Thank god. Yesterday the Senate rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag. This has to be one of the stupidest ideas Congress has come up with recently. And that’s saying something.
What tempers my enthusiasm for this rare display of congressional common sense is that the amendment failed by only one vote. Sixty-six Senators voted for it, thirty-four voted against it. That’s a disturbing indication of how symbolism is trumping substance in the political arena.
If you’re married, take a look at the ring on your left hand. Do you love your wedding ring? Would you give up your life to keep it intact? If someone tried to destroy it, is it worth fighting tooth and nail for?
Most of us would answer “no” to all three questions. As we should. A wedding ring is a symbol of the love and commitment we have for our spouse. That’s all it is: a stand-in for the real meaning that our marriage has for us.
Similarly, the American flag is a symbol that means something to many people. To others, like me, it means little or nothing. I have no problem with someone burning the American flag. Burn away. Be my guest.
This country means a lot to me. The United States is substantial. I live and breathe on its soil. However, I don’t have any attachment to a colored piece of cloth with stars and stripes. Yesterday I threw away some old shirts with no compunction. I’d trash the American flag just as easily.
When the ability to distinguish what is really important from what isn’t is lost, we’re in trouble. This is the main point of Major General Robert Scales’ (Ret.) essay in TIME this week. He advises, “Forget flag burning.”
Some in Congress appear to be taking a sabbatical from the long war on terrorism to introduce a constitutional amendment banning the burning of the flag. The debate over such an amendment may or may not be worth having, but one thing is clear: at a time when the country is at war, now is not the time for such tertiary considerations.
I agree. But would go further. There never is a good time for tertiary considerations such as the proposed amendment. Symbols should never become a substitute for the real thing. Those ridiculous yellow “support the troops” magnets that adorn so many American automobiles only benefit the Chinese factories that make them.
I support the anti-magnet manifesto:
We believe that there is strong possibility that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan might be a little far away or maybe even a little too busy to be checking out the pseudopatriotic magnet on the back of a 1986 Geo Metro as it drives down I-95 or sits in an Olive Garden parking lot.
We don't hate America, we hate that people think slapping a stupid magnet on the back of their car has meaning. Mostly everyone in this country supports the troops and hopes they will return safely. Maybe you should be telling them directly in person, on the phone or in a letter and not driving around with a big magnetic banner you probably got at Wal-Mart that simply attempts to prove to everybody but the troops that you support the troops more than everybody else.
Ditto for American flag pins, which are equally obnoxious displays of meaningless pseudo-patriotism.
This evening I was listening to conservative talk radio and heard a caller say, “If you believe that the American flag is just a symbol, then you should throw away your wedding ring.”
Well, when my daughter was five she threw it away for me. I handed it over to her when she said, “I’m going to wrap some presents for you and Mommy. Take off your ring and I’ll give it back to you.” Bad idea. It disappeared into her room and never appeared again.
Our marriage survived. For another thirteen years, at least. So, yes, I do believe the flag is just a symbol, and I’ve got no problem with people throwing away symbolic wedding rings. Patriotism doesn’t have anything to do with a flag, and love doesn’t have anything to do with a ring.
David Morris equates flag worship with blasphemy. He’s got a point. When people talk about “desecrating” a piece of cloth, it’s pretty clear that the worship of graven images is alive and well in supposedly Christian America.