Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
(Old Guard – 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army)
Maintaining the proper level of respect (Click Here)
Respect. Aretha Franklin, in 1967, immortalized the word RESPECT in song. I am a great believer in respect, and have written about it before on this blog. Respect implies: Honor, Reverence, Esteem, Regard and Deference. I think current American (United States) society is devoid of respect in many crucial areas; allowing disrespect to run rampant through our present-day culture, and with it the concept of civilized behavior. In my youth we called these civilized behaviors manners.
Manners demonstrated a consideration for others, and was a social courtesy taught early on in child rearing. It started at home with the family: Parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. From there it stretched out into our churches, schools, social organizations and business. Any adult could coach any child on social behavior at any time. With the focus on personal freedoms (of which I am a strong advocate), the sense of acceptable social behavior appears to have gone by the wayside.
Disrespect and lack of consideration for others is encountered everyday, from overly loud cellphone conversations to dropping the F-bomb in public discourse. I am no prude, and I can be as crude and vulgar as the next man, but there is a time and place. In my time disrespect was a provocation. You could always disrespect someone or something, but there was usually a price to pay. It was called personal accountability, and knowing that you were going to be held personally accountable for your behavior often put the brakes to a runaway mouth.
Somewhere, and at sometime, that all changed. Under our current judicial system verbal provocation is no longer sufficient cause for a physical response. A physical response to a verbal assault or attack (on self or loved ones) will land you in jail. Thus, there are no checks and balances on social behavior—anything goes it would appear. Freedom of speech is essential to our form of government, but with freedom of speech comes certain responsibilities. When accountability and consequences are removed, freedom of speech can become abusive and unbalanced.
It is sometimes a very fine line between freedom of speech and a personal attack, and when one is personally attacked you have the innate right to defend yourself. I truly believe there are times when a verbal provocation merits a physical response, call me old fashioned in that regard. There is something called human dignity that merits respect, and I believe that it is a defensible right. In a free society you are able to express your views and opinions, but you must also be willing to accept the consequences of that freedom.
To put a finer point on it: If you launch a verbal assault on my lady friend, wife or daughter, I am going to punch you in the mouth to bring that assault to an end. And I am willing to go to jail as a result of my actions. In my youth I would not have gone to jail, because any judge would find the verbal assault provocation enough for my more than justified physical response. Freedom of speech is guaranteed, but also anticipate freedom of response. Now this example is pretty black and white, and most of life is colored in shades of gray, but that’s why we used to have judges to navigate the murky gray waters—response versus provocation.
A traveler’s advisory: The current American (United States) view, relative to response versus provocation, is not universal. While traveling abroad your entitled, and so-called enlightened, perspective can cause you some real (and dangerous) grief. Disrespect local cultures, customs, women and children at your peril. Worldwide there are some very real consequences to your actions, both verbal and physical, and many of them are not very pleasant. Conduct yourself in a civilized and respectful manner and you will be treated graciously, exhibit boorish behavior and be prepared for a very rough road (I’ve seen the consequences of such actions myself).
The posted video of the Old Guard (the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment), enforcing respect and decorum at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, is what I’m talking about. Forty or fifty years ago this kind of rude behavior wouldn’t have existed—for one thing the crowd would have policed itself. Their behavior doesn’t appear to be malicious or provocative in nature, but rather a keen ignorance of what used to be everyday manners and respect.
As a young ROTC cadet (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) in the 1960’s I would encounter this kind of behavior (and worse) while trying to raise or lower the colors in our school’s quad. The school’s administration prevented us from engaging these provocateurs on any level, and consequently we had to suffer their disrespect and attacks with humiliation. When I became a Marine I can assure you this never happened, because the perpetrators knew that there would be [dire] consequences. I am not a super patriot or nationalist (and I tend to view those who are with suspicion), however there is such a thing as respect. And it’s important.
We don’t need laws to protect us from the burning of the American flag. It’s a free country after all—but there could be severe consequences for your lack of respect. I will defend your right to burn the flag, but I may choose to punch you in the mouth for doing it. And, yes, I will be the one going to jail for it and not you. It’s not about a piece of cloth, but rather what it represents. We all have the right to dissent, I do it all the time. It is often necessary. But when we dissent we must be willing to pay the price for that dissent—whether that price is censure, incarceration or death. And remember that in the United States many have paid the ultimate price for your right to dissent. And that my friends deserves some respect—like at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Thus endeth the sermon.