A Piece of Cloth

July 5th, 2020

“Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country will be righteous as well as strong.” – James Bryce

Well, the 4th of July is over for another year. I have trouble with the 4th, just like I have trouble with other patriotic holidays. I guess I just don’t understand the intense emotions that are conjured up by the 4th of July. That seems odd since I am a West Point graduate, and I served as an Army officer for six years. Unlike some of my fellow citizens, I don’t experience that spontaneous welling up of national pride. I don’t rejoice in our country’s economic and military might. I don’t feel different or better than a German or a Russian or a Palestinian or whomever. When people talk about “freedom” and “independence”, I wonder what they mean by those words. I wonder if they even know what the words mean.

I just don’t get it.

I don’t own a flag, so I don’t wave one. Most of the people on our street display an American flag (or flags). I don’t mind that. It doesn’t bother me. I generally don’t even notice them any more. They are pretty in a way. They make nice decorations.

Many people have incredibly visceral feelings about the American flag. For some of them it is an object of adoration. It is a symbol of all that is good about the United States. Perhaps, some of these people are veterans and their military experiences are intimately connected with the flag. Some people believe that America is “exceptional”, unique in all the world, and in all of human history. The flag embodies that special status. When one of my friends died a few months ago, two soldiers gave his widow a flag as part of an elaborate ceremony at his funeral. The flag meant something to this woman.

Other people hate the flag. They see racism, violence, and greed in the red, white, and blue. They are willing to burn the flag to express their anger.  I would never burn a U.S. flag. I don’t see any point in that. To do that, I would have to see a symbol in the flag.

All I see is a piece of cloth.

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