Patriotism at Super Bowl 47: Rush Limbaugh Cannot Be Right

A couple of days before the Super Bowl I expressed my disagreement with Washington Post opinion writer Tricia Jenkins’ claim that sports games “have become stages for large-scale patriotic theater” featuring “militaristic rituals” — a left-over from when such “rituals” were “deliberately designed to promote unity during times of crisis,” habits that have “stuck around far longer than needed, making sports feel less like pastimes than pep rallies for our military or a particular war.”

Jenkins predicted several instances of such “patriotic gimmickry” to take place during the Super Bowl.

And by God, just about every one of Jenkins’ predictions of “military jingoism” materialized at the Super Bowl.

The stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Alicia Keys, the military color guard, flag imagery, Jennifer Hudson’s touching delivery of “America the Beautiful,” and what Jenkins might have indignantly described as “a ‘jarring’ military-themed, ‘vaudeville’ commercial designed to be a recruitment tear-jerker put on by the Chrysler military-industrial complex in hopes that such ‘theatrics will result in recruitment boosts’ and narrated by ultimate neocon warmonger, Oprah Winfrey.”

In fact, Chrysler’s two-minute commercial — considered by many to be one of the best of the Bowl — sent a moving, powerful message about the sacrifices of our military and their families, encouraging military families to keep the faith, hope and courage until their loved ones return.

And just like Jenkins predicted, CBS did “cut to shots of troops watching the game overseas” Yes, we did see our troops at 4 a.m. Afghanistan time standing at attention while our national anthem was sung in balmy New Orleans and while a driving snowstorm was battering their tents at Camp Courage. (Photos of our troops watching the Super Bowl at Camp Courage, Kabul, can be seen here)

But while Ms. Jenkins probably saw the “cut” as just another staged example of “cheap thrills” “for large-scale patriotic theater,” I saw a couple of dozen of our men and women thousands of miles from home, away from their loved ones and constantly in harm’s way, trying to savor “a little taste of home” as Lt. Col. Andrew Ajamian told Heath Druzin at the Stars and Stripes, looking for “[a] chance to forget about where we are and what we’re doing for a while.”

Another officer, Army Col. John Sheard, who helped organize the Super Bowl “party” told the Stripes he was just trying to give the troops a brief slice of home to take their minds off the difficulties of deployed life.

While CBS did not have the opportunity to cut to other godforsaken places where our troops are serving, here are a few more images of our troops in Afghanistan and around the world watching the same Super Bowl you and I watched but one we watched in the comfort of our homes and surrounded by loved ones and friends.

U.S. Soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division watch the San Francisco 49ers take on the Baltimore Ravens during a Super Bowl 47 celebration at Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The Soldiers, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., are serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth)

Logistics Specialist Seaman Christopher McEvoy watches the Super Bowl aboard the mess decks of U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). Blue Ridge is currently underway in the Philippine Sea conducting sea trials. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Figueroa Medina)

During the Iraq War, at Contingency Operating Location Q-West, Iraq, 1st Sgt. Willie Johnson, first sergeant for A Company, 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), reacts to a play as he and other “Wagonmaster” Soldiers watch the 2010 Super Bowl, below (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew C. Cooley, 15th Sustainment Brigade public affairs)

While there was only one comment on my post at TMV (thank you KP), there have been more than 70 comments on a similar column I posted at the Huffington Post. While not too surprised, I am somewhat disappointed that the vast majority of readers at Huff Post, through their comments, answered with a resounding “no” to Jenkins’ “When we cheer for our team, do we have to cheer for America, too?” **

I am even more perturbed to read that Rush Limbaugh used Ms. Jenkins’ opinion column — which he apparently read more or less in its entirety on air — as “proof” that Sunday’s patriotic proceedings at the Super Bowl made liberals “nervous” and “queasy,” and concluded “this one author’s opinions [Jenkins] must represent all of liberal America.”

I pray it does not.

**Feedback at the Washington Post was extensive — more than 600 comments — and overwhelmingly critical of Ms. Jenkins column.

Top Image: www.shutterstock.com

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

  • Enkindle

    There is nothing wrong with displays of patriotism leading sports events. Nobody that I know attends a sports event for the patriotic prelude, but everybody I know respects it. Not respecting a nationalistic public display, or flag burning, can be acts of fee speech for the political dissident, but are we always and forever political dissidents? I think not. We can enjoy a ball game without wearing our underwear on our head once in a while.

    I also do not think that national anthem performances, or, military color guards at sports events specifically reference respect for the military. It references respect for the nation as a whole. A color guard could be made up of any group of people such as Scouts, Shriners, Pioneers, Postmen, Ladies Bridge Club, or, just citizens without any uniform or affiliation of any kind at all, except that we are all Americans.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Could not agree with you more, Enkindle.

    Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • brcarthey

    DD, I’m sorry I missed your column on “The Huffington Post“. Even though I’m usually sparring with conservatives over there, I also regularly have to push back on liberals taking things a little too far. I would say I am pretty liberal in most areas, but I also try to be as pragmatic as possible knowing full well that liberal ideology is not the only way or always the right way. One of those places is the military) which I certainly have no conservative ideology about). By military, I’m talking about the personnel, not nebulous, bloated government bureaucracy.

    With one of my brothers having served in the Marine Reserves (going to Iraq) a few years ago and my dad (and step-mom) living in the Ft. Hood area for the past 25+ years, I can fully appreciate the sacrifices they and their families must endure. We’ve been in military conflicts for so long now that we’ve grown very complacent and numb to what some our fellow citizens are going through daily. Meanwhile, we go about our daily lives with an “out of sight, out of mind attitude” towards our military.

    So, I ask Ms. Jenkins and my fellow liberals, that have an issue with the included military “pageantry” (I’ll give her the fly-over above the Superdome. Waste of jet fuel!) in a pre-game ritual that takes up less than five minutes of broadcast time out of a 4-5 hour spectacle and can reminds Americans, “Oh yeah! We still have troops over there,” to pause and reflect on those men and women (even if only for a passing moment), then what harm is there? I didn’t see or hear any direct recruitment ads (I think people being reminded of troops still being in Afghanistan is anti-recruitment enough). Remember those? The “be all that you can be” jingle still rings in my ears from my childhood.

    Many sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” for the love and pride in our country, warts (lots of ‘em) and all. We sing it because we don’t want to stop fighting to make it a better place for all who live here and future generations. We sing in acknowledgement of our past triumphs and sins during the founding, growth, and expansion of it; of all the victories and defeats, domestically and globally. During the anthem, we can pay a small tribute to this small segment (and increasingly smaller) of society since only about 1% of our citizens serve in all branches combined (I’d like to see Ms. Jenkins sit her happy ass on an Afghan mountain in the middle of winter or in the Iraqi desert in the middle of a summer sand storm). If you want to stage some protest during the anthem, that’s your right. However, I say (just as I do to conservatives) “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism.”

    This so-called “military pep-rally” that precedes big events like this is not foremost about militaristic “patriotic gimmickry.” If she wants that, I suggest she go watch old Soviet propaganda films of Red Square or current broadcasts of North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, etc. Now that’s some military gimmickry! For many, it’s more about a quick reflection on the past, present and future of this nation. For others, it may be a 2-2.5 minute “HELL YEAH, AMERICA!” put to music. Whatever the case, what harm is there being visually reminded about the individual and collective sacrifices our troops give to our nation this nation while they hold the flag during the song. I think if Ms. Jenkins took a trip down I-35W to I-35 exited onto Highway 190 or kept on going until she hit San Antonio, she might get to know some of the servicemen and women as individuals. Hopefully, that would help her come to appreciate the human element of our military rather than the bureaucratic soul-sucking machine she seems to believe it is. While the old military proverb may say, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” I can honestly attest that there are certainly plenty of liberals.

    I apologize for this ultra-long rebuttal to her editorial…just be glad I continue to ignore Rush. ;)

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Wow, brcarthey, I could not have said any of this better myself — and I mean it.

    You have expressed some very common sense, logical and — above all –thoughtful sentiments.

    As I mentioned, as of last count there were over 600 comments at the WashPost on Ms. Jenkins’ column — some not very nice at all — and I am sure she would appreciate your level-headed comments.

    I did have to smile when I read your comments on “usually sparring with conservatives over there” — the Huff Post. I think you are being a little sarcastic?

    Thanks,

    Dorian

  • brcarthey

    Thank you for the kind words DD.

    You’re probably right, though many times I do get into some wonderfully spirited debates with conservatives there and on CNN.com. On the other hand, I do reserve my snarky sparring for the more, shall we say, “reality-challenged” conservatives (I type this with a devilish grin). I’m not saying I’m perfect in those posts or replies, but I do try to engage honestly almost all of the time. I avoid posting on exclusive left-wing sites, lest I be accused of being a conservative or sell-out for trying to offer either reason or inject calm. Don’t even ask about exclusive right-wing sites. It ain’t pretty. :D

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    The reason I smiled, brcarthey, is that — although I am a Democrat and the Huff Post is a relatively liberal site — I have been sparring quite a bit there with, and been the subject of a lot of “flak” on this subject, from liberals there.

  • brcarthey

    Haha…my mistake. Let me just say, “I feel your pain.” I can’t recall a time where I’ve greatly disagreed with any of your posts. I’m sure there have been mild ones, but I have certainly admired your stance on the military and other subjects even when faced with biting criticism. People have sometimes taken me as a “liberal hawk.” However, if anything I am more of a military isolationist who’s main concern is for the safety and well-being of the troops (both physically and psychologically). One of the things I really detest is the callous disregard towards them by so many in Washington, both in sending them into battle and ignoring them when they come home. I say this to you because I have little time (or patience) for idealogical purity/rigidity and am dismayed when the left adopts that kind of attitude. A quick side note regarding the HuffPost’s, that site’s rule of posting word a maximum of 250 words can really limit the depth of a debate to superficialities. One of the lesser reason I like coming here and posting/debating with folks here. (Thanks to JG for TMV’s creation!)

    BTW, I think I read somewhere a couple years ago where you stated you are an Aggie. If you are, this Longhorn will never hold it against you. ;)

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    “BTW, I think I read somewhere a couple years ago where you stated you are an Aggie. If you are, this Longhorn will never hold it against you.”

    You read it right, brcarthy, and I’ll do likewise.

    What else can an Aggie do, when his own grandson wants to become a Longhorn? :)

  • KP

    @brcrthey @DDW — Your give and take is important. Thanks.

    Run through a crucible, most of the left and right are not that different. I think Americans are less divided on the big issues than motivated media on both sides would have us beieve.

  • slamfu

    DDW, don’t worry about it representing all liberals. The mere fact that Rush Limbaugh said it is so is more than enough evidence that it is not :)

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Good point, slamfu. And I know Limbaugh is trying to make the most of — in my opinion — comments that do not represent mainstream Democratic/liberal attitudes, but still a shame that he was given the fodder at the WashPost.

  • petew

    As a liberal and someone interested in human justice and the right to the pursuit of happiness, I often dislike overly patriotic demonstrations that tend to paint a sort of Jingoist interpretation of American values.

    Although, I value the dedication, bravery and the many sacrifices made by our troops, I think patriotism involves more than just rote acceptance of anything our government does, and, if we didn’t allow open disagreements about any and all American policies, we would no longer be a free society or one deserving to be called a Democratic society as well!

    Since football is our national sport it only follows that some people are bound to equate it to a “can do attitude,” which applies both to winning wars and in succeeding at the “game of life.” Coaches at all levels of sport, are full of metaphors involving the notion of football being a miniature arena synonymous to the challenges most of us will face. They also consistently deliver exhortations about the importance of team work and about foregoing individual glory in favor of team strategy, and in this regard, football has never been a bad thing!

    But, many of our veterans realize in the thick of the fight that, allegiance to ones country doesn’t always involve blindly promoting a national brand, rather, they find that loyalty to their fellow soldiers is what really matters the most. So, the fact that sports often involve believing in group efforts and having the other players back, is probably much more important than unquestioning allegiance to the supposed moral superiority of ANY ONE COUNTRY!

    I have a relative who no doubt saw some pretty grizzly scenes in Viet Nam but, to this day, he refuses to talk about them or wave the flag enthusiastically in support of a military mentality. He and others probably saw and did things that he is still ashamed of, as well as discovering the fundamental challenge involved in trying to survive, and in helping his buddies survive. He also may have witnessed or done things which were very heroic and selfless. Either way he has never talked about them much or tried to make a big deal out of what happened.

    As far as broadcasting images of our troops watching the Superbowl while on the other side of the world—that just represents a slice of life involving our soldiers, and is a positive statement about their common interest in a very popular national sport. I’m sure that troops from many different nations follow sporting events that are valued in their various cultures, and receive a well deserved break by doing so.

    It is true that football also represents violent confrontations and the dominating will of winners, over losers. Where evolution is concerned, it is probably closely related to the challenges we faced, while our species struggled to survive—even against all odds! And though I don’t particularly like the use of the violence involved, I think it is humanly speaking, a far better thing than shooting AR15s at small school children, or even killing any enemy soldiers from other cultures, since we all belong first, to the family of man.

    It is completely strange to me that some might consider Jennifer Hudson’s touching scene when singing America the Beautiful with survivors of Newtown, as being too patriotic or too political. What it obviously was is a tribute to the human spirit and an acknowledgement that we must protect the children who are our most precious resource. If someone wants to cut that down as some kind of unnecessary political statement, that’s their problem!

    For what it’s worth, I think the beautiful natural images evoked in “America the Beautiful, and the affirmation that we live in a geographically beautiful country which we are very appreciative of, would make a much better National anthem than one that depicts mental images of warfare. But again, Francis Scott Key probably was moved to tears when he discovered our flag surviving despite a ferocious battle.

    People like Limbaugh who see boggy men everywhere and question every aspect of the love of country that any others of us might express in our own ways, are truly bereft of the American spirit. If anything makes a liberal like me nervous, it is when the heart of American perseverance and the consideration all of share because of our humanistic principles, is trivialized and profaned by right wing talking heads and political buffoons like him!

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Hi Petew:

    Once again, thanks for obviously giving my post and the subject a lot of thought.
    I generally agree with your comments with a couple of exceptions — more like nuances or subtle distinctions.

    While during the Iraq War there may have been “overly patriotic” demonstrations at sports events oftentimes to express support for Bush’s war and to drown out and attack those who opposed it, I sincerely do not believe that such is the intent any longer of those who sing the national anthem, wave our flag, cheer our troops, or engage in other so-called patriotic activities.

    If and when individuals or groups shun or refuse to participate in such “patriotic outbursts” as wearing flag lapel pins, facing and saluting the flag, placing their hands over their hearts, etc., etc. to protest government policies, I don’t like to see it, but I think they have a perfect right. Moreover, I don’t see such happening much anymore, either.

    On the other hand, and to paraphrase you, those who see sincere outpourings of patriotism, support and respect for our military and true love of flag and country as “jingoism,” “militaristic rituals” and other silly analogies, “that’s their problem!”

    Thanks again