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July 04, 2006

Behind The Flag

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I'd worked for all my life,
And I had to start again
with just my children and my wife,
I'd thank my lucky stars
to be living here today,
'Cause the flag still stands for freedom
and they can't take that away.

I'm proud to be an American
where at least I know I'm free,
And I won't forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.

Bringing my little red car back from the body shop the other day, I heard something on the radio that made me think. What is it about some songs that touches you deeply, every time you hear them? As it turns out, this wasn't the song on my radio that day. But I've never been able to listen to it (or sing it for that matter) without my eyes filling up with tears.

Why does that happen, every single time, without fail? Perhaps this offers a clue:

There is nothing that distresses me more than the sight of ragged-looking flag drooping and faded. I say that without any pride, but with only bewilderment at the casual disrespect so many Americans exhibit when displaying the national symbol.

And yet, so many of those same citizens feign outrage over the burning of flag as to urge the Constitution be amended to make that act a federal crime. Please. Don't trivialize the Constitution so. I find it just as distasteful to wrap one's self in the flag as to trample it.

The American flag, like that of any nation, is a simple piece of cloth until it is imbued with a sense of national character and purpose, and thereby becomes a symbol of a common identity. Those of us who cherish the American flag do so because we recognize the shared values it represents, as do those who salute the symbols of any free state. Those who revile these same symbols do so because they reject the values expressed by the cloth, and wish the world to take notice of that fact.

But the values themselves are not contained in the cloth, so the anger represented by burning the flag in protest accomplishes nothing except to showcase the frustration of those incapable of mounting a effective argument sans inflammatory pyrotechnics. It's a photo-op, and nothing more.

One of the things I love about living in Western Maryland is that people here are not ashamed to be American. As you drive under an overpass near my home, chances are it will be decorated with a clean, new American flag. There is a crane on highway 270 that I love to pass because it always sports an enormous stars and stripes, and it's lit at night too. So what if it's in a construction yard. That's what America is about: building things. Work. People making a better life for themselves.

I love it. The clue to that choked-up feeling is in the words to that song which always cause my eyes to fill up with tears:

...the flag still stands for freedom
and they can't take that away

Of course, it isn't the flag itself which gives us our rights. Still, something inside of us instinctively shrinks from seeing the symbol of our freedoms dishonored and disrespected. Especially when, as so many military families are so well aware, those precious rights were bought and paid for with American blood:

Only once have I exercised my personal privilege in the Senate chambers to relate as incident from my confinement as a POW in North Vietnam at the Hoa Lo prison camp. The treatment has been frequently brutal at the "Hanoi Hilton" as it became known. but after six years the beatings and torture that were once routine became less and less frequent.

During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade rubber bucket. One day as we all stood stripped of our clothes by the tank, Mike, a younger naval aviator, found the remnants of an old handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall.

Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag. Over times we all leant him a little soap and he spent days cleaning it. Although it was just a grey and tattered piece of cloth, we all stole bits and pieces of anything red and blue. At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag.
With thread from his one blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars. He made red and blue from ground up roof tiles, medicine; anything we could scrounge or steal. With watery rice glue, he painted them onto the cloth.

Early in the morning a few days later --- when the guards were not alert --- he whispered loudly from the back of his cell. "Hey gang, look here." He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth waving it as if in a breeze. If you used a lot of imagination, you could kind of tell it was supposed to be an American Flag. When he held up that grimy rag, we automatically saluted as our chests puffed out and more than a few eyes had tears.

About once a week the guards would strip our clothes, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of these shakedowns they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for Mike. Night interrogations were always the worst. they opened the cell door, and pulled him out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him into the torture cell. They "bent" him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken, even his voice was gone.

Within two weeks, Mike had scrounged another piece of cloth and began making another flag --- you see, Mike was that kind of American. I related this story on the floor of the Senate to illustrate the power of a symbol, the power of the U.S. Flag.

Some people believe we must be able to destroy our flag to prove we are free. Mike believed we must protect our flag to prove we are free.

I remember that story every Fourth of July, because I believe that when we look at the flag we should not be allowed to forget those who have defended it with their very lives. Patriotism - that swelling in the breast we all feel when the flag ripples and snaps in a crisp breeze - is easy. Defending the flag (or America, for that matter) is hard in this cynical age when symbols have fallen into disrepute and the retort of choice from those who see all of America's flaws and none of her virtues is, "Are you questioning my patriotism?" Of course these latter-day "patriots" are nowhere to be found when America is threatened by the kind of madmen who strap bombs to women and misguided teenagers dreaming of glory in the afterlife. They are too busy threatening to emigrate to enlightened nations like Canada or France where they can finally be free of the odious oppression of American government. Oddly though, they never do get around to leaving, do they?

Like spd, I don't think a flag burning amendment is the right answer. Mandating unquestioning reverence for a piece of cloth won't inspire the kind of grit that caused six men to climb Mt. Suribachi; a gesture that itself became a symbol of American determination, spirit, and the indominitable will to overcome:

Sixty years ago today, more than 110,000 Americans and 880 ships began their assault on a small volcanic island in the Pacific, in the climactic battle of the last year of World War II. For the next 36 days Iwo Jima would become the most populous 7 1/2 square miles on the planet, as U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers fought a battle that would test American resolve even more than D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge had, and that still symbolizes a free society's willingness to make the sacrifice necessary to prevail over evil--a sacrifice as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.

The attack on Iwo Jima capped a two-year island-hopping campaign that was as controversial with politicians and the press as any Rumsfeld strategy. Each amphibious assault had been bloodier than the last: at Tarawa, where 3,000 ill-prepared Marines fell taking an island of just three square miles; at Saipan, where Army troops performed so poorly two of their generals had to be fired; and Peleliu, where it took 10 weeks of fighting in 115-degree heat to root out the last Japanese defenders, at the cost of 6,000 soldiers and Marines.

What would the New York Times today make of Iwo Jima? A bloody, miserable failure? An atrocity? A war crime in the making? Would there be calls for the impeachment of FDR and calls for more transparency?

It is only time and distance that allow us to look back on horrific events like Iwo Jima. Now, it is a national monument. A symbol of national pride. And rightly so, for the unbelievable bravery of the men who fought and died there is almost unimaginable to our modern eyes.

But on Memorial Day I watched the faces of some of our vets as a wartime account was read onstage. I watched the tears course freely down their faces half a century later, and marvelled that the pain was still so fresh - that these men were so incredibly strong, and yet their wounds were still so raw. We ask a lot of our soldiers in the name of freedom. This, I think, is what makes me cry every time I hear that song on the radio: the recognition that freedom isn't really free. That I owe such an incredible debt to men I will never meet and whom I can never repay.

Pent_flag_draped.jpgAnd I am so thankful to them. It is to them that this site, however inadequate, is dedicated. As a woman, I have lived my entire life shielded from true evil. In fact, most Americans can say the same. We say others pose no threat to America because, thanks to those who protect us, we have never seen what barbarity our fellow men are capable of. And yet some of us, secure in our safe and comfortable suburban homes, find those who guard us more frightening than those who would kill us given half a chance:

The lesson of Iwo Jima is in fact an ancient one, going back to Machiavelli: that sometimes free societies must be as tough and unrelenting as their enemies. Totalitarians test their opponents by generating extreme conditions of brutality and violence; in those conditions--in the streets and beheadings of Fallujah or on the beach and in the bunkers of Iwo Jima--they believe weak democratic nerves will crack. This in turn demonstrates their moral superiority: that by giving up their own decency and humanity they have become stronger than those who have not.

The flag symbolizes so many things: our love for the abundant and tremendously varied land we inhabit, our belief in the ideals we share, our will to survive. In my basement there is a picture of the flag draped against the smoking ruins of the Pentagon just after September 11th. That, too, was symbolic.

Earlier, I told you Lee Greenwood's song was not the one I heard on the radio. I said that because the song that made me cry that day was a love song. But now that I think about it, I realize I was mistaken. It was a love song, after all.

Perhaps that is why I cried.

Posted by Cassandra at July 4, 2006 08:00 AM

Comments

Cass,
There are certain songs that really move people, especially with regards to patriotism.

From "America the Beautiful"

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot's dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Whenever I hear or sing the verse
"Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than might"

I think about that dark day in Sept. of 2001, and Ronnie Bucca (among others) who ran into a burning skyscraper, to neer return, to rescue his fellow man, and Rick Rescorla, who is probably more singly responsible for saving people that day than anyone else, who also went back in (and perished) to save others.

A few nights before Operation Iraqi Freedom started in 2003, the choir director of the church where my son's Cub Scout pack met, came up to the meeting hall and played patriotic songs on the piano, and the adults and kids sang along. When we sang this, I almost choked up and couldn't go on. It gets to me, too.

The next verse is hopeful: to the future. A bright future of shining cities and a free people. We can only hope....

Then there's this verse of this song:

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom
That transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy
Let us live to make men free!
Our God is marching on!

Today there are brave American men and women serving all over the world, a long way from home, working to make this come true, in the terrible crucible of the struggle of our age. Let us keep them in our hearts and minds, always.
Lest we forget the cost of freedom.

And a happy Fourth of July to all you people that are part of "Villainous Company"!

Vaya con Dios, friends.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 4, 2006 10:27 AM

The original version, Don, said:

"As he died to make us holy,
let us die to make men free."

It was a mistake to change the words. Death waits for all of us. The best death is in a noble cause. There are many noble causes in this world, but that one -- freedom -- is ours.

Let us die to make men free! I ask nothing better from my own death, when it comes.

Posted by: Grim at July 4, 2006 10:32 AM

Hmmmmm! Good thing y'all don't swing by here and see the condition of Old Glory on our flagpole. She's torn, has three little round holes in her, and even a patch of red smeared on the upper side by the Stars.

This lovely Flag was carried by Da Grunt throughout OIF2. The tear was from his pack getting hung in some rubble, the holes speak for themselves reminding us of the usefulness of SAPI plates, and that red splotch is the Blood of a Brother that was winged beside him. She smells to High Heaven as well. He still doesn't know how that Flag made it home as the buddy pack where She was secured was ripped to shreds. She wasn't leaving his side I guess.

Have no fear though, this is the only day we fly Her so maybe we'll be forgiven. She is an ugly Flag, all beat up, faded, and such. I know of no other that I own that brings the feelings and emotions this one does! I am in the process of building a full size display for Her. Complete with photos of Brothers and Brothers Lost, engravings, medals, ribbons, etc. It's something I want him to have for a wall somewhere in his home someday. He presented that Flag to us but it no sooner belongs to us then the Man in the Moon. There are no power tools being used in this construction. Hand coping saw only. There will be no need for caulk or putty in the fittings of this display. It will take a large wall, a fine wall, with hangers mounted directly into studs for a secure foundation. The same foundation that She represents. Truly a labor of love.

You will also not see this Flag hung in distress. Ever! But I guess I could wrap myself in Her to accomodate our brethren on the Left that are constantly accusing us of blind patriotism. Shame they have no clue and cannot understand the sheer affinity of a Flag of this type. It is a shame to never believe in anything bigger than yourself and not have the courage to lay down your life for anything. So yeah, I will will fly this tattered symbol of out Nation's strength. Proudly with no apologies!

Happy 4th of July folks. May the Good Lord continue to take a liking to you!

Posted by: JarheadDad at July 4, 2006 11:17 AM

I think Johnny Cash had a song on the subject of the "Ragged Old Flag." It's worth hearing today.

Posted by: Grim at July 4, 2006 11:33 AM

I still can't embed hyperlinks (what a 'tard!),

but go read this one:

http://www.darleenclick.com/weblog/archives/2006/06/patriotism_pfff.html

Or click on Darleen's Place on Cass's Cotillion Links. It's an old friend, speaking to us again from beyond the last sunset.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 4, 2006 11:44 AM

Cass, Lee Greenwood's song moves me to tears every time I hear it...but something else moves me to tears also-tears of rage that is.It's a phenomena I've witnessed in hotel bars around the world.....the "American" apologist.Everyone has met him(or her).The one espousing a greater E.U. role,or a greater U.N. role---anything to belittle America's standing.Unfortunately, the gentleman(or lady) has gotten a job at the New York Times since we last met.

Posted by: WildBlueYonder at July 4, 2006 04:46 PM

Nice to get a comment on the one thing I actually wrote today :)

It's such an old argument - and one that, like you, I have no energy for today. I'm just so happy to be alive, and living here.

We owe a great debt to those who have made that possible. I hope we never forget it, Greg.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 4, 2006 05:07 PM

Cass, you never cease to amaze.

Happy Independence Day.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 4, 2006 05:43 PM

Yay America!

Posted by: Dr. Harden Stuhl at July 4, 2006 06:03 PM

Viva Cassandra! Happy Fourth to you and your fam, from all us wingnuts! :D

Yeah, as the years go by, I like that Lee Greenwood song more and more. But ya know, it doesn't have enought cowbell. More cowbell would be good. :)

(watch out for that 'Unitary Editor' thread. Instalanche has sent the angry and self righteous on a rant-page).

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 4, 2006 06:19 PM

Well said, I'll pass it along, you deserve to be read.

Sometimes I feel so alone in my feelings for this Republic, a lot of my friends don't seem to care much anymore. They are too busy and absorbed in their little bubble of life.

Most of my brood is too busy trying to make their American Dream come true. But I got a surprise the other day, my oldest Grandson told me he had visited a Navy Recruiter and took some tests and was scheduled to go out of town to take more.

I just hugged him and told him I was proud of him.

He just smiled and said, "After listening to you all these years, what did you expect?"

My flag flys year around. I do replace her when she is tattered a little and I give her a proper send off to wherever old flags go. I learned how to do that back in another world, when I was a young Boy Scout.

I hope that all Americans can come together under our Flag, before it is too late. Even so, for those that don't, our Warriors will protect them,even if they don't understand, agree or even help our enemies.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

Posted by: Papa Ray at July 4, 2006 06:32 PM

What a great post! Happy 230th everyone!

Posted by: Mike at July 4, 2006 06:59 PM

Thank you for the wonderful post and the comments! Makes my heart sing!

Happy Birthday America!

Posted by: Syl at July 4, 2006 08:57 PM

I encountered this sentiment long ago, and have always supported it:

"... so: if you want a symbolic gesture, don't BURN the flag, WASH it!"
- Norman Thomas -

It seems to me to be the appropriate attitude, one lost on the Left -- if you have a problem with America, the answer is not the destruction of it and its ideals -- it is to clean off the grime and grunge you disagree with.

I don't concur that it needs cleaning, at least, not a lot -- but I can grasp how some might rightfully disagree with me.

But I don't accept that anyone who wants to burn the flag cares one whit about this nation and its ideals.

No, that does not mean I support an anti-flag-burning amendment -- but perhaps the debate over one would revitalize discussion of what this nation is about in circles which have clearly forgotten...

Posted by: O Bloody Hell at July 4, 2006 09:25 PM

Well said, Cass.

Posted by: Cricket at July 5, 2006 02:10 AM

I went to a baseball game today. Normally, they have someone sing the National Anthem before the game, but the Dell Diamond has a tradition of having the fans sing it on the July 4th game day. Everyone was standing, facing the flag: fans in the stands and on the grass berm, players on the field and by the dugout and bullpen. I saw a young soldier in the new digitized camo. Everyone had hand over heart, except the soldier - he was saluting. The announcer got us started, and it sounded beautiful: 12,000 singing the National Anthem together.



They also played the Johnny Cash "Ragged Old Flag" monologue before the game. That got applause, too. At the 7th inning stretch, they played "God Bless America" instead of the usual "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". After the game, they had a 4th of July fireworks display. Also, during the game, they honored all our military, but in particular a couple of local boys home on leave. I think one of them was sworn into the Marine Corps out at the ballpark a year ago. I took pictures of that last season.... Overall, a nice way to spend Independence Day.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 5, 2006 02:10 AM

Thanks so much for the wonderful comments. Sorry I was scarce yesterday. I had a houseful of people and was trying to stay off the computer. Hope you all had a tremendous fourth :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 5, 2006 05:14 AM

"Of course, it isn't the flag itself which gives us our rights."

Why I have not in over a decade, and will never again repeat the pledge of allegiance (written by a commie hoping to engender love of the "state" anyway!)

If MARTA administration can do one thing right, they sure do speedily replace flags if you report one in poor condition. Did that last October, and a new one was up in two days.

I hope nobody had to witness the all too familiar "hats on heads" throughout the crowd during the national anthem yesterday. It's easier to peer pressure college kids into removing their covers than it is to fix the middle aged folks (especially women!)

Posted by: Jmarsh at July 5, 2006 07:41 AM

And to add......................What a beautiful Independence Day sight, the Shuttle flying flawlessly into the heavens.Proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.....

Posted by: WildBlueYonder at July 5, 2006 01:39 PM

AND...for more cowbell, visit www.sickjokes.net.

Posted by: WildBlueYonder at July 5, 2006 01:43 PM

last post edited to add:cowbell.wmv

Posted by: WildBlueYonder at July 5, 2006 01:44 PM

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