Today, June 14, is a day that we have set aside to honor the American Flag. When I was young, my town had a parade to mark the day and, of course, everyone flew the banner with pride in front of their homes.
Back then, it was unthinkable to us that anyone would want to burn the flag, or desecrating it in any way. Only Communists did that sort of thing, and I can tell you for a fact that there weren’t too many commies in Mount Prospect, IL in the early 1960’s.
I doubt whether my hometown holds a parade on Flag Day anymore. It’s too expensive — cops have to be paid overtime, the streets have to be cleaned, and insurance costs an arm and a leg. Besides, who cares?
People cared deeply once. And at no time was this more true than during the Civil War.
I described the job of Civil War color bearer in a Flag Day post on my blog:
There was no more deadly job in the Union Army than color bearer – and none more honored. Carrying the flag into battle made one an instant target, the enemy believing quite correctly that killing the color bearer would sap the will to fight in their opponents. It became a point of honor for a regiment that if the standard bearer fell, another would immediately pick the fallen flag off the ground and take his place. There was a reverence for the flag then, a feeling of personal responsibility for upholding what it represented. It was a tangible way for these men to express something inexpressible that lived in their breasts and enabled them to march into almost certain death and remain while their comrades fell around them. The flag gave them courage while reminding them of what they were fighting for.
What is it about the flag that causes grown men to weep at its passing, and soldiers to fight and die for it? I took at stab at explaining this in my blog post:
There are so few things that actually unite Americans in a traditional sense that make us a nation. Other countries have hundreds even thousands of years of cultural touchstones and myths that are almost hard wired into their brains to make them a “nation.” The United States on the other hand, is too young for myth making. Instant legends like Davey Crockett or George Custer exist alongside their more unattractive and definitely human historical selves, taking the luster off some of their accomplishments. And other symbols of nationhood found elsewhere like castles or palaces or ancient battlefields are absent here.
For Americans, it is in the flag that we infuse all of our feelings of love and respect for country, for home, for each other. Each of us are reminded of something different as the flag passes. This is what makes it a personal icon, a talisman to be touched and stroked so that the longing in our hearts to belong to something greater than ourselves is fulfilled. The flag is home. And no matter where home might be, we, the most mobile of modern societies, carrying that feeling of home with us in our travels, see the flag as an anchor, a permanent standard representing all the good and decent things in ourselves and our country.
These days, sentiments like that are seen as dangerous. Patriotism, we are told, is just one step away from nationalism, which is one step away from authoritarianism, which is one step away from fascism, which is one step away from mass executions of liberals.
When the left looks at it like that, no wonder they don’t want us to be patriotic.
In truth, patriotism has gone partially underground. It isn’t hip to be patriotic, so the kids (and liberals who love to act like teenagers) turn up their noses at such gooey sentimentality. Hence, Flag Day, and even the 4th of July are just another day on the calendar.
A large part of the problem is that the feeling of patriotism goes hand in hand with the people’s confidence in America itself. Our current president lacks the faith in America necessary to instill confidence in our culture and values, not to mention our ability to pull ourselves out of the economic doldrums and deal with the dangers around the world confronting us. That’s because Barack Obama has no faith in the ability of ordinary Americans to perform extraordinary tasks — without the guidance and assistance of government, of course.
Fly the flag proudly today, and every day.