Respect for the Flag: Ignorance or Hypocrisy?

With all that’s currently going on in the world, United States President Donald Trump continues to obsess on football players and the U.S. flag. He is demanding that they show ‘proper’ respect for a piece of cloth that represents a repressive oligarchy. Yet, this is, sadly, nothing new.

In 1807, crew members from the British ship Leopold sought to board the U.S. ship Chesapeake, to seek sailors who had deserted from the British navy. They were refused, so they fired on the Chesapeake, killing four U.S. sailors, and causing severe damage to the ship. This was considered an outrage, and an incident that contributed to the war that started five years later. In 1808, the new captain of the Chesapeake, Stephen Decatur, declared that “… the reputation of the Flag of the United States…” required the Chesapeake to be defined properly by the number of guns it had; there had been some discrepancy previously.

The wounds remained raw; Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, in complaining about U.S. relations with Britain in 1809, outlined several areas, including “…the inhuman and dastardly attack on our Frigate Chesapeake – an outrage which prostrated the flag of our Country….”

Notice the importance of the flag, as early as 1807.

Perhaps we can look at the pledge of allegiance, that statement that is recited by school students from kindergarten through high school all across the country, and dissect it into its component parts.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

  • ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag.’ Really? One pledges allegiance to a flag? Although this writer recited it for 12 years, he had no real idea of what he was saying. But today, looking at even just the first six words, it is difficult to describe how ridiculous it sounds. The bald eagle is another symbol of the United States. Should we, perhaps, pledge allegiance to it? “I pledge allegiance to the bald eagle….”
  • ‘And to the republic for which it stands.’ Well, one supposes that one can feel a sense of allegiance to a country; although this writer can understand it, he does not experience it.
  • ‘One Nation under God’. Says who? This would seem to mean that atheists are exempt from making this pledge (lucky them!). Right-wing religious leaders are forever proclaiming that God is about the strike down the mighty U.S. because of such things as marriage equality, or health care for everyone. If Deity was in the business of smacking around countries when they displeased him (and this writer, an actively religious Christian, cannot see how either of those two things would), wouldn’t the U.S have felt that wrath during the time of slavery?
  • ‘Indivisible’. Discounting, of course, the Civil War, the nation has been indivisible from a geographic point of view. But there do seem to be a number of significant divisions: left and right; white and people of color; police and people of color; police and poor people; rich and poor; Muslims and conservatives; liberals (a vanishing breed, indeed) and conservatives; rural residents and their urban counterparts; East Coast and Midwest; elected officials and their constituents, etc.
  • ‘With liberty and justice for all’. How one can utter these six words in the context of the United States completely eludes this writer. Banks are ‘too big to fail’ and their corrupt executives ‘too big to jail’. Unarmed black men, women and children are routinely gunned down by white police officers, with almost complete impunity. Wealthy people accused of crimes hire the lawyers necessary to represent them, and help with plea bargaining, while impoverished people serve years-long jail terms for minor drug offenses. This list could go on.

The NFL protests began during the playing of the national anthem. Perhaps a look at those words, too, might be informative.

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The convoluted language here makes this almost as difficult to make any sense of, as the musical arrangement makes it to sing. For the convenience of the reader, this writer will re-write it into contemporary English.

“It’s early morning, can you see that thing we praised last night? You know, the flag that we watched in awe. As it got dark, the bombs that were killing people were lighting up the air so while we couldn’t see the people writhing in pain on the ground in mortal agony, we could sure see that flag! Yes, it still waves over our wonderful country!”

Alright, so perhaps there was a bit of editorializing here; the song doesn’t say anything specifically about people dying, but it’s a reasonable inference when bombs are dropping and rockets firing.

So, according to the illustrious U.S. president, when that song is being sung, and that flag is flapping in the breeze, everyone must stand in reverent, worshipful awe.

It has been decades since this writer attended any event where the U.S. national anthem was played. He expects to successfully avoid such circumstances for the rest of his life, a goal made easier by the fact that he hasn’t lived in the U.S. in years. But he must ask: don’t people have any idea what they are saying? Admittedly, this writer didn’t pay any attention during his elementary and high school years, but once that point is passed, shouldn’t people know what they are pledging allegiance to? Perhaps the habit of simply standing, putting hand on heart and then mouthing the vapid and vacuous words is too deeply ingrained; it’s as natural as breathing, and no one questions it.

But it’s high time people did. We can thank Colin Kaepernick for raising this consciousness, even a little bit. He, obviously, thought about the words, and decided not to ‘respect the flag’ (a ludicrous concept, at best) in a very public manner. His actions were sufficient to bring down the wrath of the president of the United States: good move, Mr. Kaepernick!

What will happen now? FOX Sports announced it will no longer broadcast the pre-game anthem, thus preventing the delicate sensibilities of its audience members from being offended by someone sitting or kneeling during it. Trump will, in all probability, continue to rail at the ‘sons of b——-‘ that want to protest racial discrimination in the U.S. And people of color will continue to be marginalized to an even greater degree during the Trump years than they have since prior to the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.

Oh yes! The ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’! Indeed.

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