America learned one thing from Vietnam: honor the sacrifice of your veterans no matter what.
Many of us have watched with heavy hearts the PBS documentary on Vietnam by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It has made this story fresh in many folks’ minds.
Our big lesson learned from Vietnam is that our veterans are not the problem. They are subservient to civilian government and simply do the job asked by our country’s leaders.
So we support our veterans now better than we did a generation ago.
The one place this has manifested itself is at the start of NFL games with the National Anthem. To prove my point, in 2009, federal law was changed to allow veterans to render the military hand salute when the National Anthem plays.
I believe this is a direct result of the Vietnam War and the popularity of the National Anthem played at the start of NFL games to honor veterans.
It is no wonder the NFL flag protests struck such a collective nerve.
When some NFL players decided this was the time to protest, their intended result was completely misinterpreted by much of America.
The NFL players are protesting inequality.
The masses of NFL fans see their protest as against the veterans.
They both are missing each other’s points.
This is a classic case of two groups seeing the same event but having two completely different reactions to it.
Healthy distrust of authority is an American trait that also has its modern roots in Vietnam. We mistrust authority, and to be American is to stand up — or kneel — or march, for what you believe.
I think everyone understands that. But the venue matters.
An example from the Vietnam era: in 1971, support for the Vietnam War still was dividing the country. The great Silent Majority still supported the war and the Nixon administration. That tide turned in favor of ending the war during the Veteran March in April 1971 in Washington.
Public opinion supporting the war dramatically crumbled as Main Street saw its own veterans, its sons, support an end to the war. We were on the verge of a major shift in thinking.
But the radicals came in two weeks with the Mayday protests, one of the most violent protests to date, espousing anarchy and violent revolution; the narrative shifted, and we divided once again.
My point here is that the right message matters, and the right venue matters, and that public opinion and support can be gained with the right combination.
I think most Americans want African-Americans to be enfranchised and treated equally and fairly.
Our journey as Americans takes us down many roads, together, whether we know it or not. Change comes, inevitably, and it is our responsibility as good citizens to look for the nuggets of truth in everything.
My hope is that we all look for the positives in each other’s messages. Ask what the NFL protestors are trying to say instead of getting defensive. If you support the rights of the kneelers, understand you are ripping at a fabric that has bigger and different implications than you might be aware of.
Like in everything, look for common ground before you look for differences.
Kurt Vetters, a longtime resident of Greenfield, is a U.S. Army veteran, author and local businessman. He can be reached at email@example.com.