Friday, July 04, 2008

Wearing the Flag

Hey, what's that in your lapel? 

So here it is, the 4th of July, which is why I'm posting this a day earlier than my usual Saturday morning update, and I'm thinking about the wearing of the flag.-- particularly those lapel pins that have become a fetish of our elected officials since 9/11/01. (And it's important to remember how recent this custom is.)

I'm saddened that Barrack Obama, who once looked ready to take a stand against this mindless substitute for what he rightly called "true patriotism," has bowed to public expectations in recognition that elections are ruled by symbols more than by ideals. At least "sometimes" the candidate now sports this tiny bit of metal on his jacket just so no one can interpret his refusal to do so as a form of disrespect, not to say subversion.

Recently NPR ran a story comparing the flag shirt worn by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the one Abbie Hoffman was notoriously arrested in back in 1968. (You can read and hear the story here.) The short version is that Hoffman, who was protesting at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on the Chicago riots, had bought his shirt at Sears -- which would seem to indicate that there were a large number of them in circulation at the time. Yet the police who nabbed him not only used his "desecration" of this holy object as a chargeable offense, but actually ripped it from his back, arguably doing more desecration than Hoffman had by wearing it. I suppose people were just supposed to buy these shirts and then frame them or run them up a pole in order to show respect..

Yet here was the modern Chairman-General cavorting in the street with his motorcycle-riding fellow Vietnam Vets in strikingly similar garb. What gives? It's not that people now are any less rabid about the hallowed bunting. In fact, it is entirely possible that legislation will pass that will prohibit the burning of the flag, considered by some to be protected as freedom of expression. (Visit the Flag Burning Page for more info, where you can burn a virtual flag if you are so inclined, at least so long as it is still legal to do so.)

Evidently who you are largely determines whether your wearing of the flag is considered patriotic or sacrilegious. And this is regardless of the fact that many long-standing uses of the flag -- for example, draping podiums or printing it on postage stamps -- really should not be allowed under the official Flag Code, which only dates from 1942 anyway.

Maybe those lapel pins really bother me because they are so similar to the ones that used to be worn in the Soviet Union by Communist Party members. All those little red stars and hammers-and-sickles seemed so evil back then, and the comparable use of the US flag pin by government officials smacks of the same regimentation -- especially if it becomes an obligatory badge of membership in an elite group of power-mongers.

Come to think of it, the Nazis were big on party jewelry too -- so much so that before we went to war against them little swastika pins and tie tacks and earrings were all the rage right here in the USA, and were even sold at stores like Tiffany's. (Picture Holly Golightly breakfasting in those!)  Maybe that's why the red star, abandoned by Russia, was so quickly adopted as the logo of Macy's department stores.

So please, Barrack, and anyone else -- before you go sticking those things in your lapels, give some thought to the Nazis and Communists. You know what happened to them, right? What? You say this is different? Well, perhaps you can explain how ...

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