Andy Stone: Why I wear the flag proudly
With the weather finally warming up, I pulled my denim jacket out of the closet this week. I was a little surprised to find the American flag pin still there on the chest pocket.
It’s just a small pin, but it brings back strong memories.
I bought it in New York at Ground Zero just a week or two after September 11. Plumes of smoke still rose from the rubble that afternoon as I slowly circled the site.
My eyes watered as I stood there, maybe from the smoke, maybe from the acrid odor that filled the air – an odor so strong that I had smelled it as soon as I stepped off the subway, several stories below ground, several blocks away.
I bought that flag pin as soon as I came within sight of the rubble. I wondered for an instant whether I should be offended at someone selling pins, making a buck at the scene of the tragedy. But I was glad he was there. It was inconceivable for me to stand there and not wear the flag.
I expect most of you remember that feeling, whether you visited Ground Zero or not. Flags were suddenly flying all over America, on homes and businesses, on cars and trucks, on T-shirts and denim jackets.
I remember thinking, even then, that it was a strange phenomenon.
We are all Americans. We are in America. Why do we fly the flag in response to a grievous assault?
It was, of course, a show of solidarity. I found myself thinking that it was like family members at a funeral, who reach out to touch one another, as a sign of reassurance.
We flew the flag as our way of reaching out, making contact. For reassurance. For strength in a moment of sadness.
I wore that flag pin every day for more than a year.
Then, little by little, the flags began to disappear. A year had passed. We hadn’t forgotten, but we had moved on.
I stopped wearing my flag pin. Not because I was any less American, any less patriotic. In fact, to my mind, it was the opposite. I felt as if it was time for us to stop insisting that September 11 was the most important moment in all of our lives. It was time to stop pointing, even figuratively, to our injury.
America, I felt, is too strong to become obsessed with that one terrible moment. Terrible things happen to people. Strong people eventually recover, they rise above their tragedies. We all know people who have had something terrible happen to them and who never recover. We sympathize, but we can’t avoid thinking that their inability to recover is a sign of their weakness.
I wasn’t going to be part of America’s weakness. I wanted to celebrate our strength, so when I switched to a warmer coat late last fall, I left the flag pin on my denim jacket.
And then, this March, when the war in Iraq began, I suddenly noticed that the flags had begun to fly again.
It wasn’t as many flags as before, but still there were a lot of flags on homes and businesses, on cars and trucks.
These flags weren’t embracing. They weren’t reassuring. They weren’t saying we are all Americans together.
These flags were belligerent. They were saying, “I am in favor of this war!” They were saying, “What’s the matter with you?”
These flags were dividing, not uniting.
It saddened me, because one of the wonderful things about all the flags that appeared after September 11 was the fact that those flags didn’t belong to one political party. They didn’t belong to one philosophy. They were really and truly American flags in the fullest and very best sense.
Now the flags that fly are Republican flags. Conservative flags. George Bush flags. Agree-with-me-or-else flags.
It bothers me because, as has often been noted, America is a country founded on an idea – on a cluster of ideas. The idea of freedom. The idea of equality. The ideas of free speech and freedom of worship. The idea that we are all in this together: E pluribus Unum – out of many, one.
Now we are flying flags that reject those ideas, flags that say “I feel this way because I’m an American. And you’re not an American if you don’t agree with me.”
Those flags may be the stars and stripes, red white and blue, but I’ll tell you what, they’re un-American.
I stopped wearing my flag pin because I thought it was time for America to show its strength of character.
Now I have to start wearing it again. And I’m going to wear it because I don’t agree with those other flags.
Because I’m not willing to let one side in our great national debate hijack the flag.
I’m going to wear it because it’s my flag too.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.