Protests during Air Show are disrespectful to veterans

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:55 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

I would suspect that most of us concur with Winston Churchill when he said: “Many forms of government have been tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Our democracy — actually a representative republic — mirrors that quote in that while the majority exercises freely that democratic right to complain about the government, few of us would voluntarily live under another system. Our Constitution has given us a viable system of checks and balances in the form of legislative, judicial and executive branches.

Occasionally, thankfully not for reasons of malice, the system gets it wrong, and, at least in direct proportion to its workload, the judiciary is equally guilty. To those who believe the law is an exact science, I need only to point to the dearth of unanimous decisions by the Supreme Court, as many of the contested cases are decided by a 5-4 vote.

Consequently, as a wounded combat veteran, I am more embarrassed than angry over the finding in favor of the plaintiffs in Wickersham and Doyle v. the City of Columbia and the Salute to Veterans Air Show by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In bending over backward for the First Amendment rights of those two, the courts missed the forest for the trees. And, in the exercise of my right of public dissent, I believe I speak for a wronged majority.

In the first place, the plaintiffs claim that their rights were somehow violated because they were denied access to those attending the Air Show is absurd. Those wishing to protest were permitted to set up shop at both entrances to the tarmac, thus guaranteeing opportunity for personal contact with each attendee at least twice per session.

Secondly, while the right of free expression to include dissent is inviolate, is it reasonable to expect the party being protested be required to provide protesters with platform from which to demonstrate? If MU is able to prosecute those who invade Faurot Field during or after the game, why is the unwanted presence of demonstrators on the tarmac during the Air Show any less offensive?

Finally, what of the rights of the attendees? I doubt seriously that Mr. or Mrs. Boone County says, “Let’s take the family to the Air Show today that we may be annoyed by and have our vision obstructed by anti-military signs and anti-war placards and be disturbed by individuals distributing similar petitions or literature.” Anyone seeking that form of entertainment need look no further than the post office at Eighth and Walnut.

The plaintiffs have made no secret of their disdain for the military in general and of the Air Show in particular, claiming that the Memorial Day event is used to glorify war.

While their right to this opinion is protected, the facts speak otherwise. As one who has been involved in the Air Show for 12 of the 19 years of its existence, I find that assertion offensive, as all who are involved are loyal volunteers with but one objective — that of respecting the memory of those who have served.

In wishing to be fair and objective, I have sought to accord those activists the benefit of the doubt, but without success. In all honesty, I find their actions to be self-serving and selfish — an adolescent fit of pique that they were not allowed to behave as they pleased while ignoring the rights of others.

I have long made it clear that I do not deny their or anyone else’s right to public dissent; however, I do take issue with it as a forum for denigrating the memory of the courage and sacrifice of those veterans that enabled that the right to protest. There are 365 days in a year. Is it too much to ask that three of those days be reserved to honor and remember?

It is difficult to fathom the court’s failure to recognize this facade as inordinately disrespectful to the memory of our fallen warriors.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Kevin Gamble November 13, 2007 | 4:57 p.m.

This is a thin argument, at best. Miller's sole justification for his stance is that he personally finds the protests offensive, and his sole argument against the notion that the air show glorifies war is that he and other volunteers at the event find such an assertion offensive. Subjective arguments, at best.

Further, his claims are just plain wrong. I know many people who've been involved in protesting the air show over the years, and not one of them has personal disdain for those who serve or who have served in the military. The air shows may be represented as reflecting the actual military itself, but those who protest them know better. To confuse the two is to confuse the issue.

As one who has no personal stake in this issue, it seems to me that those behind the air shows have take on an inflated notion of their own meaningfulness. In my personal opinion, flying a bunch of military equipment around and blowing things up doesn't honor anything except the military-industrial machine that sends so many of our men and women--and those of other nations--to their deaths.

If we really wish to honor our veterans, let us do so in a humble, respectful, reverent way--not with the cheap thrills and empty spectacle of an air show.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but our military doesn't exist for the purpose of being unquestioningly revered and worshipped. It exists to protect our rights. It's the exercise of those rights, and not the suppression of them, that is the greatest tribute to their sacrifice. It would do those behind the air shows well to remember that.

(Report Comment)
Robin Barrows November 15, 2007 | 7:22 a.m.

To Mr. Gamble and others who would use a national holiday to protest government’s action why not stay home and write your Congressman. The protestors have no other purpose than to tarnish the experience of those who attend the air show. Their motives are no different than the Westboro Baptist church members who picket military funerals. Freedom of speech has limits in polite society and can be taken to the point of ridiculousness. Thank God it is illegal to shout “Fire” in a movie theater. How unfortunate there are laws designed to curb such stupid behavior.

The air show organizers are to be commended for their decision to keep the protests from soiling a Memorial Day event.

Robin Barrows

(Report Comment)

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