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“I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself, the pictured suggestion of that big thing which makes this nation. My stars and my stripes are your dream and your labors. They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your heart. For you are the makers of the flag and it is well that you glory in the making.” ~Franklin Knight Lane
I was driving past a business office the other day and noticed an appalling site; there hanging from a pole on the side of this office building was Old Glory tattered to the point of rags. Its ends were so frayed that you could see strips of flag all along the bottom edge. Had I not been already late for an appointment I would have stopped and asked the business to please remove the flag they were displaying. (Someone beat me to it later thankfully)
In today’s society we are bombarded with iconic images and messages constantly and it is not surprising to me that a great deal of our population look at the flag as being no different. However it is very different and not just any icon.
For one the US flag in its present form has been around longer than most every other visible icon in America. However in December 1860 Major Robert Anderson of the Union Army made a stand at Ft Sumter, South Carolina in Charleston Harbor and from that point the flag took on even more meaning and symbolism. According to Adam Goodheart in his prologue for the book 1861: The Civil Awakening he states:
“Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like American Independence day. But in the weeks after Major Anderson’s surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew—as it does today, and especially as it did after the September 11 attacks in 2001—from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads. For the first time American flags were mass-produced rather than individually stitched and even so, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. As the long winter of 1861 turned into spring, that old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for.” —Adam Goodheart, Prologue of 1861: The Civil War Awakening (2011).
For millions of Americans and especially those who have served in the US military, the flag is the very embodiment of the nation. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words that would become our national anthem while standing on the deck of a British warship and seeing the stars and stripes still flying over Ft McHenry. The fort had been pounded by cannon and rockets throughout the night, but the flag by morning was still obstinately flying after receiving that pummeling and was an inspiring sight. For US Marines fighting on the island of Iwo Jima, the raising of the flag over Mt Suribatchi represented victory that was close at hand. When Joe Rosenthal snapped the photograph of that flag raising, the entire country was inspired, as it still is today when then they see that image.
That same inspiration has been felt on every battlefield where Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. This is why seeing the flag burned by our enemies or radicals in our country attempting to make a political statement is so shocking and upsetting. It’s been argued that the right to burn the flag is a right of expression that the Constitution protects. Even if that is so, in my opinion respect and love for your country is something every American citizen owes. In times of old it was called fealty or a pledge of allegiance. The flag represents the nation of the United States of America and it represents the men and women who sacrificed all of their tomorrows for our todays. Its symbolism is clear and for this reason alone the flag should be treated with the utmost respect and care.
The US government has sought to protect the US flag from mistreatment and misuse. Laws relating to the flag can be found in detail in the United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1. Among some of the more notable things to remember about the treatment of the flag are:
- No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.
- The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, etc..
- The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
- The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
As of this date although the Flag Code is U.S. federal law, there is no penalty for a private citizen or group failing to comply with it but that may change. Until then Americans who love their country need to respect their flag and also politely inform their fellow citizens of the proper care of their flag that is torn, tattered or poorly lit in cases where the flay is left flying at night time. An informative website I came across while researching this article is here.