Andy Stone: Flag burning and dishonor on a Colorado mountaintop
September 18, 2003
It seems some evil idiots climbed a mountain in Summit County this week just to burn an American flag.
Most of the time, flag burnings don’t bother me much, but this one has me in a rage.
In case you haven’t been following the story, the flag had been put up on top of a mountain outside the town of Frisco last year to honor all those killed in the attacks of September 11. In fact, the flag raised there a year ago had been shredded by the mountaintop winds and it had just been replaced this month – again, to honor those who died on 9-11.
The people who burned the flag left a note, saying they had destroyed it to protest the war in Iraq. The fools.
I said that most flag burnings don’t bother me.
After all, when enemies of America burn our flag – well, that’s pretty much what you’d expect. They want to kill us, to destroy our country. Under the circumstances, burning the flag is almost trivial.
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It gets a little more complicated when Americans burn the flag – but I still can’t get too upset.
Bear in mind, the flag doesn’t make America great. America makes the flag great. And a large part of what makes this nation great is our guarantee of free speech – and that includes “political speech” such as flag burning.
So, when they burn the flag to show their disrespect, all they are doing is underlining the greatness of a nation that can tolerate flag burning. That may seem circular – but they’re the ones who get bitten when the circle is closed, because even as they protest, they are proving themselves wrong.
Still, America gives us the right to be wrong.
But what happened this week in Summit County was wrong in a different way. The thing is, most of the time, when people burn the flag, they burn a flag that is theirs, a flag that they brought with them for exactly that purpose.
That wasn’t what happened this time. This wasn’t their flag.
I’m not talking about property rights. I’m talking about the fact that this particular flag had been erected and dedicated to the memory of thousands of innocent victims of an act of brutal terror. Burning this particular flag was not, therefore, an act of protest; it was an act of wanton, vile desecration.
But, sadly, it’s not quite that simple. There’s more to this ugly equation.
When Americans flew the flag after 9-11, it was an act of solidarity. That was altogether appropriate.
But more recently, since the start of the war in Iraq, some people have been flying the flag to show support, not for the nation, but for the war and for the president – as if it’s his flag. Some have tried to take the flag that belongs to all Americans and claim it for their own. They have wrapped the war in the flag and have tried to equate opposition to the war with disrespect for the flag.
And so they too must bear some responsibility for what happened to that flag in Summit County. Because when you politicize the flag, you are placing it at risk.
I remember a time, decades ago, during the war in Vietnam when policemen with American-flag patches sewn on their sleeves arrested hippie war protesters for the “crime” of having American flags sewn on the back of their denim jackets.
“It’s our flag,” those policemen were saying, with their nightsticks and handcuffs. “When we wear it, we are honoring it. When you wear, it is a dishonor and a crime.”
But it wasn’t the hippies who were dishonoring the flag back then.
And so we must ask, who is dishonoring the flag when it is flown for political gain today?
How curious that, in the end, in some strange fashion, those who burn the flag are showing its strength. Those who politicize it are dishonoring it.
And the evil idiots who burned the flag in Summit County have not dishonored the flag. It is stronger and better than they are.
They have only brought shame on themselves.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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