The U.S. military has paid a high price in its history to defend the principles and values that make us American. It has fought for the rights that allow these NFL players to protest, and it has certainly also earned the right to ask others to respect the American flag and anthem.
The moment we let politics become everything is the moment we fail to see people for who they are. We forget that every voter—and, indeed, every politician—is a complex human being with a real life, a real family, and a real story.
Future civilian leadership can only benefit from engagement with members of the military here. Harvard students who dream of conducting foreign policy and managing national security tend to study those topics in abstraction, not always realizing some of their friends and peers will be the primary instruments of those policies.
ROTC more closely resembles an extracurricular activity than anything else, but it’s an extracurricular activity in which I’ve raised my right hand and taken an oath to defend my country. Becoming a Harvard officer is, at least to me, the ultimate honor, and there is not a flicker of doubt in my mind that I’ve chosen the right path. But I also know there is an opportunity cost to everything.
Who among the student body could forget where they were, or who they were with, or how they felt when they opened the acceptance email that would change their lives? Who could forget the stupefaction of realizing that they were to inherit such a storied legacy?
In a society that generally prefers quantification, action items, assessment and evaluation, creating character is seen as a moving target and vague abstraction better left alone. Treating character in this way, however, is exceptionally dangerous to a self-governing society.
Our hearts and our actions are the true measures of our patriotism, whether or not we even choose to call ourselves “patriot.” Real patriotism reflects gratitude and dedication to making this country truly great.