Patriotism & Flag Pins

This is something that’s been bothering me for a long time now.  I saw a clip from an interview where a woman said that she wouldn’t vote for Obama because he didn’t wear a flag lapel pin.  Or she didn’t like him.

Remember Nash McCabe?  She asked Obama, “I want to know if you believe in the American flag.”

By the way, I looked at some video and photos of the McCain/Obama debate.  Obama seems to be wearing a flag pin and McCain is not.  I also did a little googling to see what Obama had to say about it.

A ways back when he was asked about it, Obama said that he didn’t wear one because after 9/11 people were wearing it in lieu of true patriotism.  And that he wanted to express his love of country with his words and actions. The one he sometimes wears now may — and I emphasize may — be the one that a Vietnam Vet gave him at a rally where Obama reportedly said, “This means a lot, coming from you.”

Here’s why I agree.  And I’m not agreeing now just to spin the issue.  I’ve never had a flag or support-the-troops ribbon on my car.  No bumper stickers.  No outward expressions of patriotism or loyalty.

After the attacks on 9/11 people were freaked out.  We all felt vulnerable and there was a sense of comraderie and togetherness.  Even dudes in the hood were talking about retaliation cause you don’t mess with the USA, y’know.  Solidarity – that’s the word I was looking for.  There was intense solidarity.

American flags were everywhere.

Everywhere!  Flying from houses, on cars in tiny flag form and ribbon magnets.  T-shirts, baseball caps, leather jackets, pants, bathing suits, ‘do rags, kerchiefs, ties.  You name it, you could probably find it in flag form.  French fries became freedom fries during the drum up to the invasion of Iraq.  And of course, just about every politician started wearing a U.S. flag lapel pin.  Country & Western artists put out songs about flying flags ’cause “it’s a flag, not a rag” and how “freedom isn’t free” and “these colors never run”.

All of that stuff became nearly mandatory.  Like it was a loyalty test.  [Seinfled Reference]”If you’re one of us you’ll eat the pie.”[/Seinfled Reference]

Along with this surge of patriotism came a creepy mob mentality.  Anyone who questioned the chasteness of America was pillaried.  Anyone who dared pose the question, “Why did this happen?” was dubbed an America-hating traitorous terrorist-lover.  Anyone who hinted that our foreign policies had something to do with anti-American sentiment … hey.  Even Pres. Bush’s Press Secretary (if I have my facts straight) said, “This is a post 9/11 world.  You have to be careful what you say.”

The subtext of that statement was, “Don’t criticize the administration or the President.”  Bullshit.  That is not patriotism.  Statements like that are closer to Fascism.

The way I see it, there arose two distinct forms of patriotism.

  1. A patriotism of flags, ribbons, pins and outward signs of loyalty and love of country. America, love it or leave it.
  2. A patriotism of self-inspection and the desire to live up to our country’s ideals, regardless of the circumstance.

I’m not talking about pacifist peaceniks.  I’m talking about the people who wanted members of Congress to, say, read the Patriot Act before voting for it or those who insisted on a sunset clause.  The ones who questioned the idea of “free speech zones”.  The people who were not going to settle for “they hate us for our freedom” as an answer.  The anti-Jingoists.  (“The term is generally negative and applies to extreme patriotism used especially to persuade public opinion in support of war.”)

On September 11, 2008

I walked into work.  Someone handed me a US flag lapel pin.  I said thank you and took it.  I didn’t put it on.  Nothing against those who did.  Fly those colors.  But I didn’t.  I have nothing to prove.  And I didn’t want to poke holes in my clothes.  It was a new shirt.

Hey, I love this country, too, right.  Although there are many countries in the world that I would love to visit, this is the country where I want to live. But it does have its issues like every country.  And the solution to those issues is not for those who spot them to emigrate.  The solution to a problem is to address it, to speak to it, to affect change.

It’s a good balance.  I’m thankful for the flag wavers and those who publish their support for the troops on their vehicles.  They remind me that I sometimes do take our freedoms and standard of living for granted.  But Nationalism also has an ugly, dark side so I’m also very thankful for those who are more subdued and internal.  Our rugged American individualism comes in many flavors.

Amen to checks and balances.

Here’s my distinction.

No, I do not believe in the American flag.  I believe in the ideals of the United States of America.  Though I appreciate the symbolism I don’t treat it as a talisman.  The flag fervor borders on idolatry.  Oh.  One more thought.  For those who are Christian, have you ever questioned someone’s Christianity or salvation because they weren’t wearing a cross around their neck?  Or any other religion, belief system, thought system, or sports franchise will do for that example.

Whoo boy.  I’m tapped out.  Thanks for making it this far, if you did.


Add Yours
  1. Janna

    Thanks for being a bastion of sanity in this crazy world, Gar.
    I love how well you explain your point of view. (and it helps that I almost ALWAYS agree with you.)

  2. garyarthuryoung

    Hey! Thank you, Janna. (When’re you going to have more tantalizing food photography?)

    Hopefully, my blogging-as-head-explosion-therapy will remain sane in the long run. We’ll see.

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