America the Beautiful and the Freedom of Speech

1956

When one thinks of the phrase “…America the beautiful” much comes to mind. To many of us, the words remind us of the song, “America the Beautiful” and its many references to the physical beauty of our 50 states and four U.S. territories. It tells of “…amber waves of grain,” and “…purple mountains majesty” and “…fruited plains.”

HawkinsOpEd2
John R. Hawkins III

While those words are poetic and truthful, from my foxhole, the real beauty of America is its people and the freedoms and liberties we own. Yes, the references to the beautiful physicality of our country have been a part of the song since it was written in 1893 and throughout all of its edits up to its last official version written in 1911, another part of the song that has endured all versions of the song that speaks to my feelings about a beautiful America have survived as well: “…and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” From my foxhole, one of the most important “good” parts of our Nation is the Freedom of speech, which for years has been interpreted by the supreme court as many different methods of “…freedom of expression.”

Now, we all know that expression is not only what one does; but equally as expressive can be what one refuses to do, like the recent refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem by San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick; and for those old enough to remember or who have been taught in Black history, the action of raising ones fist during the playing of the national anthem by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics instead of placing their hands over their hearts.

As a U.S. Army veteran of 37 years, 10 months and 9 days, personally, I would not have chosen as Kaepernick to sit during the national anthem as my way of expressing my discontent with horrific activities in America; however, during my years of service all over the world, I have seen many ways many different people have chosen to bring attention to national issues and I find his in keeping with his right to freedom of speech and expression. Moreover, if his intent was to bring additional attention to an issue requiring immediate attention in this country, he succeeded and courageously so, given the potential personal and financial “fallout” that may occur.

While there is no country on this planet with the freedoms and justices and opportunities as the U.S., there is much that must be fixed in our land for us to continue to prosper. Yes, we have “…amber waves of grain,” but also we have urban food deserts. Yes, we have freedoms and justice, but some may argue that some freedoms and justices are unequally distributed and enjoyed. This does not mean our nation is bad, from my foxhole, this means we must work harder than ever to ensure that in fact liberty and justice “is” for all.

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How dare candidate Trump state when addressing the recent inaction of Colin Kaepernick, “…he should find a country that works better for him.” As one who served my country in uniform and doing my best to continue to champion what I consider to be the greatest nation on the planet, Colin Kaepernick already is in the country that works best for him; and maybe – just maybe, we need to ponder the way to make Our nation such that one does not feel obliged to remain seated during the time best served by rendering honors to Our freedoms.

Maj. Gen. U.S. Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is president and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was as director, Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that deputy chief, Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.