The Bland Old Flag

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I
applaud the South Carolina legislature for voting to remove the
Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome where it has flown for
38 years. There can be no question: the Confederate flag is a symbol
of slavery which no civilized society will tolerate. If I have a
criticism of South Carolina, it is this: the legislature did not
go far enough.

It
targeted only the battle flag of the Confederacy – the
familiar blue bars crisscrossing a red background
– which
was a flag of convenience only. The First Official Flag of the Confederacy
(1861-1863) is a more fitting symbol for protest. This flag called
the Stars and Bars – white and red bars with seven stars representing
the original Confederate States – receded into obscurity for
pragmatic reasons. It was not sufficiently distinct from the Stars
and Stripes to prevent confusion on the battlefield. Equally, the
Bonnie Blue should be removed from sight. This flag – a single
star on a blue background, signifying the South united as one –
became the first unofficial symbol of the Confederacy.

Of
course, these flags and symbols signified slavery for four years
only, during the War of Secession. A far more egregious symbol is
the Stars and Stripes. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress
passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved,that the flag of the thirteen
United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that
the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing
a new constellation." It was this flag that flew during the
infamous 3/5ths compromise within the Constitution by which a slave
counted as 3/5ths of a human being for purposes of the political
representation of Southern whites. Article IV Section 2, established
the right of slave owners to pursue fugitive slaves, "No person
held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping
into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein,
be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered
up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."
The Stars and Stripes not only presided as slavery was cemented
into the fabric of American government and society, it flew over
that slave nation for almost a century.

The
Stars and Stripes symbolize an abomination that cannot be tolerated.
It must be stripped from public buildings across the nation. Fortunately,
the government has provided us with the correct procedure by which
to dispose of erring flags. Section 4 (k) of the Federal Flag Code
(Public Law 94-344) declares, "The flag, when…it is no longer
a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified
way preferably by burning." The American Legion also recommends
disposing of a flag by burning it.

I
am indebted to the historian Joseph R. Stromberg for pointing out
an obvious problem with my proposal. The United States clearly needs
a flag now and then – e.g. for the commencement of ball games, for
NASA to plant should it ever land anywhere again.

The
Union Jack, which flapped over the thirteen colonies, would be a
natural contender were it not for the fact that Britain was largely
responsible for the world's African slave trade to begin with. The
rest of Europe offers few satisfactory substitutes. The Portuguese
and Spanish jointly devastated much of the population of South America.
The French are French. Germany…enough said. The Italians brutalized
Ethiopia during World War II. Russia…enough said. And the who
knows how much longer the nations of the former Soviet Union will
survive. Only the Swiss, Finnish and Danes are left, and they seem
determined to survive through maintaining a low-profile. The Far
East is no better and African nations change too quickly. Australia
began as a land of thugs, thieves and prostitutes.

There
are only three nations in the world that are both politically correct
and likely to accept the honor of having their flag adopted by the
United States: Iceland, Greenland and Canada. Of these three, the
obvious choice is Canada – my place of birth and residence – because
we are all Americans up here anyway. Indeed, some years ago, a major
magazine ran a contest meant to capture the essence of being Canadian.
The contestants were asked to complete the sentence "As Canadian
as…" along the lines of "As American as apple pie."
The winner was "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances."

Canada
has other obvious advantages. It never colonized or wiped out its
Indian population. When Quebec threatens to secede, it holds a referendum,
not a civil war. No one dislikes us; people even forget that Canadians
served in Vietnam and remember instead our open border policy for
draft dodgers. Indeed, spies around the world use fake Canadian
passports to cross borders. Because Canada prides itself on being
an ethnic mosaic, the flag will not offend minorities. Yet, since
most Canadians are indistinguishable from ordinary boring white
people, it will be welcomed by the majority as well. Even the songs
that often accompany flag ceremonies won't need to be rewritten
since the words "Stars and Stripes" and the "Maple
Leaf" scan in much the same manner. The words "Grand Old
Flag" can easily be replaced by "Bland Old Flag."

In
short, there is no better symbol to flutter over the White House
than the Maple Leaf – two vertical red stripes bordering a red maple
leaf on a white background. The stem points down.

June
22, 2000

Wendy
McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at ifeminists.com
and at her personal website.

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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