I wrote the following post last year on this date. Since then, the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq has risen to almost 2,500, with our military leaders saying they foresee having troops in Iraq for the next ten years.
If ever there was a time to take back the American flag from conservatives who use it to cloak intolerance, justify preemptive military aggression, or who use it as a symbol of exclusion rather than offering it as a promise for a better life, this is the time.
What better day to muse upon my love/hate relationship with the Stars and Stripes than Flag Day.
As a child in the 50's, the US flag was a sacred and respected symbol, dutifully saluted every morning with a heartfelt pledge of allegiance. As a 60's teenager and hippie, the flag became a symbol of nationalism at its worst, a symbol of warmongering, bullying and chest beating. To honor the flag was to profess solidarity with those who used the flag for all the wrong reasons – to promote the status quo in race relations, to wage war in Vietnam, to bow to the "love it or leave it" attitude which permeated the culture at that time. I never burned a flag, but I might have without remorse. For more than twenty years I refused to stand or salute or sing the National Anthem at any public event.
Is it time now to find a new way to honor the flag? A new way of thinking about nationalism? About patriotism? Are they the same? I used to think so. I'm not so certain any longer.
While I am completely fed up with the Right's theft of the flag as a symbol of conservative values, I realize that my own discomfort and mixed feelings about the flag have allowed the conservatives to successfully claim the flag as their own.
The flag's symbolic power is capable of stirring deep emotions. The current administration knows this. It's why we don't ever see any of the 1,700 war dead returning to US soil in flag-draped caskets. Even the conservatives realize that the power of the flag could be turned against them in a flash.
All of this from the fleet fingers of a colonial woman in 1777.
I believe Betsy Ross left behind a needle or two, hidden in the seams of that first flag to prick our national sensibilities from time to time, as a reminder of how complicated a piece of cloth can be.
As a symbol, our flag is desecrated by those who would use it as a wall against "others," and made meaningful when associated with human dignity, free speech and human rights.
Let's make Flag Day the day to reclaim the flag for all the good it symbolizes.