Colin Kaepernick exercised his right not to stand and honor what many claim to be sacred. He did so because of his own life experiences, injustices he has seen carried out against black and brown people. By doing so he raised the ire of many poser patriots. Poser patriotism is the reason why issues that need in-depth discussions are not put on the table, be it illegal wars or racism. Long as so many people wallow in the bowels of poser patriotism, they will fan the flames of racism and keep sending young men and women abroad to fight illegal, immoral wars. What Colin did is a sign of true patriotism that brought these issues to the forefront.
The question is: What are we going to do to make America what it could and should be?
Vietnam veteran Will Williams took to social media with the above passage because he is fired up about the recent national controversy over San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem. He’s fired up more specifically about the “poser patriotism” he feels has kept America from ever having any types of in-depth discussions on important issues and has limited how great America can really be.
“Poser patriotism is all that acting as though you are a patriot, but in reality, not having the love and devotion to your country,” Williams tells Madison365. “They do nothing to make the country better, do not work on any of its problems. But the minute something comes up in the news like Kaepernick, they ALL come out of the woodwork to be seen. I call that ‘poser patriotism.’”
Are you talking about that football fan who thinks he deserves the medal of honor because he knee-jerkedly shuffles to his feet after four brats and five beers to listen to the anthem?
“Yeah, that’s the guy,” Williams laughs. “But it’s not only that. It’s about the promotion you see where you can’t even go to a middle school event without the flag being raised and the military being glorified and the big production. It’s the politician making a big deal about his flag pin and, meanwhile, he’s cutting veterans’ benefits or sending them off to wars they should never be in … poser patriotism.”
Williams says that the United States is not living up to what the flag is supposed to represent and when that happens it is proper, no, neccessary to call things out as an American patriot. “Yet you have these people who come out and slam people when they raise the question on the bad things the country is doing,” Williams says. “They should be focused on the actual issues, but they never do.”
Williams, who will turn 73 on Sept. 11, has been a Madisonian since 1973. He is a charter member of the Clarence Kailin Chapter #25 in Madison of Veterans for Peace, a national non-profit educational and humanitarian organization dedicated to the abolition of war. It was founded in 1985 by ex-service members committed to sharing the horrors they experienced in war.
Williams is also famous for being featured in the critically acclaimed documentary film, “The Good Soldier,” an engrossing documentary about the effects of war on five men who served their country. The documentary reveals how soldiers simultaneously grapple with their duty and their own humanity.
Williams is very open about his experiences in Vietnam. He watched his friend Elswick die right in front of his eyes. “We were pinned down by snipers and they got him. I tried to crawl out to get him to bring him back,” Williams remembers. “Everybody that had gone out to get him and gotten hit because it was on a trail. The sniper had clear access on that trail and every time somebody would try to go out there, they would get it. I tried to low-crawl to him and seargent told me not to come out … that he would kill me before Charlie would if I tried that. Charlie is what we used to call the Viet Cong. I had my grenade man fire into where we thought the sniper was and in the end, I attempted to crawl out to him and I got hit with fragmentation.”
Williams had another friend from Brooklyn, New York, named DeMarchi who he used to sing doo-wop with. They also went on patrol together, and that’s when DeMarchi got shot in the head and Williams remembered part of his brains fell out into his hands while they were trying to move him. He sat with the corpse in a bomb crater overnight.
Williams still battles with those nightmares and more from what he saw in Vietnam in the ‘60s. Some nights can be terrifying. Much of the reason he does the work he does with Veterans for Peace all of these years is because he simply does not want young people to have to go through this trauma. Williams remembers being at the college up at Wausau during the early days of the Iraq War (Williams calls it “Iraq invasion”).
“There was a lady there that was very angry with me saying that I didn’t support the troops because I spoke out against the war,” Williams remembered. “It was hard for me to communicate with her at first but in the end, she understood where I was coming from. That I do support the troops. Sending troops chocolate and toothbrushes is not supporting the troops. It was my feeling that if you really support them, you’ll have them do what their oath says: defend the country. They’re not doing that. We should be raising their voices against.”
Williams has had instances where ‘poser patriots’ have told him – a man with a purple heart and two bronze stars who had two friends die in front of him on the battlefield, mind you – that he is not a patriot. He tries to explain to these very same people that the forced conformity that they insist upon is very much like what you would expect to find in dictatorial, freedom-lacking North Korea rather than the USA. “Even though we have the freedom of speech in America, it seems like it is demanded by the population that people do this, that they stand up for the flag. And, I haven’t stood up for the flag since I came out of Vietnam. I’ve got my reasons for it,” Williams says. “I don’t knock people who do, but I don’t. Part of it is because of the national anthem itself in that third verse [the contention that Francis Scott Key was, in fact, taking pleasure in the deaths of freed black slaves who had decided to fight with the British against the United States] – I learned that in a segregated school in Mississippi. As a matter of fact, we stopped singing the national anthem and started to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem. We knew way back then.”
Old Jim Crow Mississippi is where Williams was born and raised and he still has many memories of it that he’d like to forget. “It was tough. My parents couldn’t vote. Segregation was huge. I went to segregated schools and they weren’t funded by the state government as they should have been,” Williams remembers. “I never got a new book during the whole time I was in school. Everything we got was hand-me-down – the old and raggedy ones the white schools no longer wanted.”
In 1955, 14-year-old Emmitt Till was brutally mutilated, disfigured, shot, and thrown into the river by a gang of white men for allegedly flirting with a white woman. That hit close to home for Williams, who was two years younger than Till at the time, and his hometown of Crystal Springs was just a little over two hours south of Money, Mississippi, where Emmitt was killed.
“Mississippi was not a good place for a black person. That’s why I got out as soon I possibly could and joined the military. It was a way out for me,” Williams says.
When did it first dawn on Williams that he was putting his life on the line every day for a country that has treated him as less-than-human his whole life? “It didn’t take long. That dawned on me many times in Vietnam,” he says. “And when I came back, Martin Luther King was coming out with this speech at Riverside [Church in New York City] and he spoke about the black men that were there in Vietnam in the same foxholes fighting but they couldn’t sit together [with whites] at the same school or lunch counters here. It raised my awareness at that time but I always knew that in this country, very clearly, everybody was not seen as being created equal.
“When I first started reading the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, especially, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,’ I wondered, even as a child, why are they killing blacks, why are blacks treated so differently?” he adds. “I always had a problem with it. Then, when I learned that blacks were considered to be 3/5 human beings and blacks couldn’t vote because they weren’t considered a whole person, it just made me angrier.”
The more American history Williams would read, the more he would find just how awfully other races were treated by Americans who, at the time, surely thought they were extremely patriotic. “Don’t get me started on the Native American populations,” Williams says, “because Americans have been treating them poorly even longer than they have black people!”
Through decades and centuries of American history, Williams says, folks who spoke up against these grave injustices were always silenced by the poser patriots. The same poser patriots that are now sending Kaepernick thousands of nasty tweets.
Williams addresses the big knock on Kaepernick that, “He’s so rich, what in the world does he have to complain about?”
“Sure he’s rich, but he has a lot to lose. To me, that’s a sign of true patriotism: He knows that there is something very wrong with the country and he knows it hasn’t been addressed and he’s raising the issue about it. Protest. Bringing attention to the problem that is destroying this country,” Williams says. “To me, that’s devotion to the country and love of the country. He’s willing to sacrifice money, endorsements, career. He’s willing to take the hate and the thousands and thousands of racial slurs hurled at him to get the message out. To get people talking about this subject that they refuse to otherwise talk about.
“What people really seem to miss, is that Jackie Robinson did the same thing! Muhammad Ali, the guys at the [’68] Olympics, [John] Carlos and [Tommie] Smith who raised the black fist,” he adds. “All of this was in context with what Kaepernick did, but nothing has changed in the almost-50 years that those things happened.”
So what is real patriotism all about?
“To me, patriotism is love and devotion to the country and the land and the people,” he says. “I think a lot of poser patriots are ignorant to the facts of what is really going on in this country. A lot of them really believe that we fight for our freedom and yet the fighting that we’ve done in the last several wars have nothing to do with freedoms of the people or even the national interest of our country.
“Poser patriotism has such a grip on this country to the point where it is very disturbing,” he continues. “I think that’s why nothing has happened in this country as far as making it a more equal and fair place and that’s why we are always needlessly sending our young people off to fight and die some place far away. We never make any progress because of this poser patriotism and it needs to stop. And people need to start speaking up.
“People have this idea that you have to endorse the status quo or you are automatically an outcast – that’s what they’re doing to Kaepernick right now – and that’s not America to me,” Williams adds. “This idea of not being patriotic for not standing for the raising of the flag is absurd.”