The search for an ideal way to protest continues. Whatever the issue, it seems any stance against it is “inappropriate” to those who stand for it. NBA players who wore “I can’t breathe” t-shirts to protest Eric Garner being strangled to death by a NY police officer were assailed for bringing politics into athletics, as though the Constitution mandates they remain separate, like church and state. WNBA players who wore plain black shirts during the national anthem to support Black Lives Matter were initially censured by the league. Colin Kaepernick, who, in his official NFL uniform, chose to sit rather than stand during the anthem for similar reasons, has been maligned for disrespecting veterans. Now, it’s Joakim Noah’s turn.
Recently acquired from Chicago’s Bulls, where he runs the charity, Noah’s Arc, advocating against violent crime in the Windy City, he decided not to attend a dinner with his New York Knicks teammates during their upstate visit to the West Point Military Academy. In a similar vein to Kaepernick, who did not announce his intention to sit during pre-game anthems, Noah only spoke on the issue when questioned about his absence by reporters.
“It’s hard for me a little bit. I have a lot of respect for the kids who are out here fighting. But it’s hard for me to understand why we have to go to war, why kids have to kill kids around the world…At the end of the day, I’m not anti-troops. It’s just not comfortable for me to see kids going out to war and coming back having seen what they’ve seen, having done what they’ve done.“
The Academy was quick to respond.
“The U.S. Military Academy at West Point develops leaders of character for the defense of our nation. We are disappointed and feel Mr. Noah’s choice of West Point to make a statement is inappropriate because of the great sacrifice that has originated from this institution over our nation’s history.”–Lt Col Christopher Kasker.
First, and less importantly, why is it inappropriate to express discomfort with sending young people off to war at a military academy that prepares teenagers for war? At the source seems the ideal place to make your unease known,
Second, and of greater concern, why doesn’t West Point understand and agree with Noah? Why are they not uncomfortable sending the nation’s youth into harm’s way?
I am not an idiot. I understand this is not an ideal world. Were it so, various nations would agree to disagree, find common ground, then remain on their own side of the hedge. In reality, that is not human nature. When all else fails, violence must sometimes be the answer. But only when all else fails. Not before. Our nation’s military should be prepared but reluctant to expose its sons and daughters to war’s ever-increasing horrors.
Sadly, that is not the case, and I suppose it is naïve of me, Joakim Noah, and others to wish peace was a more valued commodity. As the Washington Post noted in February, 2015, the United States has only been at peace for seventeen years of its existence, Seventeen of two-hundred forty. More than ninety percent of the time America has been at war with someone.
It started off innocently enough, shirking off the yoke of British imperialism in the American Revolution from 1775-83. Even as that war was in its infancy, however, we’d already begun our own version of empire building with the Cherokee-American wars (1776-1795) against native American tribes along the southwestern frontiers of the original thirteen states. The various Indian wars continued on through the War of 1812 (American involvement beginning with its unprovoked invasion into Canada, and resulting in the British burning Washington, DC) then through the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, concluding only when everything between Canada and Mexico (and large parts of the latter, in fact) were American property. and Woodrow Wilson stood on the precipice of entering the First World War. Good timing.
Glorious is the word often used when describing the building of America into the strongest democracy on Earth. However, when it is accomplished by murdering or disenfranchising Peoples who were already free, shooting not just warriors, but women and children, knowingly passing out disease ridden blankets, and promoting alcoholism, the truth is more ghastly than glorious. When you add in the fact we continued to buy people who were unable to gain their freedom from European invaders, enslaved them for the first ninety years of the country’s existence, then oppressed them for the rest, the luster of America’s glory becomes even more tarnished. When you consider the young men among the descendants of those slaves who fought in our wars, then came home to further oppression, and still do, you begin to question what our children are really fighting to protect?
After WWI, with Native Americans subdued and African-Americans segregated, we began invading the Caribbean and Central America in earnest, not even deterred by the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Only when Japan struck Pearl Harbor did we again truly have to defend our freedom, rather than interfering with that of others. Thankfully, the effects of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with graphic images plastered across front pages nationwide, rendered war distasteful to Americans for a short time. Such pictures are difficult to ignore, which is possibly why, of all the innocents American forces have murdered or displaced, interned Japanese-Americans are the only ones who have been paid reparations.
Barely a decade passed, though, before the blood lust returned, and we became involved in several Asian conflicts,. We have not gone a year since without our troops fighting and dying on foreign soil.
When mentioning to a friend this virtually unbroken chain of war in which America has wrapped itself, he noted we’ve had peace on our soil since 1945. Peace on our soil, Sitting at a keyboard in a lavishly designed building with all the modern conveniences, knowing I can leave, walk home safely, go to bed, then wake up to the same peaceful state of existence day after day sounds wonderful. That it’s at the expense of innocent women and children in places like Aleppo, even though their suffering is only an indirect result of America’s Middle Eastern presence, Russia being there, siding with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad more to hinder American interests than to eliminate terrorism, casts a pall on that sense of wonder, transforming gratitude into guilt.
Would we be fighting a war on terrorism now had we not deposed a democratically elected Iranian government to set the murderous Shah on his throne to protect ours and Britain’s oil interests? What if we and Britain had not ceded to Israeli terrorism in 1948, instead influencing a peaceful compromise wherein Jews and Palestinians could live peacefully together, as equals, sharing Jerusalem? Would we be fighting a war on drugs had we not repeatedly interfered in Central American and Colombian politics over the course of the Twentieth Century, propping up dictatorial regimes throughout the region? Are the powers that be all too comfortable spending lives to further our corporate and economic interests?
West Point’s response to Joakim Noah’s stance against war suggests they are. You don’t label an opinion inappropriate when you agree with it. Noah believes sending young people off to die, or to kill other misguided young people defending their elders’ agendas is “sad.” He believes there should be another way. That is not inappropriate, and West Point should agree with such a stance. We all should. That our military is more concerned with staying in business than seeking a lasting peace should be disturbing to any American who truly believes in freedom.