Protesters at Occupy Oakland assembled at City Hall on Saturday, January 28, 2012. The group stormed City Hall, retrieving an American flag from the lobby. Outside, there were chants of, “Burn it!” and then Old Glory was set ablaze.
This act touched a nerve in many at the protest and beyond, stirring a shit-storm of controversy about the desecration of the flag. Throughout history, demonstrators from artists to activists have burned or “desecrated” the flag as a form of protest and expression.
In throwing the flag to the ground–an attempt to stop the desecration of the flag–the woman inadvertently became engaged in an act contrary to what many would call, proper flag etiquette. TITLE 4, CHAPTER 1, Section 8 (“Respect for flag”), Paragraph B of the US Code, states “The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”
In 1989, artist Dread Scott, placed people in a similar quandary by debuting an art exhibit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The display featured books with blank pages on a shelf with ink pens, a montage of pictures of South Korean students burning the American flag and flag-draped coffins, and an American flag on the ground beneath the montage and shelf.
Viewers became participants in the display when they were encouraged to write responses in the book to the question, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” The quandary was that in order to voice their opinion of the exhibit (to write their responses in the book), they had to stand atop the Star-Spangled Banner to reach the book.
Revering The Flag
Why do people feel the flag deserves the utmost respect? Furthermore, is the ascribed treatment in the U.S. Code actually indicative of respect?
To the protectors of the national ensign, the flag is a symbol that embodies everything that is America–the culture, the history, the people, the struggle, the dream, American exceptionalism, democracy, and most importantly, a beacon for liberty and justice in the world.
Ultimately, the symbol to which Americans pledge allegiance, becomes part of their identity through rigorous indoctrination–the programming. Consequently, they view the flag as an extension of the self (the pseudo-self), so a seeming attack on or disrespect toward the Stars and Bars is perceived as a personal attack.
Understanding The Fundamental Contradiction
The above ideals held by the protectors originate, in large part, from the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the right to express one’s thoughts and ideas freely, even when they are critical of the government or contrary to majority views. Considering this, protests against another’s open expression (concerning the flag) are contrary to the allusion of the flag’s meaning. In other words, you must be a hypocrite if you deny a person their free expression.
People should be able to openly express themselves however they see fit. This is one of the central themes of freedom. Without it, freedom cannot exist. Moreover, if the flag actually represents the hypocrite, then it does not–cannot–represent freedom. It comes down to the choice between protecting the symbol (the pseudo-self) or standing for actual principles.
It is intellectually dishonest, knowing all that we know about America’s dastardly deeds domestically and internationally, to fail to recognize how short the nation has fallen of its espoused American values. The United States claims to spread peace, freedom, justice, and democracy, yet its greed leaves war, bondage, injustice, and dictatorial rule as its footprint.
The homelessness, the unemployment, the foreclosures, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, the crack cocaine, the incarceration rate, the ghetto poverty, the unattainable healthcare, the pollution, the economic gulf between the haves and have-nots, the characterization of its own citizens as terrorists, the killing of its own citizens without trial, and an ignorant population plague the domestic landscape. But let’s not forget the international destruction…
America’s relentless pursuit of imperialism internationally leads way to the genocide, the bulldozing of babies, the Asian killing fields, the rape and pilage of African resources, CIA coups, overthow of democratic governments, foreign aid to
terrorist states Israel, weapons and drug trafficking, the support of dictatorships and monarchies, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and endless pursuit of crude oil.
Both Protectors And Flagburners Are Delusional
The defenders of the flag are delusional for failing to recognize the dichotomy between the espoused values of the nation and reality. Nevertheless, the implication of the defenders as delusional does liberate those whom they oppose from being delusional. In other words, both groups operate in a fog of delusion.
If general consensus decides that the flag represents the ideas espoused to it by the defenders, then desecrating it is seen as opposition to those ideals, not as a protest of the aforementioned intellectual dishonesty.
In July 2010, crazed fans took to the streets and burned LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavilers jersey after he announced “I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat,” alongside Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. How stupid was it for them to actually burn an expensive authentic jersey? Foolishness!
Was the burning in protest of the Cleveland Cavilers? Maybe they should have burned his new Heat jersey instead.
So let’s apply that same logic to flag desecration. What does it change? Absolutely nothing, save feelings, criminal prosecution and being included in the exploding incarceration rate. Ultimately, we’re talking about the destruction of colored strips of fabric–nothing more. The treatment of the flag does not improve the world. On the contrary, it’s the way we treat each other that improves the world.
If all that is good or bad in the world could be embodied in a piece of fabric, then changing the world would be as simple as the destruction or creation of a particular fabric. Obviously, that is not the case. At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of fabric…