Rethinking Old Glory
The story goes that in 1831, a Salem, Massachusetts, shipmaster boarded the brig Charles Doggett with a 24-star flag that had been presented to him by friends. The shipmaster, Captain Stephen Driver, exclaimed “Old Glory!” as he watched her unfurl in the wind for the very first time.
Thirty-one years later, when Union forces captured Nashville, Captain Driver, now a Nashville resident, scampered up the capitol tower and placed the flag in position over the occupied city, and once again, the flag became an object of worship as the Sixth Ohio Regiment adopted Old Glory as their own.
Therein lies the birth of Old Glory and its symbolic beginnings. Let's talk about symbols.
Symbols do have distinct meaning. The Hindus unraveled philosophical and spiritual truths through symbolism, and use it to simplify complex ideas for the common man. Where words fail, Christians use symbolism to teach religious truths. Street gangs use symbolic means to convey brotherhood and fear. Sports teams use symbolism to convey power, awe, or even unity. However, the use of symbolism in voluntary associations differs from that used by the State in sanctifying its symbols.
Congress, of course, has laid out specific dictum via a “flag code” that spells out the exact rules for use and display of the US flag. Amusingly, this code also includes conduct during the playing of the national anthem and the saying of the pledge of allegiance.
In this code, the government holds up its flag as a representation of State religion, and tells us that this secular symbol must be handled and displayed according to specific rules. These include the manner of hoisting, lowering, and passing the flag, and the times and occasions for display of it, as well as proper distribution and procurement of said symbol. This glorification is contained within United States Code Title 36, Chapter 10.
The Flag Protection Act of 1989 sought to impose a fine and/or up to one year in prison for knowingly mutilating, defacing, physically defiling, maintaining on the floor, or trampling upon any flag of the United States. Thank goodness this depraved Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1990. One small piece of individual freedom left intact.
Those who vow to protect the flag through congressional act say that we must insulate this valiant symbol of emotional power, a power that moves people to act and to follow in the name of patriotism. We lead fighting men into war with this symbol, they pronounce! Grown men on the battlefield cry in love of the symbolism raised above their heads! They tell us that men die for this symbol and the country it represents.
However, when one speaks of, and stands behind this “psychological power,” they are sanctioning the use of eye candy by the State to hypnotize its subjects into following orders to walk over the edge of the cliff for purposes that are unknown to them in most cases: Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Somalia, and Bosnia to name just a few.
After all, people generally look to symbolism to give them a sense of hope, because it may help them to overcome their fears, or it may give them a sense of belonging to a cause or a partnership. The State powers know this, and they take advantage of it by impregnating a sense of purpose into the lives of its subjects by way of persuasive symbols. They do this by purporting to grant a sense of patriotism to individuals to “fight the good fight” in the name of freedom, when in reality, these sheep are swallowing the State's symbolism and spreading its collectivist message.
The flag worshippers wish to protect the flag through constitutional amendment and punish those who may want to burn or desecrate a flag that is their own private property. They conveniently toss aside absolute property rights, and hold that the flag does not fall under such principle because it is a symbol of American culture, and unity toward a common goal of love of country. Therefore, they wish to deny the flag-desecrating crowd their rights to property in order to immortalize statist ideals.
Though one may find flag-burning to be unpleasant, absolute property rights cannot be denied in a truly free society. For instance, I can buy a shirt or a disco album, and freely burn it without censure. It is my property, and I may do what I please with it, as long as I don't infringe upon the rights of others while doing so. However, coercion on the part of the State attempts to make it a crime to handle or dispose of a certain piece of sewn cloth in a way we deem fit.
Nonetheless, to zero in on the absurdity of the preservation of culture, we must ask what culture it is that they desire to leave intact by not allowing desecration of the State's symbols. A culture of expanding global interventions, the murder of innocent civilians the world over, and life-taking political sanctions games? Is this the culture we want to protect and convey through stars-and-stripes symbolism? Do we want to safeguard the rights of centralization, statism, invasion, and global expansion?
The zeal to tar-and-feather the flag haters is simply a sanctioning of the right for the government to put into its firing line all those that refuse come to the Temple of the State and pray before it.
Now I hardly count myself as a flag-burner. In fact, I'll stick to turning my US flag stamps upside-down on envelopes. Yet, the notion that champions of State supremacy would crush individual property rights to uphold symbolism is not sustainable under any circumstances.
Garet Garrett, in his “Rise of Empire” essay, so perfectly lays out the characteristics of empire, which include: the executive branch becoming the supreme power, foreign policy superceding domestic policy, ascendancy of the military mind, having satellite nations for collective security purposes, and capturing the masses' emotions with fear. We have far surpassed the appropriation of these characteristics.
Old Glory is merely one snapshot in a picture album full of symbols. The US flag does not symbolize liberty as the Founding Fathers would define it, but rather, it embodies the aggressive nature of the State and its love of centralized power. It is a banner that spells out the Empire's language: The ends justifies the means. As Garrett said, “Peace by grace of force.”
June 14, 2001
Karen De Coster [send her mail] is a politically incorrect CPA, and an MA student in economics at Walsh College in Michigan.
Copyright © 2001 Karen De Coster