We can — and should — choose to revere America

We can — and should — choose to revere America
© Pete Marovich/Getty Images

It has become fashionable for social justice warriors to take a knee during the playing of our national anthem, or to ban the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, as supposedly courageous acts of civil protest against our nation’s heritage. Many who protest in this manner believe that America’s twin birth defects of slavery and Jim Crow laws are responsible for today’s massive decline in the quality of life for many blacks. They blame America’s stained past for predatory violence, school failure rates and incarceration present in too many urban black communities. 

But in doing so, they discard the promise of our country, for which many black Americans have fought and died. Rather than acknowledge the virtues of this country that have promoted peace and prosperity around the world, today’s social justice protesters instead virtue-signal sympathy for the “marginalized,” and denigrate the very institutions that allow them their right to be heard. 

Slavery was an abomination; it tore apart families and reduced blacks to chattel sold in the marketplace. So why did so many in my generation, and those who came before us, rise to salute the flag, stand to proudly sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and fight for the freedoms that had yet to come to us? 

ADVERTISEMENT

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II, black Americans were at the front of the line to enlist. The national symbol for fighting fascism abroad was the “V” for victory sign. Black Americans created a second “V,” symbolizing victory against fascism abroad and racism at home. Our performance on the battlefield would reflect our character and valor.  

With segregated units, the military was not progressive in its views on race. Black Panthers made up an entire tank corps. The 555th Parachute Infantry Company, the “Triple Nickels,” were black paratroopers. Let us not forget the Montford Point Marines. And then there are the most storied units of all, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the U.S. Navy’s “Golden Thirteen,” who demonstrated resilience and perseverance in the face of extraordinary opposition.

The Tuskegee Airmen, having trained as combat pilots, were given the worst planes and assigned non-combat roles. The Department of Defense (DOD) then used the absence of a record of kills to justify their non-combat status, creating a potentially self-defeating cycle. A war college assessment claimed the Negro pilots lacked the temperament and courage required for air combat. Their commander, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., successfully secured for his men combat missions — they were bomber escorts for hundreds of missions. The “Red Tails,” as they were called, did not lose a single bomber during any of their missions. 

The most fascinating example of resilience and perseverance is the Navy’s Golden Thirteen. In 1943, there were no black naval officers and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt insisted they be trained. Thirteen college-educated black men were chosen. The Navy’s regular training period was 16 weeks. To ensure their failure, the Navy gave them the same training in just eight weeks. When the men found out what was being done, they covered the windows in their barracks and stayed up all night studying. When they were tested, they scored in the 90th percentile. Believing they had cheated, they were tested individually — and scored in the 93rd percentile. After a few months, they were given their commissions. 

No single person more symbolizes the virtues of valor and perseverance than does one of the first heroes of the Second World War: Mess Attendant Second Class Doris “Dorie” Miller.

ADVERTISEMENT

While serving in the kitchen of the USS West Virginia, Miller raced to the deck to help remove the wounded as the Japanese attacked. With shells crashing  around him on the blood-soaked deck, he grabbed the deck’s 50-caliber machine gun and shot down attacking Japanese planes even though, because blacks were not trained for combat, he had never fired one before. He eventually was given the Navy Cross in 1942 by President Roosevelt, but remains locked out of receiving a Medal of Honor.

So who would you rather revere as we reflect on the Fourth of July holiday that celebrates our country’s fight for independence and freedom — the men who fought bravely and displayed courage in the face of war and racism, or the social justice warriors who have never known a battlefield?

These examples from history speak proudly for themselves. Social justice warriors protest; heroes act. The history of blacks in the U.S. military is proof of courage and competence in the face of overt oppression. Social justice protests look backward, but give us no forward path.  Courage and competence in the face of immense adversity point to the way forward.  

Today’s social justice protests against our nation are able to take place because the laws of the nation they protest allow them to do so. Those laws have not always been just. Black servicemen nevertheless concluded that demonstrating courage and competence in the face of suffering would help to amend those laws, as they have. 

America is a promise, yet to be fulfilled. We do not fulfill that promise by protesting against it. Our hearts and souls must engage with it. That is what black servicemen have taught us. They were committed enough, wise enough, to understand that even if our country did not yet grasp what they were capable of contributing, their labors would produce a more equitable future in which those who followed them could flourish and grow, as they have.

July Fourth is a national day of remembrance — of what our country has achieved, of what it yet longs to achieve, and of the immense blood sacrifice that has occurred every step of the way.  Let us accord America the reverence it deserves.

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.