Until the war began, it was easy for me to keep my illusion that the majority of the American people understood and respected the flag. What it meant, what it stood for. My family respected it, and raised me to do the same. My friends and their parents also knew what the flag meant: who had died for it, and why it was important. It was never 'just an object'. I believed firmly that the rest of America felt the same way that I did about it.
Then the war began, and I started seeing flags everywhere. Flags on bikinis. Flags at Walmarts and gas stations. People putting tiny plastic flags on their cars.
Some may not know how closely a soldier is tied to the flag. I raised my right hand and swore my oath with the flag standing by-in fact, no oath of enlistment or reenlistment is legal and valid unless there is a flag standing by, that symbol of honor to ensure that America is watching over the pledge you make to it. Most days, I wake up early in the morning, and the first thing I see before the dawn breaks is the flag, proud against the dim light, raising as it always will when there are soldiers to lift it. The first thing I do to start most days is to execute a brisk salute. As old as I get, I do not think I will ever forget how to do that.
A lot of people have been talking about seeing upside-down American flags in protests against the Iraq War. Some of them think it's disrespectful. Often it's the same people with the American Flag undershirts and the American flag printed on their beer steins. The same people who raise those flags to try to pretend to patriotism, to attract business by appealing to your love of country. I've tolerated it for a while, getting angrier and angrier. But at last, I've decided: I can't take it any longer silent. I need to speak out, and hope someone is listening.
You see, a lot of people don't realize this, but there's something more than just personal opinion dictating how to treat the flag. There's actual law about it. The United States Flag Code, Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1. And it dictates what can and cannot be done to show respect.
Flying the flag with the union down? (Upside down) May not be done- except as a signal of dire distress. Dire distress is certainly a good word for how many people feel about this war- a war being waged against our honor and for purposes not related to defense of our nation. It is not disrespectful-it is precisely how the flag code lays out that it should be displayed.
Now let's talk about those so-called "patriots".
The flag should never be used as wearing apparel (8d, US Flag Code) That's right, folks. Every time one of you makes another god awful T-shirt with a flag on it saying "Support the troops", or "Freedom Isn't Free", or "Don't Cut And Run", or any of the other garbage you happen to be espousing at the time, you are disrespecting my flag . Every time one of you wears another ball cap with an American flag on it, you are disrespecting my flag and breaking the code .
Let's look at some more US Code on this. The only people who are authorized to wear the flag as part of their clothing, and the only way they may do it, is expressed as follows:
a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel,
firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.
A flag patch. PATCH.
Now all you people displaying flags? Displaying flags everywhere and anywhere, getting shredded and tattered and torn, displaying them day and night, in all weather? You are killing those flags. I would say murdering, except I hope that it's not intentional. Strong language, you say? It's just a flag? Let's go back to the flag code. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.
You do not display it tattered and torn, or on your pro-war signs so that you can seem patriotic. You do not display it at night without lighting. You do not display it in hail or snow unless it is a storm flag, otherwise referred to as an "all-weather" flag. You do not put it on your bumper sticker with some words about "staying the course". You do NOT let it touch the ground.
I know that you people probably won't listen to me. You've got a bad habit of only listening to the ideas you already agree with. But next time, before you attempt to say that a former service member is somehow dishonoring the flag or disrespecting the flag by flying it upside down, try to remember that no one who really loves their country would ever disrespect it-and read the Flag Code yourself. Stop using the flag to make yourselves seem patriotic. Burn those ballcaps and T-shirts so the flag can rest in peace. Take down those wind-torn flags you've been displaying in the dark-carry them gently, they have seen hard service-and cut the stars and the stripes apart. Do what's right-and know your own country's history, traditions, and rules. Not just what some pundit told you to think-think for YOURSELVES.