I suppose it is the confluence of Veterans Day, Election Day and of course, Halloween that compels me to re-examine my deepest feelings about the country in which I am so fortunate to have been born. I fly our flag on appropriate holidays, remembering the days I was in uniform performing color-guard duty. I became very proficient at raising, lowering and folding Old Glory. Now, I just spinher around the staff, fasten her with a rubber band and stick her in the corner of the garage until she is needed again.
I know the flag is only a symbol of America but it seems that symbols are now more important to many people than the things those symbols represent. As a child, I was taught the seven red stripes symbolized courage and sacrifice citizens have made on behalf of their nation. The six white stripes stood for ideals of justice, equality and purity. The blue field represented the whole of our nation and held white stars representing each state or part of that nation. Years later, I learned that George Washington interpreted the red stripes as being symbols of our mother country and the white stripes represent our separation from Great Britain. Either way, the flag has always been a unifying symbol of America, even when many of us did not want to be unified as a nation.
Today, for some, the flag has come to be a symbol of anger toward the government that we ourselves have democratically elected to lead our nation. They would change the white stars to red and have them separated on a field of white. They rail against those they claim are ignoring our Constitution, even as they demonstrate their ignorance of what the words are or actually mean. Just as the rage of the Age of Romanticism replaced the cool contemplation of the Age of Enlightenment, we now have a populace knitting red hats and sharpening butcher knives, determined to rout the incumbents, even if it means “2nd Amendment remedies.” The last time we saw this much civil (or uncivil) unrest was the anti-war movement of the Sixties. But then, even the hotheads made a coherent argument for their extremist actions. Today, there is no rational argument, just “cut taxes” and “cut spending.” How we pay the national debt and what specifically we cut is still vague in their minds.
This angry element of America calls itself “conservative.” What they want to conserve has not existed for almost a century. They want to make government as ineffectual as it was when we were ruled by the Robber Barons and poisoned by the meat packing industry, when children routinely began working in mines and factories as soon as they learned to read, and when monetary policies were manipulated by giant trusts and billionaires who owned what little government existed. The flag represented all of this, as well as a divided nation that believed it was perfectly reasonable for one human being to own another human being. Every time I raise my flag, I think of all that is great about America but I cannot dismiss what is or was wrong about America.
Still, I would choose to be a citizen of no other country on this planet. It isn’t the reality of America that inspires people to come here from other countries. It is the promise of America… the ideals of justice, tolerance, respect, freedom and community. Every nation shares a sense of community. The Libertarian notion, now so cherished by some, that each of us is responsible for himself and no one else contradicts the idea of “nation.” If we are truly one nation under one flag, indivisible, then we need to begin reassessing our attitudes toward our neighbors, especially those in dire straits due to no fault of their own. We need to remember that America, in addition to being a collection of individuals, is a community of neighbors. The next time you salute Old Glory, think about what exactly America means to you.