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Paying for Patriotism: The Pentagon’s Crass, Misguided Stunts

| November 11, 2015

paid patriotism pentagon nfl nascar

Soldiers from the New Jersey Army National Guard and representatives from all five branches of the military participated in the ‘Salute To Service’ at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before a Jets game against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. The ceremonies were opened by an enlistment of new troops in the end zone, followed by jumpers from the United States Military Academy- West Point Parachute Team landing at midfield. The ceremonies concluded with a giant 50-yard flag being unfurled by representatives from each branch of service and an F-16 flyover from the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, NJANG. The Pentagon has been paying millions for such ceremonies across the country, drawing criticism from senators. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Young)

By John Kiriakou

I go to a lot of Major League Baseball games. I really love the sport.

Yet if you’ve been to a baseball game in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed some changes. National Guard members now perform flag ceremonies between innings. Military recruits are enlisted right on the field. Surprise reunions of deployed men and women and their families play out before an audience of thousands.


The games have morphed into choreographed patriotic events. Who’s paying for this hoopla? As it turns out, the Pentagon.

Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake announced recently that over the past four years alone, the Pentagon has shelled out at least $6.8 million for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and other sports leagues to “honor” troops with cheap stunts at sporting events. The details are listed in a new Senate report.

The total tally may top $10 million — and even reach $100 million, if you count the military’s marketing deals with NASCAR.

The senators call this military marketing “paid patriotism.”

For millions of your tax dollars, the Pentagon is buying things like ceremonial first pitches for recent veterans, club-level seats for vets at football games, and airport greetings for returning service members.

If that sounds crass to you, you’re not alone.

“We appreciate if they honor the men and women in uniform, but not to get paid for it,” said McCain, himself a decorated war hero.

“If the most compelling message about military service we can deliver…is the promise of game tickets, gifts, and player appearances,” his report concludes, “we need to rethink our approach to how we are inspiring qualified men and women to military service.”

I’d go further than that.

other-wordsPatriotism is a good thing. It can be unifying and inspiring. But what we’re seeing at sporting events isn’t patriotism. It’s nationalism — propaganda, even — and it’s potentially dangerous.

The Pentagon even pays for “sponsored” renditions of God Bless America.

Irving Berlin wrote that song in 1918 as a show tune for a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank. Years later, it served as the official campaign song for both Franklin Roosevelt and his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie. In the 1950s it was adopted by the fledgling civil rights movement before becoming a rallying cry for supporters of the Vietnam War in the ’60s.

On September 11, 2001, God Bless America began a new life when members of Congress sang it on the steps of the Capitol — supposedly spontaneously — as they gathered to mourn the terrorist attacks from earlier that day.

Since then, it’s become an official part of Major League Baseball games. In several stadiums the tune has replaced Take Me Out to the Ballgame in group sing-alongs during the seventh-inning stretch.

In fact, this former show tune has become mandatory in some places.

In 2008, a fan at Yankee Stadium was restrained and then ejected by police officers for attempting to leave his seat for the restroom while the song was playing. The following year, three minor league fans of the now-defunct Newark Bears were ejected from the stadium for refusing to stand during the song.

If it’s freely chosen, standing for the national anthem is patriotic. Forcing people to stand forGod Bless America isn’t.

This is about more than taxpayer money. The government has no business propagandizing the American people.

john-kiriakouJohn Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Download “Tackling Paid Patriotism: The Oversight Report”

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9 Responses for “Paying for Patriotism: The Pentagon’s Crass, Misguided Stunts”

  1. m&m says:

    If patriotism is not exposed as often as possible we will be excluded like prayer and other long time items. We will be exposed to more islum and anti America crap the white house is promoting..

  2. Veteran says:

    Just like the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds air shows, the main purpose of these events is recruiting.

  3. maggie says:

    That’s a silly notion, M&M–this stuff started under the Bush White House during 9/11. In addition, the White House is not promoting this, the Pentagon is. And your tax dollars are paying for that, and that is unacceptable. Patriotism shouldn’t cost anything–the fact that the Pentagon is PAYING corporations to promote it is pretty vile.

    This gets shoved down the throats of paying audiences of baseball and football, and that is also unacceptable. I am not a paying customer of Major League Baseball to go to games and be told I must stand during this or that song and I can’t even go to the damned bathroom while the song plays. I find it sad that you would defend state-sponsored propaganda. The minute an agent of the State pays for it, that’s exactly what it is.

  4. Dave says:

    “” m&m says:
    November 12, 2015 at 3:43 am

    If patriotism is not exposed as often as possible we will be excluded like prayer and other long time items. We will be exposed to more islum and anti America crap the white house is promoting..””

    So true m&m. If people keep pushing against the rights of others in America as it “offends them or its about how much does it cost” then this country will be doomed. If it wasn’t for our military in WWI or WWII people in America would be either under Russian or under German control. God Bless our military.

  5. Lancer says:

    Don’t stop with the Pentagon, flaglerlive…keep going: State Department, especially, their USAID catastrophes in Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, etc. The VA debacles and waste, The IRS debacles and waste, ACA paying through the nose for ineffectual websites, etc.

    Just another a reason to keep government small and responsible.

  6. Nancy N. says:

    Ironic that Dave makes the reference to the Germans and Russians during the great wars of the last century, since enforced patriotic displays were part of the propaganda machine of their totalitarian states. You just proved your opponents’ points, Dave.

    What the Pentagon is doing with these displays, and what is happening with treatment of “noncompliants” in the stadiums that host them, is no different than the Nazi and Stalin era propaganda extolling the virtues of the military and the state it protects.

  7. jasonb says:

    “If patriotism is not exposed as often as possible we will be excluded like prayer and other long time items. We will be exposed to more islum and anti America crap the white house is promoting.”

    Put a flag in your yard, then you can “expose” it all you want on your own dime.

  8. Jack Howell says:

    I am all about patriotism. However, I don’t think that the military should have to pay professional teams to promote it. That did not happen in WW ll so why now after a 10 + year war? Further, patriotism should be taught by parents and in the school system. That is where I learned it. If those who are “politically correct” disagree, then let them leave the country. It is about time we kill the cancer of “politically correct” and take our country back from these a–holes!

  9. maggie says:

    I’m sorry, Dave, but it’s a false equivalence to frame it as “it’s offensive or how much it cost”, as if that’s all this is about. The point is, it matters not if they spend twenty cents or twenty million dollars, the amount is not the issue, the fact that they’re BUYING PATRIOTISM with everyone’s tax dollars is.

    I find such attitudes *about* American patriotism to be patently offensive. It is not for sale to anyone. How dare you pretend that it is and pretend that it is perfectly okay? That’s just wrong.

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