The Army v. Navy football game this year was a stirring experience and an evocative one. It evoked further thoughts on two hot topics: violence, and the national anthem.
Let’s start with the anthem. Confession: your host prefers classical music to rap but is resigned to having to live with the long odds against ever hearing another classical version of The Star Spangled banner. For every stunning performance by a Renee Fleming (Super Bowl 2014-), a Marian Anderson (Eisenhower inauguration in 1957), or a Marilyn Horne (Clinton inauguration in 1993), or by the five service-academy choirs (2005 Super Bowl), there are hundreds, thousands, of public performances of another type, running the gamut from the treasonous (the Roseanne Barr butchery of the anthem at a baseball game in 1990, a performance that might have offended even Colin Kaepernick), to the OK performances by Lady Gaga or Kelly Clarkson or Beyonce’, and then to the very-popular Whitney Houston version at the 1991 Super Bowl, a performance that would have embarrassed Renee’ Fleming while possibly afflicting her with a temporary hearing-loss.
Which brings one to this year’s Army-Navy Game anthem, performed by the combined choirs of the two service academies: fantastic, stirring, some of the best choral singing one has heard this side of the best professional choruses (e.g., the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus). An unadulterated version of the anthem: original notes, original lyrics, classical harmonies, excellent voices, no gratuitous changes in tempo or slides toward the correct pitch. Despite the massive differences in Americans’ musical tastes, it is hard to imagine that anyone, certainly no one with any sense of the patriotism that surrounds the Army Navy game, could have failed to be moved and inspired by the Army/Navy chorus. On the other hand, it is equally hard to believe anyone could come away from the Whitney Houston version – or the Beyonce’ version, the Faith Hill version, the Dixie Chicks version, whatever – with the same sense of the importance of the game, the importance of the Army and the Navy, and the importance of our nation. Entertained maybe, but not inspired.
Speaking of the importance of our nation: quick cut to Colin Kaepernick. The non-franchised QB has been at pains to explain that he has nothing against our armed forces and that his only real objection to America is that blacks and other minorities are mistreated here. He has talked specifically about mistreatment by the police, the court system, and – wait for it – the economy. Well, he didn’t actually mention the economy, but just think about his most specific, most oft-repeated, demand: “social justice.” Now that he is into explaining himself, trying to assure us that actually he kind of likes America, he has settled on social injustice as his major complaint. Bad choice. Social justice is the central concept of communism, its most important goal. Social justice was at the heart of virtually everything ever written by Karl Marx. Social justice, apparently to Mr. Kaepernick as well as to Mr. Marx, is shorthand for equality of incomes and wealth. Not clear whether Kaepernick wants everyone else to make as much as he has made as a pro football player, or rather wants his own income reduced to as little as everyone else makes, as in the Marxist model employed today in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and other nations where communism rules. Either way, the Kaepernick protest indicates a total disdain for the essential economic model on which America was founded and on which it still operates. Kaepernick’s actions make it clear that he sees no reason to love or even respect his country. How can one be convinced by his claim that he respects our military, given his avowed opposition to the very system the military is charged with the duty to defend and protect? Sounds like he is saying he respects individual military personnel, but that he has no respect for their mission. How does that equate to patriotism, to love of his country? Answer: it does not.
Now, about violence in football. Most of us can recite the contemporary case against football: too violent, too dangerous, and (at least for the southpaws among us) too hostile and aggressive and manly and warlike and uncivilized, etc. Not enough like soccer or hiking or kayaking or yoga poses. CENTCOM for the anti-football movement is the mental-health lobby, which fixates on concussions.
So, how do you feel about the Army/Navy game? Are you opposed, or at least uninterested, because the game presents archetypal models of a type of social behavior you oppose? Are you bothered by Navy jets buzzing the stadium, by the presence of the entire student body of each of the two military academies and their mass salute to the flag, by all those American flags being displayed, by a straight version of the national anthem rather than a version more indigenous to a rock concert or a topless night club, by cadets and midshippeople and fans who all stand at attention and salute the American flag? Are you disappointed by the lack of flagrant violations of rules, choreographed celebrations of plays that do not even put points on the board, helmet-to-helmet collisions resulting in concussions, heated protests of every single officiating call that goes against your team, tackles that do not end when the whistle blows, etc.? Annoyed that academy football resembles boxing more than it resembles MMA? Well, then, Army/Navy is not for you. The NFL should be right up your alley.
For this viewer, Army/Navy is about militancy and patriotism, it is about preparing warriors for battle in behalf of our country. It is a special version of football, as it is both literal and directly-symbolic. There is an obvious reason why our military academies take their football so seriously, and it has been addressed successfully by thousands, maybe millions, of better and more-informed essayists than your host. Football, more than any other sport, blends aggression with discipline, rewards violence committed with intent to defeat the opponent without violating the rules of engagement. Army/Navy raises the stakes on football from entertainment to preparation for the defense of our nation. Football is the best possible metaphor for war, better than even chess. If you are one of those who are willing to threaten war but not to wage it, you probably are more interested in fantasy football than you are in actual football, and you probably are more interested in violent collisions than you are in good blocks and tackles. I get it, but I do not want you in my foxhole or even my man-cave.