The "American" Flag

Maureen Bothe

Featured Rightgrrl May 1999
April 19, 1999

A piece of cloth with various colors flown at the top of a flagpole. This is how many see our flag. Another chore at the end of the day, to take it down and throw it in a box until the next morning. Or better still, let it wave through the night and save yourself a few minutes. Or, even better, ignore it is there and let it become worn and tattered so its colors fade and each mighty stripe is torn and left in weather beaten strips, whipping around the flagpole. It doesn't matter-does it?

Each day I am appalled at the treatment of the symbol of our hard won freedom, the red stripes reminding us of the supreme sacrifice of blood shed so we may enjoy life as it is now. One evening I walked to the post office, hoping to get there before it closed at five. I was unsuccessful, the gates were closed over the windows and door, no one in sight. But above the building, waving valiantly in the breeze that only just changed from bitter to mild, was our flag. I waited a moment to see if maybe someone would come out to relieve our colors, but there was no one. Protocol calls for the flag to be lowered ceremoniously at sunset. I knew this flag would wave through the night, as its sister flags do at the Main Capitol.

Why such lack of respect for our flag? Is it that our schools no longer find it important to teach children about the wars, the lives lost, what this piece of cloth truly represents? There is an elementary school across the street from my home. Sometimes I watch the young maintenance man dressed like a Hell's Angel come out and take down the flag. I cringe as he lets the flag fall swiftly from its lofty perch, straight into his waiting arms. Once I saw the flag touch the ground. He then takes the flag and wraps it, arm over arm in a bundle as one would roll a sheet instead of folding it. This flag, as many others, have probably never been folded in accordance with flag protocol. In the event of rain, wet colors must be folded at the site, then taken inside and unfolded to dry. Then they must be refolded. Too much work, right?

Could it be the influx of immigrants which fosters this ignorance for our flag? Can we expect people who have recently come to America to know or even care about our colors? Are they still loyal to their home countries while enjoying the benefits of America? I see many flags from around the world displayed on cars, clothing, cd's hung on the rear view mirror of cars, on pens, stickers. Almost every person in my neighborhood has their homeland's flag displayed "proudly". To me, it is plain obnoxious. It is in my opinion, a lack of respect for the soil on which you stand, and the life lost to preserve it. To be proud of your heritage is a great thing, to enjoy your culture and history is your right. But to leave your homeland and proceed to plaster your flag on everything in sight, with not a thought to the feelings of your new countrymen and women, that is sad and rips apart the stars and stripes. Our flag becomes nothing more than a rag in the breeze, an annoying task at the end of the day. And is it not true that "our" flag is also every new American's flag? It represents ALL, and does not discriminate. It is as much a new immigrant's flag as it is of those who have had ancestors fight in the Revolutionary War.

Veteran's Day. Memorial Day. In some towns these days mean something, and respect and gratitude is shown by displaying our flag with patriotism. Is patriot a dirty word? In being a patriot are we saying that all other countries are lower, or lesser, or unworthy? Or are we acknowledging that our country has survived only because of the brave ones who marched into battle and did not hide from their duty? Can we pay homage to their souls, and thank them for their blood, and be proud to call ourselves American even when many others find it more important to make our differences widely known and publicized?

And what of our great flag? I used to live in the Bronx, New York. I saw a Puerto Rican flag suspended between the streets with vigor, as the American flag lay filthy in the gutter. I saw this with my own eyes, and nothing will erase it from my memory. What ever happened to gratefulness and respect? Is everyone so focused on becoming the "dominant" race, culture, language that we are blind to our humanity? To our shared struggles and loss, and victory? Is it so easy to spit on the graves of those who saved us from tyranny?

I believe all American Flags should be respected and treated in accordance with Flag Protocol. We can not just turn a blind eye and let these small but very significant atrocities continue. First our flag, and then the freedom and peace it symbolizes. I am not willing to make that sacrifice. I am after all, American.

This article copyright © 1999 by Maureen Bothe and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.