THE NATION’S BANNER IS A SYMBOL
THAT EVOKES STRONG FEELINGS
Our nation’s flag — the “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory,” “Star Spangled Banner”: call it what you will — has been associated with controversy for at least as long as I can remember. I’m old enough to recall the raised eyebrows that greeted insertion of the phrase, “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance back in the early 1950s.
During the next decade, flag burning as a means of protesting the Vietnam War was extremely contentious. So much so that it prompted revival of long-ignored state anti-desecration laws passed in the 1800s along with enactment of a federal statute making it a crime to “knowingly cast contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it.”
A 1989 Supreme Court decision struck down those anti-desecration laws in the name of free political expression. But by then it had become commonplace to integrate stars-and-stripes imagery into clothing — often in the most immodest ways — and render the flag in other less-than-respectful applications (an unfortunate trend that continues).
Anti-U.S. demonstrations overseas always include the requisite burning of an American flag or some (often primitive) representation of it. And flying the flag upside down, a nautical signal for distress, is done frequently as a sign of protest or rejection.
Disrespect for the flag was in the news again recently.
The Twitter-sphere lit up in umbrage at a YouTube video that showed a Ferguson protestor tearing a flag. There was equivalent indignation over an online image of a baby boy cradled in a sort of flag “hammock” held by the child’s father who’s in the Navy.
Meanwhile, a mini-storm erupted in Colorado over the manner in which the weekly flag pledge was given on the PA system of Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins. A member of the school’s Cultural Arms Club adjusted the wording to describe America as “one nation under Allah.”
The principal insisted that this little flourish of inclusiveness indicated no disrespect. Rather, it expressed the club’s mission which is to “destroy the barriers, embrace the cultures” that exist among the school’s students…
“These students love this country,” he said. “They were not being un-American in trying to do this. They believed they were accentuating the meaning of the words as spoken regularly in English.”
Which — given modern public education’s anti-religious imperatives — may actually be kind of reassuring. After all, the kids could have said something like, “one nation under secular humanism” or even “one nation under natural selection.” Anything’s possible these days.
The biggest recent flag-related dustup followed a vote by the Associated Students Council at the University of California, Irvine to remove all national flags from a public gathering space on campus. The reasons given amount to a litany of Progressive nostrums…
- “The American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.”
- “A common ideological understanding of the United States includes American exceptionalism and superiority.”
- “Designing a culturally inclusive space is taken seriously by ASUCI [the council].”
- “The removal of barriers is the best option at promoting an inclusive space.”
- “It is a psychological effect for individuals to identify negative aspects of a space rather than positive ones.”
And my personal favorite…
- “Freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.”
This last one tells you something about the current state of intellectual liberty on American college campuses.
The anti-flag resolution was rescinded by a higher-ranking student government panel after a surge of media and Internet outrage. But predictably, a group of culturally sensitive and ever-so-enlightened professors circulated a letter in support of the anti-flag students.
“The university ought to respect their political position and meet its obligation to protect and promote their safety,” read the note (which eventually garnered more than 1,200 signatures). “The resolution recognized that nationalism, including U.S. nationalism, often contributes to racism and xenophobia[.]”
As the conservative website, Campus Reform, reports…
“The letter complains that since the resolution came to light, ‘UCI has been inundated with racist, xenophobic comments and death threats against the students from people who are, precisely, invested in the paraphernalia of nationalism,’ and that UCI’s Facebook page has ‘filled up with violent and racist remarks’ ….”
I’m sure the reactions were nasty indeed, and I wouldn’t condone “violent and racist remarks.” But I don’t think people are especially invested in “the paraphernalia of nationalism.” Rather, I think they’re just fed up with the smug, more-politically-correct-than-thou attitude permeating most of academia these days — an attitude that responds to our national emblem with shame and revulsion.
Commentator Dennis Prager observes that modern universities have become virtual “seminaries” teaching “the most dynamic religion of the Western world over the past hundred years, Leftism.” Since Leftism rejects nationalism, and thus, academics see themselves as “citizens of the world,” it makes perfect sense to want to cleanse campuses of all national symbols — America’s national symbol first and foremost.
Prager has a compelling, bottom-line explanation for the dominance of airy Leftist idealism in academic circles…
“Many professors and students are bored. Compared to the past anywhere and compared to the present almost anywhere, life in America is remarkably easy for the vast majority of college students and college professors.
“This ease, however, presents them with another problem — a lack of meaning in life.”
I think he got it right.
The Left’s problem — in a certain sense, the whole country’s problem right now — is essentially religious. It’s a striving to fill what has been called the “God-shaped hole” in the human heart.
I’m not talking about the members of that hardened professional cadre still very much devoted to revolution and “dictatorship of the proletariat.” I mean the well-meaning average joe who longs for a better world and will give ear to any half-baked ideological cliché that pricks his conscience.
What else could explain the Obama Phenomenon?…
“We are the change that we seek!”
Sounds to me like somebody was in pretty desperate need of a savior. (But all of that is for another blog post.)
Flags are powerful symbols. They have associations that evoke strong feelings — emotions not unlike those stirred by religious faith.
A teacher I once had in high school, observing the young people of my generation, noted what he termed a too-easy patriotism. “The flag would mean a lot more you,” he told us, “if you’d ever fought for it.” And of course, he was a World War II vet.
I have no military experience, so I can’t possibly enter into that man’s heart. But I know he was right that the flag is important.
I hang it out on national holidays.
And I must say that — unpleasant as I find abuse of it — I recognize that part of its importance is as a vehicle of protest. From the days of “Don’t Tread On Me” through the Civil Rights Movement right up to today, the flag has represented many understandings of freedom.
So I would not revive the anti-desecration laws.
As for the baby in the flag hammock? That image suggests to me the next generation resting in the bosom of our free nation, preparing to do its part.
And that’s a rather nice bit of symbolism in itself.
If you somehow missed out on all the fuss over banning flags at UC Irvine, here’s a link to the Campus Reform story…
…as well as one to Dennis Prager’s insightful comments on the situation…
The image of the baby in the flag was created by Virginia Beach, VA photographer and Navy veteran Vanessa Hicks. After receiving both criticism and support, she told the Huffington Post…
“If a client came to me and asked to do another session with a flag, ask to do this shot, I would absolutely do it again!”