September 6, 2008 – It’s a Saturday, slow news day for the most part, and the cable guys and gals are a-chattering! Seems that when the Democrats left their huge love-in for their presidential candidates at Invesco Field in Denver a lot of American flags were left behind. Discarded, some say. Dishonored, the harsher critics are saying.
You remember the fantastic display of that coming-together-type gathering when Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden came on the stage – Old Stars and Stripes were evident everywhere, smaller ones being waved enthusiastically, and the ever-on TV camera eyes picked up the emotion, the building momentum, the tears and smiles, and especially the moment of patriotism so evident in honoring the candidates, our nation – and its symbol, the flag.
Fast forward; in Colorado again, different setting, different party, different candidates, different view of Democrats and the flag. It’s Saturday and a huge crowd is gathering at an airport to await the arrival of the Republican presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. Slightly different shades of patriotism have been present (and being heralded) in the Republican parade of things politics.
John McCain is a war hero, holder of the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart and veteran of 22 years in the United States Navy including more than five years imprisonment under cruel and harsh conditions in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Naval aviator, Annapolis grad; son of an admiral who was son of an admiral (WWII) and descendant of professional warriors. Senator McCain’s son serves in the United States Marine Corps and another is about to; the son has seen service in Iraq Theater Governor Palin’s son is in the military and about to deploy to Iraq. She, as Alaska’s governor, is de facto head of the modern-day militia of the state, the Alaskan National Guard. We’ve seen video clips now of her firing military weapons at the range – with quite good handling at that.
For the record, neither of the Democrat candidates has served in the military, but they have served this nation admirably and honorably in other ways, including community organizing and long years (Biden) in the United States Senate, including commuting nightly between Washington and Wilmington to be home with his children after his wife tragically died in an auto accident. Senator Biden’s many years of service on the Foreign Relations Committee has served this nation well as our national interests have been threatened by foreign powers – and declared enemies. He knows the foreign diplomatic and political battlefields well.
We admire all of these candidates for their hard work in creating the persons of stature who they now are, and for their public service and commitment to nation.
Back to Colorado: Red, white and blue American flags are waving everywhere, inside the hangar and especially outside, as the crowd awaits the Republican candidates. The story is spreading quickly now, around the blog-o-sphere, on email chains, on the wires, all over cable TV etc. After all those beautiful flags were waved – with great enthusiasm – at Invesco Field, and after the fireworks died down, and after all the stadium lights went out…well, things do go awry, or seem to have gone awry, depending on which politico you ask or listen to.
The Republicans are trumpeting the discourtesy or neglect or dishonor involved in the fate of the thousands of small American flags waved by the Democrats. Were they thrown away? Discarded in trash cans? (In other words, “trashed” for red-meat diehards!) Or were they collected and bundled up for re – use or proper disposal by vendors? We don’t know – but it looked like 10,000 or more of those Democrat-supplied flags ended up in Republican hands and were waved for Senator McCain and Governor Palin…after being “saved” from the dumpsters etc.
And so the culture wars (as Fox Network’s Bill O’Reilly so wonderfully charts for us nightly and in his serial books) continue. Who is more patriotic – a veteran or professional politico? Who is more patriotic – a Dem or Republican? Who is more patriotic – a liberal or conservative? Do those in the west and on the prairies love their country and flag more than the bicoastals? And so it goes…
When I was old enough I joined the Boy Scouts of America, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. In my troop – # 165, Hempstead New York – I learned flag etiquette. (I remember also learning some of the same in grade 7 on “flag day” – do we still celebrate Old Glory – or is that no longer politically correct in our public schools? Mark it down teachers and parents and presidential candidates: It is June 14th of each year.)
For a time I was the troop’s keeper-of-colors, our nation’s flag, our troop flag, etc. We all had drilled in us the “American’s Creed,” by William Taylor Page (1917). If you and those in your charge don’t know about this creed, check it out at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American’s_Creed
One of the things in the creed is “…it is my duty to my Country…to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies…”
In that troop and in our seventh grade at Northern Parkway School #2 we learned The Flag Code (adopted by the US Congress in 1942, as the nation plunged into WW II). This covers all kinds of flag-related activities – displaying the flag in many different situations, in all kinds of settings. We learned that you never throw a flag away (when it is badly soiled or worn out or damaged); local posts of the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will help you properly destroy that worn out flag … with honor and the tender care of those who served our country in uniform.
So my advice to those who organize flag-waving events of all kinds is this: If you hand out flags for enthusiasts to wave, please do instruct them on the care of Old Glory, no matter if is 3 inches by five inches or five foot wide and on a pole. They should never touch the ground. They never stand higher than any other flag (if more than one flag is being waved). They should be wrapped around the pole and carefully stowed. Give them a rubber band if necessary to hold the flag tight when wrapped. Remind everyone that Old Glory is the symbol of all this is good and right in this nation. Large flags are always properly folded – the Flag Code spells out how to do this; it usually takes more than one person.
In my office here I have a little statue of the flag raising on Iwo Jima in World War. You know the picture. Four days after the amphibious landing the 28th Marines were battling their way up Mount Suribachi under terrific fire from the Japanese troops who held the island (dominated by the mount). The battling jarheads took the top and raised a tiny flag. A few hours later a much bigger flag was brought up by a patrol – the commanders wanted everyone on that bloody island to see Old Glory on the mountaintop! Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal went along and took that famous photo of the flag raising – a photo that has inspired generations of fighting Marines every since, including our brave troops today in the Middle East.
The famous USMC Memorial in Virginia facing our capital city commemorates that moment. The fabulous landmark was built with money raised by volunteers.
The US stamp version of Franklin’s famous image (USPS image)
There’s a photo alongside my little replica, showing the three firemen in New York City standing on rubble, that awful September day in 2001 when they brought an American Flag out of the smoking wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City…60+ years later, they inspired our nation in a similar symbolic gesture – you can attack us, but you cannot defeat us, our flag waves high.
Wikipedia tells us that the flag of the United States is one of the nation’s widely recognized and used symbols. Throughout the world it is used in public discourse to refer to the U.S., both as a nation state, government, and set of policies, but also as an ideology and set of ideas. (Very important – our nation is the first modern republic based on the idea that ideas are important!)
Many understand the flag to represent the freedoms and rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights and perhaps most of all to be a symbol of individual and personal liberty as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. The flag is a complex and contentious symbol, around which emotions run high. (You bet – they are running high today!)
Apart from the numbers of stars and stripes representing the number of current and original states, respectively, and the union with its stars representing a constellation, there is no legally defined symbolism to the colors and shapes on the flag. However, folk theories and traditions abound; for example, that the stripes refer to rays of sunlight and that the stars refer to the heavens, the highest place that a person could aim to reach. Tradition holds that George Washington proclaimed: “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.” See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States
So, to my friends in both parties, on the left and on the right, and all the great independents in between, please folks observe flag etiquette and teach your young ones about the things we write of here. Maybe if that had been going on in these politically correct years more folks would know more about flag honor … and the potential to dishonor Old Glory, deliberately or accidentally.
And finally, another way to honor Old Glory is to stop pasting that symbol all over everything-marketing. It’s our flag, not a sales logo. Again, Wikipedia: “Significantly, the Flag Code proscribes using the flag “for any advertising purpose” and also states that the flag “should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use”.Both of these prohibitions are widely flouted, almost always without comment.”
Which is a shame; if either party wants to be the party of Flag Etiquette I’m sure they will attract cheers and a few more followers! The future party platform could include an embrace of the Flag Code and a condemnation of flag use in advertising.
That’s my nickel’s worth today. The good news for everyone is that at least 10,000 more flags will be waving now on more days and in more ways!