Saturday, March 17, 2012

Flag Care or Don't Care?

A few Saturdays ago I was catching up on work at the office- the Northeastern University Marine Science Center on the tip of the Nahant peninsula. Outside it was cold and ferociously windy. I heard a surprising knock at the front door and walked around to check it. There was a distraught man holding a loosely folded American Flag. He said,

"This was on the pole, ripped. You shouldn't let it get like that, it's shameful. I took it down for you."

I was thinking, "Chill out, dude. The thing probably just ripped today because it's so windy, and nobody has noticed yet because the office is closed for the weekend." But I tried to be contrite and thankful. I said,

"Oh, um, thanks. I'm sorry about that. I actually don't know who maintains our flag but I'll, uh, take it in and put it on our secretary's desk, I guess, until we can dispose of it right on Monday."


It was a reasonably polite exchange, but awkward nevertheless, on account of our different levels of concern for the flag. My level of concern was on par with how I'd feel about a tipped over address post at the end of someone's driveway. I.e., "That's kind of tacky, but it can probably wait until the owners notice and fix it." Whereas his level of concern was like if there was a gushing fire hydrant at the end of the driveway. I.e., "This is a very serious problem that I must address now."

I have a strong patriotic feeling for the USA, which I think is a beautiful country with wonderful people, freedom and fairness worth fighting for, and a good-looking, star-spangled flag. I just don't make a very tight connection between caring for the flag and caring for the country. Should I? What do y'all think?


Brian S said...

The flag, like so many other things, is not just a piece of fabric, but a symbol of what it represents to people. I guess maybe you're asking just that. Who knows, that man may have seen his friends dying to defend the 'flag'.

RE the tattered flag, there are laws about displaying the flag (search and also some generally accepted display etiquette. I don't know this stuff, but heard a Korean War vet talk about this one time, and I recall that you're not supposed to display a tattered/torn flag, not supposed to display at night without lighting, bad weather, etc.

craig said...

You need more indoctrination Private Douglas, report to the classroom and pledge allegiance immediately.

The current proliferation of the US flag was initially propagated by two business men to sell flags to every school in the nation. They needed a sales campaign and this is when they developed the pledge.

Their business exploded and soon the flag was popping up everywhere. We used this as a classic, successful business strategy case I studied while attending business school.

I am a first generation immigrant and have been in the US for 11 years now. I love it here but every country has it's positive and negative attributes.

Positives of the US are too many to mention without developing carpal tunnel and negatives are few and far between. One of the very few is "blind patriotism", for people so individualistic, the people here seem to follow without questioning anything as long as it is tagged under the title of patriotism.

I am currently a temporary permanent resident. I just filed the paperwork to remove my temporary status and I look forward to becoming a US citizen in a couple of years.

BLCS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BLCS said...

As a former boyscout, I was taught that the flag has to be given respect, disposed of properly, etc etc. However, I think the myth that the flag must NEVER be allowed to touch the ground is simply a myth..

Flag questions aside, I think the true test of patriotism is whether or not Sean Hannity thinks you are a "great American" :(

Johnny Douglass said...

I think you handled it well. I believe it is good etiquette and good citizenship to display and dispose of the flag properly. But, all things in moderation. We don't need to pronounce a fatwa on anyone who accidentally or even intentionally misuses it.

Morley said...

The number and treatment of respective national flags are clear differences between US and Canadian cultures. Even so, it seems we are becoming more like the US this way. The number of people displaying Canadian flags has really grown in my lifetime; it used to be very rare to see one that wasn't at a post office, police station, or school. You could almost navigate around an unfamiliar town to find government buildings by looking for flags. And we don't have the flag mentioned in our national anthem, or a pledge of allegiance.

Nevertheless, I was taught - I think through the scouting movement - to display any national flag properly, to not let it touch the ground, fold it with ceremony, etc. Now that I think of it, we used to have a 'flag detail' at school every morning and afternoon, I don't think that is done anymore and 'respect' for the flag has decreased even while the number displayed has gone up.

You see many more Canadian flags on private homes that there used to be -- but often they are terribly faded and that bothers me somewhat. If you are going to display it, take some pride in keeping it looking good!

Re: tattered, torn flags, I have a photo somewhere of the trawler that was anchored next to us during a storm with 90 knot gusts, when I worked on the Exxon-Valdez cleanup as a specialist in 1989 - 1990. It was a new flag but was shredded right back to the stars. It looked pretty cool, and I was reminded of the naval tradition of destroyers (and others?) putting to sea in hurricanes. Not sure how long they left if there, it sounds like it was not following proper etiquette even to have it up.