Fly the Flag Proudly
(from October 13, 2001)
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, there was a sudden huge increase in the demand for American flags, as well as other merchandise featuring pictures of the flag (t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, lapel pins, etc.). I work at a Walgreens, and I can report firsthand that in the first week or so after the attacks there was an almost constant stream of people coming in looking for anything with a flag on it, as well as many phone calls asking if we had such merchandise in stock. Even now, a month after it all started, the flags and flag-related merchandise are still moving pretty well.
The most obvious reaction to the new reality we found ourselves in on September 11 has been a greatly increased sense of national pride and unity. The foremost means of expressing this has been through displaying the flag. This is an extremely appropriate thing to do; in fact, it is even more appropriate than a lot of Americans realize. Too many people these days don't really understand what the American flag stands for. The public schools have increasingly neglected to properly teach young people about American history generally, and the mainstream media also provides limited help in assisting Americans to understand the origins and founding principles of this country. To Americans who do really know and understand the history of our country, however, the flag is much more than just a piece of cloth, much more even than just a symbol of our country. It's a symbol of everything that makes the United States of America the greatest country that has ever existed.
At the time of its founding, the USA was a radical experiment. No other country had ever allowed its citizens so much freedom before, so many rights protected by the basic law of the land (the Constitution). The founding fathers were justly proud of what they accomplished, and the citizens were proud to be a part of it. The 'Stars and Stripes' became the symbol of this new vision-become-reality of freedom and equality for everyone.
Our National Anthem is about our flag. The 'Pledge of Allegiance' to our flag has been around for over a century:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Because the USA is and has always been run by humans who are by nature imperfect and fallible, our country doesn't always fulfill the lofty goals of its founders and Constitution. To those of us who truly love our country and understand its history and uniqueness, the flag symbolizes the ideals on which the USA was founded. It reminds us of what America is all about. To desecrate the flag is to attack America itself. To proudly fly it and wear it is to do much more than just show support for our country; it is to proclaim to the world the greatness of the freedom, opportunity and justice that make America what it is, and the unique concept of (to use Lincoln's words) "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
The flag is NOT a symbol of the GOVERNMENT, which is the mistake misguided Americans who refuse to display the flag or take the Pledge, and in some cases go so far as to burn the flag, always make. In the American system as founded, the government is a necessary evil, and should always be as limited as possible. We've strayed far from this ideal, and are paying a large ongoing price for it (both literally and figuratively). The flag, rather than representing the government, in fact represents our right to STAND UP TO the government. It belongs to ALL OF US, whether we agree with what the government is doing or not.
There was a case a few years ago of a schoolgirl who refused to stand up every morning with the rest of her classmates and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, because she disagreed with so many things the government was doing. What she didn't understand was that the reason she should WANT to recite the Pledge is because she DOES have the right not to if she so chooses. It is this recognition of the God-endowed, inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the flag represents. It only represents the government in the sense that the people who comprise our government are citizens like any others who serve because other citizens elected them (or because they were appointed by those who were so elected). For an American to burn a flag to protest government action is nonsensical, because the flag represents the very right that person and every other American has to disagree with those government actions and to work to change those acts (and/or the officials responsible for them).
It is exceptionally fitting at this particular time for Americans to fly and honor the American flag, because the terrorists who have chosen to make war against us have attacked not only our buildings and our fellow citizens, but the very concept of a free and open society where all citizens have equal rights - in other words, everything our flag stands for. Let us all display it proudly as we continue, as a united country, to the fight the battle against terrorism, both here and overseas.