"This 4th of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women
defending our freedom, by flying the flag" George W. Bush, Fort Bragg address
"If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members
of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents."
Jerrold Nadler, (D-New York)
"Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh, they're red, white
and blue. And when the band plays "Hail To The Chief", oh, they point
the cannon at you, Lord" John Fogerty, "Fortunate Son"
It's odd that Congress would pass a bill banning flag burning on the same week
that reports confirmed the US military used napalm in Iraq. Apparently, it's alright
to incinerate Iraqis, but not okay to burn a 5'x7' piece of tri-colored cloth.
For the Republican faithful, the action was just another cynical demonstration
of feigned patriotism meant to divert attention from an increasingly bloody
war. Only a handful of these uber-nationalists ever served a day in uniform
so they try to limit their loyalty to meaningless displays of political buffoonery.
No one believes for a minute that any one of these stuffed-shirts would ever
venture into an angry crowd to save Old Glory from the torch. They'd rather
pontificate from the safety of the House, where their high-flown rhetoric can
be mistaken for courage.
If the Congressman were sincere in their regard for the Bill of Rights they'd
honor the basic tenets of the 1stamendment; (that) "Congress shall make
no law...abridging the freedom of speech;" a clear defense of unpopular
forms of expression, like flag burning. Instead, they choose to ignore the principle
behind the icon and flaunt their ignorance like a badge of honor.
The Supreme Court got it right in a 1989 ruling that settled the issue of flag
burning: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment,
it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply
because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Punishing desecration
of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and
The Court decided that flag burning was "symbolic speech" and was
protected under the 1st amendment. The act, however offensive, belongs in the
same category as "virulent ethnic and religious epithets, vulgar repudiations
of the draft, and scurrilous caricatures".
Unfortunately, the Congress is so subsumed in the prevailing culture of chauvinism
and religious zealotry that our founding principles have been tossed on the
slag heap and replaced with a hard-right ideology and empty proclamations of
devotion. As the polls indicate, Congress has devolved into little more than
a staging ground for the regular emission hot gas from windy politicos.
The flag burning issue is mainly a way for puerile congressman to entertain
themselves while the matters of state are conducted by an iron-fisted White
House. Never the less, freedom of expression is central to our constitutionally
protected civil liberties and should be taken seriously. And, besides, maybe
it takes a smoldering flag or two to wake up a somnolent nation.
"The flag", Einstein wrote, "is proof that man is still a herd
animal". We gather around these tribal symbols to identify ourselves with
the gaggle of humanity, excluding "the other" as a vital threat to
our survival. Entire industries (Public relations) evolve in order to harness
this fear of external threats and exploit it for their own purposes. The Bush
Administration has been particularly astute at marshalling the dormant energy
of terror and putting it to use in carrying out its radical agenda. As America's
center has shifted, so too its symbols have been transformed by the policies.
Now, an American flag on the lapel of a sports-coat immediately pigeon-hole's
one as a hard-right ideologue or a "Ditto-head". Similarly, an American
flag bumper sticker identifies one as a Bush-supporter as surely as a "yellow
ribbon" car-magnet. In other words, the flag has lost its original meaning
and no longer includes the values of all the people. It is entirely the province
of Christian fundamentalists, neocons, super-nationalists, and war-mongers.
Let's face it; the flag is Bush and Bush is the flag.
Democrats vehemently refute this, but it is true nonetheless. The principles
that may have imbued the flag with some real meaning have long since disappeared.
Five years of Bush have transformed a perfectly decent bit of weaving into a
menacing symbol of brute force and intolerance. The question isn't whether someone
has the right to burn the flag but, rather, who really cares if they do?
No reasonably decent individual would ever defend a banner that waves over
torture-camps like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. So, why should we take the provincial
attitude that the flag is still sacrosanct?
It's not. It has morphed into the mottled image of its corporate owners; a
ruddy, savage emblem of marching armies, windowless jail cells, and sneering,
well-groomed men in blue suits.
The flag has become a stage-prop for executive speechifying; a tawdry backdrop
for Bush's war-oratory. It's become companion for fatuous politicians who think
that valor can rub off through proximity or osmosis. It's morphed into a blood-splattered
pennant waved in front of high-school boys; drawing them to the killing fields
in Iraq and Afghanistan; a bloody shroud that cloaks the national idol of aggressive
war. It's become a beacon of dwindling freedom; hanging limply behind the concertina-wire
and cement abutments at the White House fortress.
This isn't your flag anymore, or mine. Perhaps, we should just burn it and
preserve the memory.
The stars-and-stripes no longer fly over "purple mountains majesty or
fruited plains", but over the warlord dominated drug-colony in Afghanistan
and the battered Green-Zone ramparts in occupied Iraq.
The flag has fallen from its once lofty perch and merged with the sludge of
corporate profiteering, calculated sadism and pre-emptive war. No dousing of
gasoline could ever compare to the disgrace brought on by Bush's laser-guided
munitions, messianic proselytizing, and orgy of carnage.
In such times, flag burning becomes the ultimate form of non-violent dissent;
a commanding symbol of individual defiance and protest. It registers the absolute
contempt of the citizen for the policies of the state and provides a venue for
a lawful and appropriate demonstration of personal outrage.
It is senseless to carry on about personal liberty if the citizen is not free
to take an unpopular point of view and rail against the government. Free speech
needs to be protected particularly if it IS "offensive". Flag burning
is the benchmark for measuring the extent of our personal freedom. We shouldn't
deny ourselves that right for the sake of political correctness.
Any attempt by the Congress to prevent this form of expression will only generate
greater distain for the authority of the state. Let Congress stick to its own
business and leave the 1st amendment alone.
Why not enjoy the "last throes" of the Republic? Express yourself
while you can; defend your personal liberty; burn a flag on Independence Day.