Thursday, June 26, 2003

Stars & Stripes Hijacked

My elder son is a creative dresser.  A few Sundays ago, we went over to the flea market to find a birthday gift for his girlfriend.  As he browsed through some books and records, the vendor noticed the American Flag he had sewn on the back of his blue jean jacket many years ago.  Seeing it, he immediately told us about a just returned GI who had visited his stand the week before.  His effusiveness clearly communicated his own support of the Iraq war and, with the flag and all, he assumed we agreed.  That is not the case, but his assumption reminded me again that our Stars & Stripes have been hijacked.

I'm not big on flags.  My family arrived from Nazi Germany in 1937 a month before I was born.  Like many Americans with similar experiences, they were devoted to their adopted country with an intensity that often alludes the native born.  In our family everyone, in every generation, votes.  At the same time, having lived under a totalitarian regime where flag waving and the like became so symbolic, they always were squeamish about any show of ultra-nationalism, and thusly about flag waving even in their beloved United States.  I think their view was prescient.

Without discounting the many people of all opinions who have strong attachments to Old Glory — showing colors has become a not so subtle sign of "loyalty" and support for the President.  Partisans have taken ownership of this non-partisan symbol and made it their own -- taken hold and made it sacrosanct.  The lapel flag has become a loyalty uniform, and I'm sure no one in the administration with any ambition would dare come to work without it.  That in itself is a little unnerving because it smacks of civilian uniform wearing, if even on a mini-scale.  Remember George Bush's threatening "either you're with us or against us" words after 9/11? Well wearing the flag answers in the affirmative.

Far more disturbing than the fact that Conservatives have appropriated the Stars and Stripes for their own agenda, is that we have permitted it to happen.  We all know the bumper stickers about supporting our troops and God blessing America (right or wrong), but where are the bumper stickers saying "free to dissent?'  Now don't get me wrong, I'm really not a bumper sticker kind of guy, with our without flag.  The point is that in a very powerful way, this abrogation of flag rights is a metaphor for the continued and very audible silence that is threatening both our present and our future.  Disturbing things are being done by these flag wavers, things that in many cases potentially threaten the very democracy and way of life that we claim to defend.  The vast majority of Americans, not to mention our increasingly pathetic and media conglomerate controlled press, are either giving them a pass or acquiescing by simply looking on in silence.

We've invaded two countries and, regardless of how you might feel about these conflicts, at street level neither is doing very well in the aftermath.  We have instituted Homeland Security which is big on propaganda but small on funding.  The cheap talk leaves the cost on local desks which is part of why our states and cities are in financial crisis.  We have given extraordinary powers to an Attorney General whose respect for individual rights and ultra-conservative social agenda is highly suspect.  Our economy is in the dumper with more than 2 Million American's having lost their jobs since the Supremes put George W in office.  Tax cuts won't help those people giving new meaning to the cliché "adding insult to injury."  It also means that the previously unemployed, many of them less prepared and qualified, have been pushed back another rung in the job line, extending their life of poverty even further. That's a consequence no one is talking about.  The forces against Choice and Gun Control are gaining in political ground, if not wider popular support.  Women may once again be driven into the back alleys of shadow medicine and more handguns may land on the streets.  International treaties affecting the quality and indeed the endurance of human life have been written off.  Meanwhile the President continues his saber rattling bravado which they say isn't really imperialistic, but "if it walks like a duck…."  And they have taken our flag.

Take a look at the red, white and blue.  Don't you want it back?

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