Hillary Rodham Clinton has agreed to co-sponsor a bill by Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett that would make it illegal for anyone to intimidate any other person by burning the flag, to burn someone else’s flag or to desecrate the flag on federal property. At the same time, however, Clinton continues to oppose efforts to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning.

My first question of many for Senator Clinton is this: “Are all flags created equal?” Today is “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day” and to reflect on that awful reminder of the ignition of our ongoing responsibility to fight to protect our Democracy, I am asking you today to burn an American flag to prove the United States is stronger than colors embedded in the warp and woof of a bolt of cloth.

Burning an American flag has historically been the ultimate visual sign of protest and dissent in America and it has yet to wrench us asunder — despite the cries and howls from the hinterlands and the hallways of congress — hundreds of flags have been burned over the last hundred years and the state of the union is solid, intact and as ever defiant against those who wish to do us evil in our midst. I’ve always found it curious when people get upset when a flag is burned. American Flag burning is necessary and important to marking our future as it pocks our past.

Old Glory isn’t being burned. Old Glory is safely hanging in tatters in the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. Flag burning has been an easy attempt on both sides of the political flame to ignite the other into doing something stupid to prove the point of the other that the other is stupid. A burning flag should be reflected in our wet eyes as the voice of freedom singing against the darkening air of repression.

An American flag is only a symbol of something greater. Are all American flags sacred? Does golden fringe on a flag add more fury to the immediacy of burning? Is a plastic flag less valuable? If I draw an American flag on the sidewalk and then wash it off later — would I be accused of being disrespectful of the United States? Is sidewalk flag washing just as insulting as burning flags into ash?

The American flag isn’t sewn with fragmented fibers that creak in the wind or get insulted when turned to soot. An American flag is a value that can never be touched by human hands but it is always flying within us and held in the human heart as an experience worthy of respect and death. The true protection of the American flag comes in the defense of each other — without pause — without quibbling — without any antidotes or maybes or perhaps we’ll sees.

When we stand with each other and defend all our unique human core values, we become bearers of the burning flag — and even if we all burst into flame in a wild attack in the night there will be others to replace us who tightly fly the American flag within them as well — and to suggest our dedication and our being and our nationhood and our patriotism are as fragile as fabric flapping in the wind is to destroy an idea upon which our nation was founded: Free people deserve free speech and when either are chained, the matches are sure to follow.

32 Comments

  1. You know, that’s something I’d always wondered. The fact that if you draw an American Flag and erase it or throw it away is that just as bad as burning it. Great post David, you bring thoughts I forgot I had out into the open.

  2. Robin —
    Well, according to all the arguments I’ve read against flag burning — any flag in any form would be protected.
    That makes you wonder about the flag printed on a book of matches or the American flag I saw printed on napkins I saw at a Republican fundraiser in Nebraska a while ago. So you can wipe your mouth with a representation of an American flag, but not burn it in protest? I hope they didn’t incinerate their trash!
    What about a flag with 45 stars and 12 stripes? Would that be protected as well?
    To write a law against flag burning you’d have to make it so wide and far-reaching it would be ridiculous or so narrow it would be a mockery: “Only American flags manufactured by Halliburton are protected from burning.”
    Flag burning has always been a witless political “branding issue” — are you for or against flag burning? How many politicians would raise their hand and yes, “Yes, I vote for burning.”

  3. Actually I thought I remembered hearing once that if it doesn’t have the exact stripes and stars of the American Flag then it doesn’t count. I mean to think of all the bumper stickers, shirts, bathing suits, etc. with the flag on it I can’t imagine that would be the same.

  4. I have some old flags that I need to burn because they have faded in the sun or have ripped during windstorms.
    I have been flying a flag outside of my house in some fashion since 9/11. I remember putting it up on that clear day when the only planes flying over my city were F16s armed and ready to defend Chicago.
    I probably won’t go to our city’s war memorial and light up my faded and ripped flags, however. I’ll leave it up to the local VFW. They have a ceremony to dispose of old flags — by burning them.
    Even if I wouldn’t touch my Zippo to a flag, I would support anyone’s right to protest in that fashion. We are strong enough to handle seeing the symbol of our country burned in protest.
    Sometimes protest is inane.
    Sometimes it is necessary.
    Who can judge if we slap muzzles over the mouths of protesters?
    If we stamp out free speech (and burning the flag is a form of political speech), we lose the liberty that is the basis of our country. The slippery slope is hard to escape once we step onto it. What will be banned next?
    After all, the only way for great ideas to succeed is to allow them to compete and rise above the lesser ideas.

  5. Robin! — What you say makes a lot of sense but there are some hardcore politicians out there who want any “representation” of the American flag protected.
    Dave! — I am provocatively claiming today that we should not have fear of burning an American flag in this nation and live in terror of taking a beating or being thrown in jail if we decide to burn one. I agree your scenario of an African-American burning a flag to prove a point in the south would likely lead to death or some other irreparable ugliness, but it is interesting in the same breath to note that burning crosses on that same African-American’s lawn is not as equally disgusting to some in the south who defend the flag against its ashes.
    Chris — Your point about 9/11 is fascinating and I love it you always fly your flag instead of just on Flag Day. Our landlord strapped a small polyester flag to an electrical pipe on the front of our building with plastic ties. That flag has been there since 9/11 and it is faded and tattered. Janna and I look at it and are disappointed such a fine effort to respect the event has now become nothing more than a piece of trash. We don’t have the heart to bring it up with our landlord, though, because to some loyalists, a flag is a flag even if it is worn away and indiscernible from a filthy handkerchief.

  6. Follow my Hillary Clinton link today in the main post above and you’ll see flag burning is still a hot issue in America. I agree there are so many other much more powerful and meaningful issues we need to solve first. Flag Burning is easy. Poverty and discrimination by social status is tough.

  7. Most of the houses on my block fly American flags daily. Everyone knows someone overseas because local National Guard and Reserve units were deployed. It’s a way we can show our support for the troops.
    I wonder if “flag neglect” could be considered desecration?
    Flags only have a life span of a few months and should be replaced often.
    Is there any difference between burning a flag and flying a it until it fades into a garish ghost of its former glory or shreds into a thousand pieces?

  8. Chris —
    I like it that your neighborhood is so tightly knit!
    You make an excellent point that ignoring a flag into ruins is the same desecration as burning it in political protest. I realize there are strict guidelines about replacing flags and then appropriately burning them when they have reached the end of their lives or been inappropriately contaminated.

  9. Chris —
    I like it that your neighborhood is so tightly knit!
    You make an excellent point that ignoring a flag into ruins is the same desecration as burning it in political protest. I realize there are strict guidelines about replacing flags and then appropriately burning them when they have reached the end of their lives or been inappropriately contaminated.

  10. Wow, Dave!
    There’s a lot to chew on here in addition to the macaroni! Pass the apple pie and lemonade while I try to think this through with you…
    One would believe burning a cross would be just as serious an offense against democracy and America as putting a flame to a flag, but it is not for the same reasons that permeate my second post for today about the beating of the professor in Kansas — might is seen as right and punching always beats intellect and reason — and that “policy by punching bag” mimics our current foreign diplomacy across the world. Bullies should beware, however, because they get into trouble when their bats are not big enough to beat down the burgeoning crowd surrounding them on all sides.
    I agree there has been a deceitful, successful, political campaign that conveniently uses the trinkets of patriotism — flags, the president, dissent against the majority — as loyalty tests and if you fail any of them you are immediately aligned with the “miscreant terrorists in the Middle East.” That guilt — not by association, but by being anti-iconic — is a brilliant new cudgel to enforce conservative behavior against the Blue and Purple believers in what is right and important to the living.
    I prefer provolone to American — but to fit in and to go along I better have some American cheese with my whine or the angry bullets of disloyalty may find their fists beating into my heart.

  11. Okay, I give, I give! You win!
    Now take your SOLO cups and your Nabisco cookies and your ConAgra popcorn cabal and you Zippo lighter and your handkerchief flag and your non-KKK Korn Festival and go celebrate America with your mother on her birthday that lives in infamy!
    😆

  12. Hello Dave. This isn’t a facetious question. Why are liberals–I’m assuming you’re a liberal based on your pro-flag burning post–always so quick to defend speech that trashes America? And you wonder why you have such a patriotism problem! How about defending saying something NICE about America for a change? I think the main difference between liberals and conservatives is that, while conservatives believe in free speech and the right to protest, they DON’T think that protest is, by definition, patriotic. Rather,they believe that it’s the CONTENT of protest that makes it patriotic. Liberals, on the other hand, have a protest-can’t-be-disloyal attitude. It doesn’t matter to liberals how blatantly hateful or anti-American a protester’s actual speech is;if he’s protesting, he’s being patriotic. That’s the liberal rule. And if you break it by listening to what the protester actually says, and then criticizing it, you’re attacked as a Nazi trying to destroy free speech. So, is my analysis right, Dave? I really want to know what you think. A little exchange of ideas, which is what free speech is really all about.

  13. As a prior Marine and a citizen of this country, I carry great pride in the American flag.
    I think far too many people only see the flag as a symbol of our government representing this great nation.
    The American flag is much greater than that though. I have to ask every flag burner out there, would you walk up and urinate on the grave of someone you don’t know?
    When you go out and purchase an American flag for yourself, though you spent money on it you do not own it. No matter how much you spend, that flag does not belong to you. Men and women who gave their lives are the true owners, they paid the ultimate price so you and I are able to express and exercise our rights in this great country. The American flag in my eyes is the headstone of every man, woman and child who have died protecting the freedom that we as Americans enjoy every day.
    The American flag is a symbol that represents this country but more importantly it honors those who have given their lives to protect this land and our freedoms.
    In my heart, anyone who burns the flag is desecrating the graves of our fallen heroes. If you feel the need to burn something because you are angry with the government, use the presidential seal or something but stay away from the American flag.
    If I ever see anyone disrespecting those who have given all for this country, by burning the flag, I will stand up for those who are not here to do it themselves.