I caught the second half of the Bears-Packers playoff tilt yesterday at a friend-of-a-friend’s apartment. Among the dozen or so people there, I knew just a few: my longtime friend Jake, his girlfriend and his friend who owned the apartment.
There wasn’t a single Packers fan in the place, which was bad, because the Bears quickly trailed 14-0 and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie was taking snaps midway through the third quarter. What the Bears lacked in points these folks made up for with whisky shots. I have to marvel at 20-somethings with full-time jobs who can observe Sunday Funday. I rarely observe Friday Funday.
So, I watched on as the tenor of the room began to shift from disappointed to hostile the more alcohol and emotion mixed. Late in the game, when the Bears’ mad attempt at a comeback ended with an interception, there came a commercial break.
You know the commercial: It’s the Revolutionary War and the British army stands atop a hill, ready for Gen. George Washington’s army with muskets drawn. Instead, Washington comes peeling through a valley in a Dodge Challenger holding an American flag from the window. The British army looks on, terrified, before running away in retreat.
At the end of the commercial, there’s a male’s voice: “There’s a couple of things America got right — cars and freedom.”
My friend Jake loves this commercial. When it came on, he asked a guy sitting ahead of him in front the television to quiet down from his Jay Cutler-rant so he could hear the commercial. The guy blew Jake off. Jake — always outspoken — said, “Are you a terrorist?!”
The guy paused, slowly got up from his chair, turned around, and said, I served overseas for two years in the National Guard, defending our country from terrorism. So, no, I’m not a terrorist.
I quickly came to Jake’s defense and said, “So, you fought for his right to speak freely?”
The guy sat down, visibly agitated, and continued watching the Bears game. Jake sat quiet, stunned and pale, which is rare, because, again, Jake isn’t afraid to get into a war of words, but it was clear he felt bad about the “terrorist” remark.
And you know what? I felt bad, too. I’m not a big fan of war, but I support our troops. Anyone who’s ever fought overseas owns a type of courage I’ve never known. Still, I get frustrated with the “fighting for our freedom” rhetoric, which is to say if we weren’t engaged in war, our freedom would actually be at risk. I don’t believe that. Not one bit.
I took and threw that rhetoric back into the face of a veteran. If he fought for our freedom, well, the First Amendment is among those, so he fought for the right to be called a terrorist. Jake had no idea this guy had served and he wasn’t actually accusing him of being a terrorist, which is why I pounced at his heavy-handed response. If we can’t speak recklessly, even if it’s in poor judgment, the terrorists have already won.
Still, I was wrong. I was wrong. I may have been right in a literal sense, but it wasn’t my place to be right. And what was there to win? Did I expect him to apologize? I have no idea what he experienced over there. I couldn’t begin to imagine. I hate the fact there was ever reason for him to go overseas in the first place, and despite my opposition to the war, that doesn’t mean I should’ve tried to make this guy look like a fool. Instead, I appeared ungrateful for his sacrifice, which is the last thing I wanted to do.
He was drunk and emotional from the game, so he was more justified in his response to Jake than I was in sober response to him. I didn’t apologize to him before leaving. I didn’t feel the need to apologize until hours later. Maybe an apology isn’t necessary. Maybe the best thing I can do is appreciate my freedom to speak (and write) freely, regardless of whether I feel that right has ever hung in the balance. That’s not the point. The point is someone fought on my freedom’s behalf.
I’m sorry and I deeply appreciate those who’ve served.