“It’s the flag, man!” Why are flags so important to us?

U.S. Flag

The symbol above, which represents the United States of America, is often treated with more respect than the people living within it.

What is a flag?

According to a common dictionary definition, a flag is the following:

“…a piece of cloth, varying in size, shape, color, and design, usually attached at one edge to a staff or cord, and used as the symbol of a nation, state, or organization, as a means of signaling, etc.; ensign; standard; banner; pennant.”

Simple enough, right? It’s most often the symbol for a nation or a state. It is something that is supposed to represent the people within a particular nation or state, something that they can all identify with and rally behind. It makes sense in war, where a flag can be seen as a rallying cry for soldiers, or it can distinguish one group of combatants from another, especially at sea. But let’s put aside war for a moment, as it should be the last thing we humans think about.

Why are flags so important? “Well,” you may say, “they’re symbols of our nation.” Okay, fine. But why does it command respect? If the symbolism, if the very notion of anything being representative of your nation is so powerful, that any embodiment of it earns your respect, what are you experiencing? That’s called nationalism.

I’m not fond of nationalism, myself, especially since it is among the chief causes of the worst wars in human history. National pride and a labyrinthine series of alliances caused World War I, a conflict which many men went into willingly, under the delusion that fighting it was a romantic way of furthering their nation’s interests. In the fallout of that wasteful conflict, nationalism, taken to its extreme, led to the Second World War, the effects of which are still being felt today.

Generally speaking, I think nationalism is not a good thing. It creates an unhealthy sense of ethnocentrism, belief that your culture or your country is superior to other cultures or countries just by virtue of its own existence. But can you still have a sense of national pride, without necessarily stooping to the extreme of being a nationalist? I think so. I think you can be proud of where you live, you can think it’s great, and that’s all well and good. I would hope that you at least like the country that you live in, otherwise you have problems.

I can’t speak for being a citizen of other nations. I’ve visited other countries, but I can only speak for living in the United States. So what do I see here? Well, there are almost as many opinions on what it means to be “an American” as there are Americans. The diversity of this country is, in some ways, one of its great strengths. For years, this country has been seen as a beacon of liberty and freedom to others around the world, a place to go and live your life as you wish it to be lived. But, based on observation, my opinion is that the majority of Americans are so ingrained with a sense of misguided nationalism, that we now look as much like a bully as we do a bastion of freedom and justice for all. A staggering number of people that I encounter still think this is the greatest country on Earth, by default of living here. Hmm… are you sure? How can you know if you’re unwilling to travel abroad, or willing to invest some research into seeing how other nations on this planet are run? The United States spends more money on war and defense than nearly all of its allies combined; it’s enough to feed the world’s population, if applied correctly. We lag behind the rest of the First World in a number of key areas, particularly health care. We just now figured out that maybe the government shouldn’t have a say in the gender of whom a citizen chooses to marry.

Which brings me back to the flag. There are some schools now that are hit and miss on making kids say the Pledge of Allegiance, but when I was a kid it was still standard practice. Do you honestly believe that being made to say the Pledge as a youth is some innocent part of everyday curriculum? No, it’s nationalism being programmed into your brain. A Judeo-Christian take on American nationalism, of course, with the words “under God” being shoehorned in back in 1954 to fight back against “godless Communism.”

So why do you have to pledge allegiance to a flag? And of course, as it goes, to “the republic for which it stands?” No one chooses to be born a citizen of any particular nation; their parents make the choice for them. And you become a citizen whether you pledge allegiance or not. Why do I need to do it? Especially in the United States, a nation founded in defiance, when a minority stood up against an empire, and declared that they did not owe their allegiance to King George.

Halo 3 Flags

“Why do we want to capture the flag?”
“Because… because it’s the flag!”

Of course this is largely hypothesizing. I realize that in any nation, even a democracy or a republic, a citizen has to do something to contribute to the larger whole, otherwise the whole point of living in a society is lost. We usually see that come out as taxes. So as long as you’re not dodging your basic responsibility, namely taxes, why does the flag and your allegiance matter so much? Isn’t the point of being an American, that you DON’T owe allegiance to anyone except yourself and your fellow countrymen? The government is supposed to serve the people, not the other way around. The same goes for the media, and other aspects of the public sector.

I said all of that to come back to this: it is my observation, that the best way to be an American, and to really embody the principals upon which this nation was founded, is that we as the people in it should be its ultimate symbols, not the flag itself. It’s a piece of fabric. Sure it may be nice to look at. It may stir feelings of patriotism, it may bring echoes of the Declaration of Independence into your mind. It may remind you of September 11’s aftermath, when for a short time, this nation stood largely united. But if the flag wasn’t there, shouldn’t the good things it reminds of you of still exist in your mind, and be embodied in the way you live?

I don’t need a flag to be a human being. I don’t need a flag to be free. I don’t need a flag to make me feel like I’m special or better than anyone else. I don’t care if you stomp on it or burn it; you’ve just wasted your own money, and the most important thing is, you can’t stomp or burn the ideas that the flag is supposed to represent. Why should I, or anyone for that matter, get offended by what people do with an American flag? If people showed as much respect for their fellow human beings as they did for a damn flag, things might just be a little nicer day to day.

USAUpsideDownFlagANationinDistress

It’s true that some are overly quick to display this flag upside down, usually in response to a bill being passed that is unfavorable to them. But ultimately, how wrong is it to suggest that your nation might be in trouble? If the simple inversion of your nation’s flag instantly offends you, isn’t there a bigger issue?

The next time you get upset when you see a flag being burned, stomped on, flown upside down, or anything else that gets your knickers in a twist, remember this: it’s a flag. You’ve been conditioned to come to your flag’s defense. Having respect for it is all well and good in its own way, but treating your fellow man with respect and dignity, and living a good life that gives something back to the rest of the world… well, to me, that’s worth more than any piece of fabric ever will be. Is that so horrible?

FIN

 

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