‘Dialogue on contentious issues’

  • Published in Letters

To The Editor:

A long time ago when I was in high school ROTC, I served on the color guard. It was our duty to present the flag at various school functions and it was considered an honor to participate. Years later, at the height of the Vietnam War, I found myself refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a city council meeting in the small town where I lived. Times had changed and so had I. Today, I would probably try to follow Thoreau’s advice that if something offends you and it requires you to harm another person, then resist, but if it’s just part of the normal friction of everyday life, then let it go and hope it will eventually wear smooth.

Having been on both sides of the flag issue, I would like to thank Fred Messer for pointing out that what people in the military fight for is not the flag per se but what it stands for, which presumably includes the freedom to publish an editorial cartoon featuring Old Glory in the upside-down “distress” position (which seems like it might very well reflect the viewpoint of many people these days on both sides of the political divide). Likewise, we should recognize that when athletes “take a knee” during the national anthem, they do so not to show contempt for the flag or for those who serve(d) in the military but to protest racial injustice. Whether you agree with them or not, it is unfair and disrespectful to ascribe motives to people that they themselves do not profess. When discussing controversial subjects, it is all too easy to intentionally misinterpret or misrepresent the views or actions of others and we have an obligation to avoid doing so (at least to the best of our ability) in the interest of mutual understanding. Just ask the young people who participate in local Socrates Cafe events what they think is the most productive way to engage in dialogue on contentious issues.

Paul Hanke