Those that know me well, and others that just happened to be around when politics came up and I had a drink in hand will know that I don’t like flags. I don’t like flags and I don’t like national anthems. I don’t dislike these things because I hate Canada or because I think the world needs to or can be one big happy country, rather I don’t like them because I distrust the side-effects of patriotism. I’m not sure if it’s something I read somewhere or just something that developed, but as long as I remember I’ve felt that you can’t use your head and wave the flag at the same time. Standing up before a hockey game and singing the national anthem (which should be Northwest Passage in my opinion) is all well and good, but nationalism shouldn’t go a whole lot further than that.
As a case in point, south of the border we have the flag-waviest of countries going crazy and talking about limiting freedoms over something as idiotic as burning a flag. One would think that there has been a rash of these incidents or that there was a critical shortage of precious nylon that cannot be allowed to be destroyed, or that everything was going peachy keen and there was nothing else for the lawmakers to spend their taxpayer dollars on.
One would think.
Or, it might just be a time when, in the middle of an arbitrary and ill-defined war with just about nothing going per plan and a government busily constricting civil liberties while hurriedly stuffing the pockets of corporate friends, that the peeps need a diversion, a straw-man. And who can argue against protecting the flag? It’s like… like… like protecting your mom. Who is going to argue against that?
Arlen Specter, one of the Senators pushing this critical debate argued:
I think of the flag as a symbol of what veterans fought for, what the sustained wounds for, what they sustained loss of life for…
Yes, Arlen, it is exactly that, a symbol; a symbol, and nothing more. If you asked a veteran what she fought for, she might say “the flag”, but I bet she’d be more likely to talk about home, family, loved ones, community. And even if she said “flag”, I’d be willing to bet that flag was simply a surrogate, a symbol, if you will, of all of these other things that make up her nation. The reason that patriotism is not limited to a single country is that it is intimately tied in with all of these other things that exist everywhere.
This is the crux of the argument of course, the place where the debate should start. Unfortunately, in this most flag-waviest of places in the most flag-waviest of times, this is where the debate also ends. It ends with the desire to protect a symbol, and allows the continued desecration of what that symbol represents. And it ends here because it is convenient for the powers that be that it end here – that the flag does not represent America, but that it is America, and to attack one is to attack both.
On a technical note, it is important for the Senate and the Administration that flag burning be made illegal and that it be made illegal through means that don’t contravene or otherwise amend the Constitution. Again, to Mr. Specter:
I think it’s important to focus on the basic fact that the text of the First Amendment, the text of the Constitution, the text of the Bill of Rights is not involved.
And why is this important? From a pragmatic standpoint, constitutional amendments are much harder to pass into law. Also, like the flag, the First Amendment is a symbol of freedom, the freedom to worship in the manner one chooses and the freedom to express one’s views publicly.
And if it’s one thing we don’t want to do, it’s to mess with symbols.
[Update: The Senate vote to ban burning the flag, and thereby overturning a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, missed the required two-thirds majority by one vote. There actually were two votes today on this. The proposal for a constitutional amendment was defeated, as was an end-run around it, an attempt to ban it through legal means alone, proposed by Hillary Clinton and Bob Bennett. Said Daniel Inouye;
"While I take offense at disrespect to the flag," he said, "I nonetheless believe it is my continued duty as a veteran, as an American citizen, and as a United States senator to defend the constitutional right of protesters to use the flag in nonviolent speech."
Thank you, Senator.]