Why Do We Fly the Flag?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Sometimes there are comments on this blog which are of almost lapidary quality. Comments which at the very least deserve to be reprinted on the front page and solemnly contemplated. Skookumchuk was kind enough to grace us with one such on June 25th.

A few months ago, we sold our house and moved to a new place. The family we sold it to came from Laos some time in the 1980's. The man, about my age, asked about the neighborhood. In the course of our conversation, he stated that perhaps there were government officials living on our block. He said he noticed a few houses with flags out front and assumed that these were residences of government bureaucrats.

One flag belonged to a chiropractor and the other to a construction company executive and the third to a deputy fire chief, so my Laotian friend was 33.333 percent correct.

I sarcastically explained that in America, you fly the flag only if you hate the idea of powerful government. If you love the idea of powerful government, you don't fly the flag.

And so our elites fear those who fly the flag because even today, such a person can do things by himself and doesn't really need the elites, especially not in any pyschological sense. Worse, he refuses to obey them, to even respect them.

Happy 4th to all!


terrye said...

People fly the flag for a lot of reasons, but I think often it flies as a memoriam to those who died defending it.

Hitchens made note in an oped that at the Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg the Maine Regiment kept the flag flying to the last.

So maybe it is to show respect for fallen.

But it is more than that. I know a lot of poor people who fly the flag because whatever they may not have in this life, they are Americans and that is something to proud of. Something special.

Is this naive or arrogant or silly? I guess it depends on who you ask.

If you are a Kos kid and think that all soldiers must be perfect before any of them can even be respected, or if you believe that as long as there is poverty or hunger or want anywhere in the world then there is failure everywhere...well you might not care much about that flag because it does not work miracles and nothing less will suffice.

But to many people it represents the best of us.

vnjagvet said...

Willie and Joe were two cartoon heroes of WWII. Bill Mauldin, a cartoonist in his early twenties who couldn't stand stupid and pretentious brasshats, drew them throughout WWII to express his anti-authoritarian infantryman's view of the war. They were scruffy, always complaining, but slogging hard towards "victory", which for them meant survival and little else.

The cruelty of all this was that Mauldin, Willie and Joe symbolized the men (for they were 99% men then) who had just made it through the depression, often without jobs, and with little to eat. Their families needed them. But still they joined up, and fought "for the duration".

Guess what? When the got back, most flew their flags on each Fourth of July, on Memorial Day, on Veterans' Day from 1946-1950.

Then, many of them got to go to Korea. Some (mostly Senior Officers and NCO's) then served in Vietnam.

They understood sacrifice and had little use for those who showed the flag anything but reverence and respect, because of what it meant to them. Many miniatures of that flag fly next to hundreds of thousands of small crosses and six pointed stars throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. Each one represents a son, father, husband and friend.

As Terrye says, it is a memorial to their countless buddies who never made it home.

It also stands for the the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Thanks, Skook, MLA and Terrye.

Skookumchuk said...

Thanks to all of you, too.

What I meant to point out in that story was something I had observed in my years of doing aid and development projects abroad - you don't see flags flying from private houses. The mayor's house might have a flagpole in front, but as a rule, no other non-official building. I'm sure there are many reasons why people do or do not fly flags.

But I think that the Laotian fellow who bought my house naturally thought that the flag was a symbol of the bureaucratic state. He is quite a well-educated guy, actually, having been a bureaucrat, schooled in Eastern Europe, who had decent enough English, and who had fled Laos and was happy to be an American and grateful for his success. He obviously became successful by spending most of his time selling to the Laotian community.

Perhaps it is better to say he like many people around the world simply assumed that the flag belongs to the state, instead of to the culture, and to its people. Plus, if the traffic cop wants $50 to tear up the ticket, or the judge wants $10,000 to hand down a certain verdict, or if saying the wrong thing lands you in a re-education camp or ends your career (which was what happened to him), then why would you want to fly the flag - their flag - anyway?

And that in fact is what I said to him - that for the people who fly it, the flag is really a symbol of us, instead of the state.

I think I'll leave mine up...

Skookumchuk said...

Plus what Terrye says is very true:

if you believe that as long as there is poverty or hunger or want anywhere in the world then there is failure everywhere...well you might not care much about that flag because it does not work miracles and nothing less will suffice.