Saturday, June 14, 2003

Happy Flag Day!

June 14 is Flag Day. Take a moment to pledge allegiance and be sure to fly the American flag with pride.

I think that as Americans we have a particular connection to and love of our flag.

One reason for that is that our nation is more an idea than it is anything else. The flag and the constitution are the two physical representations of that idea. Unlike many nations we do not have a long line of monarchy to represent who we are and how we got here. Instead, we have a revolving door of the White house with very different men leading our nation. However, throughout time our flag has flown to represent our nation and its people.

I know that citizens of many other nations have affection for their flag. Heck, Canadians plaster that maple leaf on seemingly everything that they own. On the other hand there are the French. At one time, I shared an office with Dominique – a coworker from France. The flying of American flags astonished her. In conversations, she explained that the French flag was not a big deal. In fact, to the best of her knowledge, her family never even owned a French flag. I could not imagine that!

Here in American there is a unique combination of love of, and reverence for our flag

I had many teachers who taught me to love the flag and what it represents. As a young scout, I learned the rules and regulations and how to treat the flag respectfully. In school every day began with the Pledge. My father made sure that a flag few outside of our house on every day – he would hang it as he left for work in the morning and take it in every evening after dinner.

The American military has many rituals revolving around the flag. You can read about the Navy flag usage and ceremonies here (thanks for the link Liz!).

For me the most moving military flag ceremony is in fact the most mundane – the daily raising and lowering of the flag. I have been on military bases a couple of times when everything stopped and men and women in uniform all around turned and saluted the flag. Because I was raised to understand that the flag is a representation of the nation as a whole as well as the Constitution, I found that the daily reverence for the flag was the best example of the civilian command of military in our country.

I think it is telling that after September 11 many people reflexively started to fly the flag. It was an automatic reaction to the attack on our country. One of the most emblematic pictures of the day was that of the raising of the American flag over the smoldering rubble of the WTC. It was important that the flag be raised because it was a representation of the fact that our nation will rise above the rubble of that attack.

I have two favourite flag quotes (doesn’t everybody?) the first is from Franklin Lanes 1914 Flag Day address.
I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself, the pictured suggestion of that big thing which makes this nation. My stars and my stripes are your dream and your labors. They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your heart. For you are the makers of the flag and it is well that you glory in the making.
The second quote is from Henry Ward Beecher
If one asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him: It means just what Concord and Lexington meant, what Bunker Hill meant. It means the whole glorious Revolutionary War. It means all that the Declaration of Independence meant. It means all that the Constitution of our people, organizing for justice, for liberty and for happiness, meant.

Under this banner rode Washington and his armies. Before it Burgoyne laid down his arms. It waved on the highlands at West Point. When Arnold would have surrendered these valuable fortresses and precious legacies, his night was turned into day and his treachery was driven away by beams of light from this starry banner.

It cheered our army, driven out from around New York, and in their painful pilgrimages through New Jersey. This banner streamed in light over the soldiers' heads at Valley Forge and at Morristown. It crossed the waters rolling with ice at Trenton, and when its stars gleamed in the morning with a victory, a new day of hope dawned on the despondency of this nation.

Our Flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. Beginning with the Colonies, and coming down to our time, in its sacred heraldry, in its glorious insignia, it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: divine right of liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty - not lawlessness, but organized, institutional liberty - liberty through law, and laws for liberty!
Take a moment today to look at the American flag and remember all that it stands for. Brave men and women have sacrificed a great deal for the ideals that the flag represent – today do not forget to honor that.


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