on Patriotism and the American Flag
I haven't thought it necessary to display
a little metallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see. It was
enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform my civic duties, speak my
mind, and do my best to raise our kids to be good Americans.
Sometimes I would offer a small prayer
of gratitude that I had been born in a country whose institutions
sustained me, whose armed forces protected me, and whose ideals
inspired me; I offered my heart's affections in return. It no
more occurred to me to flaunt the flag on my chest than it did
to pin my mother's picture on my lapel to prove her son's love.
Mother knew where I stood; so does my country. I even tuck a valentine
in my tax returns on April 15.
So what's this doing here? Well, I put
it on to take it back. The flag's been hijacked and turned into
a logo - the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism. On those Sunday
morning talk shows, official chests appear adorned with the flag
as if it is the good housekeeping seal of approval. During the
State of the Union, did you notice Bush and Cheney wearing the
flag? How come? No administration's patriotism is ever in doubt,
only its policies. And the flag bestows no immunity from error.
When I see flags sprouting on official lapels, I think of the
time in China when I saw Mao's little red book on every official's
desk, omnipresent and unread.
But more galling than anything are all
those moralistic ideologues in Washington sporting the flag in
their lapels while writing books and running Web sites and publishing
magazines attacking dissenters as un-American. They are people
whose ardor for war grows disproportionately to their distance
from the fighting. They're in the same league as those swarms
of corporate lobbyists wearing flags and prowling Capitol Hill
for tax breaks even as they call for more spending on war.
So I put this on as a modest riposte to
men with flags in their lapels who shoot missiles from the safety
of Washington think tanks, or argue that sacrifice is good as
long as they don't have to make it, or approve of bribing governments
to join the coalition of the willing (after they first stash the
cash.) I put it on to remind myself that not every patriot thinks
we should do to the people of Baghdad what Bin Laden did to us.
The flag belongs to the country, not to the government. And it
reminds me that it's not un-American to think that war - except
in self-defense - is a failure of moral imagination, political
nerve, and diplomacy. Come to think of it, standing up to your
government can mean standing up for your country.