Every year since 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington Maine has made wreaths to decorate the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths, now over 110,000 in number, are shipped to the cemetery and volunteers place them on the headstones. This year, that placement took place on December 14th. The purpose of the wreath laying, according to the organizations which participate, is to recognize the sacrifices that veterans and their families have made for our country. If you haven’t been to Arlington after the wreaths have been placed, you need to go there. When you see the headstones of so many who have died defending our rights and our way of life that is humbling enough. But when you see those headstones adorned with a symbol of love, togetherness and hope, it pulls at a place inside of you that is hard to define. I defy you to leave that hallowed ground without a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye.
Now allow me to digress for a second. There’s a show on the A & E Network you may have heard about called “Duck Dynasty.” I’ve tuned in once or twice but I’m not what you’d call a fan. But for the uninitiated, here’s the show’s write-up on www.imdb.com:
Series introduces the Robertsons, a Louisiana bayou family living the American dream as they operate a thriving business while staying true to their family values and lifestyle. Ask anyone in Louisiana and they’ll tell you that the bayou state’s favorite first family doesn’t live in the governor’s mansion but in the backwoods, where the Robertsons’ rags-to-riches story is still unfolding. A homegrown mom-and-pop operation, Duck Commander has become a sporting empire by fabricating top-of-the-line duck calls and decoys out of salvaged swamp wood. This newly minted multimillionaire family is kept in line by business-savvy Willie, who runs Duck Commander with the help of his brother Jase, their respective wives Korie and Missy, patriarch and founder of the company, Phil, and uncle Si. Together they run a booming business that employs half their neighborhood, but at the end of the day, you can find the whole family around matriarch Miss Kay’s dinner table.
So what do Arlington National Cemetery and Duck Dynasty have in common?
In a recent interview for the January issue of GQ, Phil Robertson expressed some opinions that were critical of homosexuality. And A & E, the network making millions from his show, suspended him. A & E was within its rights. Robertson, as a cast member of a show owned by the network, is technically an employee of the company and the company is within its rights to suspend or fire him if he makes public remarks that conflict with company policy. You can even make the argument that A & E placed principles over money because Duck Dynasty is apparently the most-watched non-fiction cable TV show in history.
Now, let me pause for a moment. This isn’t about the “rightness or wrongness” of homosexuality in either a religious or societal context. I’ve tried to stay politically neutral on this blog and this entry isn’t an exception. Bear with me and read on.
So why is this an issue? The public uproar that Phil Robertson’s remarks have spurred has been, in my opinion, somewhat troubling. If you Google “reaction to Phil Robertson’s remarks” you’ll get something like 490,000,ooo returns. Yes, that 490 MILLION returns. At the core of the discussion, if you sift through the fluff and vacuousness of much of the rhetoric, is a fundamental element of our American identity – the right to free speech. Robertson has been lambasted for stating his opinion on homosexuality and for holding a viewpoint that is, in the minds of many, contrary to what has been deemed as politically correct. A & E’s actions aren’t the issue here. The issue is the vehement attacks that Robertson has received merely because of what he believes and the fact that he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. The issue is that we are becoming a society where the politically correct viewpoint on any topic (climate change, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, etc) now carries with it a sort of “religious fervor” and if you don’t believe “correctly” and are bold enough to state it, you become guilty of a sort of “societal heresy.” Keep in mind that at the far end of both sides of the political spectrum, fascism on the right and socialism on the left, control of opinion, control of thought – societal peer pressure if you will – is an essential element of control of the populace. Hitler used it decimate the Jewish population during the Holocaust and Stalin used it purge nearly 14,000,000 people he considered threats to the state. (If you don’t recognize, understand or agree with these two references, you need to brush up on your history). Limiting opinion, turning people into intellectual lemmings, is the goal of political correctness – “you don’t have the right to have a different opinion because we, (insert the entity here – the intellectual elite, the liberals, the conservatives, the media, the government), know better than you.” If you can’t see how dangerous this is and what it may portend for our future as a nation, I’d ask you look more closely and think more deeply. The signs are there.
And here’s the bottom line. The brave men and women buried at Arlington risked everything to preserve our American rights, supreme among them, the right to speak our minds without fear, harassment, threats or attacks. The sacrifice of those buried in that hallowed ground deserves better. You don’t have to agree with Phil Robertson. But he has the right to speak his mind. Just like you do and just like I do.
Hopefully we won’t let that right slip away from us and make the wreaths at Arlington less meaningful or less poignant.