual aspect to the military oath of enlistment, I don’t think that I ever thought of the words as the equivalent of a contract. Having said that, I always counsel my students with a desire to enlist that they should ensure that every single promise made by a recruiter appears in the enlistment contract.

    Then there is the matter of vows, as in those exchanged at the alter (or before a judge) which would open a whole other can of worms.



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