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09/17/2001 Entry: "Flag-waving."

At an event this weekend, one of the hosts (a man whom I respect) was handing out American flag stickers to wear. When it was offered I took one and put it on my black coat, but only out of respect for him and those around us. I took it off when I got home. Honestly I don't know if I support everything it means right now. That doesn't mean that I don't think the United States is a good country, nor that I entirely know what my feelings are on the issues of retaliation and response to terrorism. Choire echoes my feelings on the matter and sums it up well:

I'm ambivalent about what the American flag means to me at all, and I reserve my American right to express myself in all my confusion and contradiction. Dissent will always be patriotic. Asking for the silence of debate in the name of this vague concept of "unity" can be incredibly harmful.

Chuck also says this better than I can this morning:

It's inappropriate to tell someone they're not being patriotic because they're not reacting to the crisis in the same way you are. It's inappropriate to tell someone they're "un-American" or "unpatriotic" because their house or car happens not to be festooned with flags. It's inappropriate to say awful things to somebody because you disagree with their peaceful yet honest reactions. It's entirely appropriate to support your government in the quest to do the right thing in response to this, but it's inappropriate to accuse someone of being a "traitor" for criticizing your government—even in a time of crisis—if you feel that they're not doing that.

OK, I'm off to go watch the stock market plummet some more.

Replies: 3 comments

To further quote Choire:

"Do I have an obligation to identify myself with the same symbol used by
these terrorist Americans? Which white person with a flag flying from their
pickup truck is going to be the next one to attempt to murder?

It is important to understand prejudice and racism in all it's forms. Having a minority viewpoint does not authorize someone to be prejudice against a perceived majority. To see a pick-up truck with an American flag driven by a white person and thinking that is a signal for a murder, is racism, is prejudice. It is no different than thinking all Arabs are terrorists.

I want to put a flag on my car. I want to put a flag on my car because I am proud to be an American. Are these the danger signs for a murderer? Will someone break windows on my car or accost me because they think so? I currently have no flag because I am afraid of just those things.

Ive always considered myself more of a flag burner than a flag waver. And that is why I want to wave it today. Because to me it does not symbolize murder but an imperfect attempt to make a society where people are free to express themselves in any way they see fit. When there is an attack on that ideal, as there was last week, than I want to say that I do support what America stands for. Not everything it does. But what it stands for. When the US does something I disagree with, it is my responsibility to make my viewpoint heard. If I take that responsibility seriously, than I must also show support.

Those that want to color the act in a negative way are promoting the very concept that they are rallying against.

Let me fly my flag in peace.

Posted by The Boyfriend @ 09/19/2001 01:51 PM PST

That's the reason I didn't quote that part of Choire's entry--to his credit it's only one portion of a not particularly simple issue. To assume anything about someone--because they're wearing a turban, or flying a flag, or driving one kind of car or another--is a predjudice, whether just or not, whether "instinctual" or "reasoned." But I have to disagree. I think we all are entitled to experience our prejudices, small or large, as long as we examine the reasons for their existence and take responsibility for any actions we take based on those generalities.

I can appreciate the reasons why most people want to fly the flag now; and I think those reasons are perfectly honorable. The flag is an incredibly important symbol of what this nation is supposed to be. On the other hand, it's hard for me to reconcile this with the the "America:Right or Wrong" mentality I've come to associate with it or with political decisions that I don't support. Don't get me wrong, either: I am very fortunate to live in a place in the world where I can express my dissent or ambivilence publicly. That's a good reason to fly the flag right there.

To quote the Salon article: "This is a new feeling for me, this feeling that we're the good guys and we're fighting the bad guys. It makes sense that I'd want to fly the good guys' flag, but that flag comes wrapped around a lot of baggage."

Posted by Casey @ 09/19/2001 04:07 PM PST

Oh, and as an aside, Dean posts a very relevant quote by George Orwell: "By patriotism, I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power."

Posted by Casey @ 09/19/2001 05:06 PM PST

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