"Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let me label you as they may." ~ Mark Twain
Free Speech vs. the Flag
That's the only word I can use to describe recent statements by Thomas Cadmus of the American Legion.
The House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning "physical desecration" of the American flag. The measure will now move on to the Senate, and if it passes -- which it will, based on recent GOP history -- it will move to the states, 38 of which are needed to amend the Constitution.
To this, Mr. Cadmus says: "The voice of the American people has been heard and heeded."
He goes on: "I salute the House of Representatives for . . . returning to the people a fundamental right that had been exercised from our beginning as a nation -- the right to protect our flag."
Excuse me while I choke to death from laughing.
Now, let me say right upfront that I don't believe in desecrating the flag. In fact, while this may not sit well with some STR readers, I actually respect the damn thing. However, unlike a lot of people I know, I don't respect it because I think it stands for "freedom" or "democracy." No, I respect it in much the same way I respect the finest local restaurants, architecture, and festivals. I respect it as a cultural symbol -- not a political one. I love my country. I love its scenery, its history, its people. I laugh whenever I'm asked, "If you think it's so bad here, why don't you leave?" Why should I leave? I was born and raised here. Get rid of the tyrants. They're the ones who suck.
All the same, America does piss me off sometimes. And if I'm feeling particularly angry about something, say, war-related, I won't think twice about snarling at the flag or even straight-up giving it the finger. I won't claim this actually solves anything. It doesn't. And no doubt, there are far more productive ways to go about pushing for change. But who are you to tell me how to let off steam? If I want to tell the flag to kiss my ass, what the hell does it matter to you? It's a piece of cloth. What do you think I'm going to do -- hurt its feelings? The materials they made it with were probably one step from becoming some two-bit prostitute's sweater. Lay off the reverence already. It's unbecoming.
That's the thing that gets me about Mr. Cadmus's comments. Just look at the irony here. Americans have a "fundamental right" to "protect our flag," he says. Well, that's funny. After pledging allegiance and singing its praises at sporting events so many years, I was starting to think the flag would protect us. But the fact is it won't, though. And no matter what Mr. Cadmus may say, this flag amendment isn't commensurate with freedom. It's commensurate with crouching down to lick the hand that feeds you. Nothing more. Nothing less. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Mr. Cadmus points out that 75 to 80 percent of Americans support "protect[ing] Old Glory." All that means is 75 to 80 percent of the American people think the sanctity of a stupid flag is more important than their God-given right to mouth off.
If a majority of Americans really do oppose flag desecration, then you don't even need an amendment. After all, most people weren't going to desecrate the flag anyway. The truth of the matter is, this amendment is meant to stop the select few who do enjoy ruining the flag. And it's meant to discourage the rest of us from getting any funny ideas. Our government, like any government, is a territorial monopoly. Its hold on this land depends on your reverence for it. That's why they want you to put the flag on a pedestal. A lot of people think, "If it's the law, then it must be right." And if the government can convince people that any attack on its flag is, in fact, an attack on the country -- its scenery, its history, its people -- then the government can get away with anything.
The First Amendment guaranteed Americans the right to dissent. Some people thought the Bill of Rights was a bad idea because it seemed to limit the rights of the people, not the rights of the government. More and more over time, this appears to be true. When you elevate your government to the role of a god, it can give and take what it wants from you. No amount of respect and admiration for an inanimate object will change this. If you give up your right to desecrate the flag, you give up your right to criticize your government.
And if you give up your right to criticize your government . . . well, you give up your rights.
I don't know Mr. Cadmus. I'm sure he's a fine, upstanding man. And as a veteran, I am sure he's quite genuine in his love and respect for this country. My grievance isn't with him, though. It's with the sentiment he so eloquently expresses. Because that sentiment, in my mind, is utterly hilarious -- and even a little hysterical.