Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Burning of the American Flag

I was struck today that a constitutional amendment to allow the outlawing of burning the American flag failed in the Senate by a mere vote. Later, I saw yet another article about the proposed Freedom Tower that is to replace the World Trade Center towers. And then a terrifying truth seized me: we have become a nation increasingly concerned with symbols of freedom, while simultaneously less concerned with the principles and practices of it.

The supposed "Flag Desecration Amendment" is the perfect example of this. I shall allow the supporters of the amendment to speak to their motivations in their own words:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) – "Throughout the history of our country, our flag has given the brave men and women serving in uniform the strength to persevere and protect the freedoms that are a foundation of our way of life. We owe them – and we owe all Americans – an amendment that would guarantee the preservation of the honor, integrity, and history represented in that flag."

Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) - “Countless men and women have died defending that flag. It is but a small humble act for us to defend it."

These arguments, typical of arguments advanced by many proponents, turn on this amendment somehow being a necessary service to veterans. Interestingly, while these two non-veterans argue that it is necessary to outlaw the “desecration” of the American flag, a fellow senator who is himself a veteran of the U.S. military argued against the proposed amendment.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) "...I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves, even those who harbor hateful thoughts."

For me, this speaks to a larger point. No man or woman dies for a piece of cloth. No, what we admire, indeed what our society reveres, about the flag is the symbolism inherent to it. The American flag symbolizes freedom and liberty, sources of pride for Americans since the nation’s inception. The greatest liberty, to my mind, is the freedom to openly challenge one’s government, it is the freedom which allows liberty to protect itself. This proposed amendment would have strongly curtailed that freedom in the name of protecting a symbol of freedom. We would protect the symbol of freedom while actively impinging upon the practice of it. It genuinely baffles the mind.

This issue is an exceedingly deep one and I have left the vast majority of it unexamined (What is the meaning of 'desecration'? How did election year politics play into this vote? What is the role of the military in the public psyche? Is it wise to amend the Constitution to overturn part of the Bill of Rights? Why do we allow this all to happen? So on and so on). I do hope my esteemed colleague will contribute his thoughts and that you contribute yours in the comments as well.


Aiko said...

This hasn't appeared in any newspapers, but a homeless veteran was lit on fire outside of Peter Goldmark's campaign office in Spokane. This happened during the debate about banning flag burning because veterans had fought for the flag. Apparently it's not really a big deal if we burn VETERANS, just the flag that they fought for. And it's not a problem if they're homeless and unable to even find a shelter for the night, much less get medical attention. Well, at least before someone has attempted to murder them.

Aiko said...

Sorry, should've used html:

Read the post on Kos

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