Monday, January 16, 2006

Flag burning

When I was a child, my father very proudly displayed our American flag for national holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays (back when they were still two separate days), etc. It wasn’t an optional chore for him – the flag always went up on these days, he never forgot or was lazy about it. As a little girl I didn’t think much about the real meaning of the flag – all I knew was that it was a proud symbol of my country, something to be revered. I pledged allegiance to the flag every day in school without question, without ever really knowing what the act meant.

When I became an adult and lived in an apartment of my own, I didn’t bother to buy a flag for display. My meager income could be used for better things, and besides, displaying the flag was a mainstay of quiet, quaint neighborhoods with Cape Cod style houses, cul-de-sacs, and block parties every summer. It wasn’t for single girls.

I didn’t really give the flag – or the idea of the flag – much thought over the years until I moved to Greece. Of course, Greeks have the same general standard of flag displaying – on national holidays, mostly – although some people have been known to display the flag after Greece wins an international sporting event. Nothing in my arrival to Greece made me more aware of the fact that I was no longer on “home” territory than seeing a host of blue and white flags flying everywhere, with no Stars and Stripes to be found. My husband and I have had some discussion about purchasing a flag and displaying it – yet somehow, somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel like I can’t be in a household that displays only a Greek flag, the American flag should be displayed too.

That is when the whole notion of what the flag really means got my attention. A flag used to be a symbol of honor, yes, but it was also an identifying marker of a lord, a king, an army, what have you. If someone saw a flag, they would say “oh, you are with the Baron of Nottinghamshireton, what a fine fellow he is” and think very little of general politics, and more along the lines of improving contacts with fellows of the Baron persuasion. Yet if I were to display the American flag here in Greece, and perhaps to some extent, in America as well, it sends a rather large, even if erroneous political message – the message that maybe I support Dubya and the Iraqi war and spying on Americans without warrants, that Alito will make a fine Supreme Court Justice and that the Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper. And, well, I am not on board with any of those things, as it so happens. But I am on board with America – the ideals upon which it was founded, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and all that jazz. So it seems that the idea of the flag, the meaning of the flag, has gotten skewed in some way – it grows and evolves (and devolves) into the politics of each passing President.

Is this only an issue with the American flag? If I saw a Greek flag in America, I wouldn’t think it was in support of corruption and weak politics, I would think of it as identifying Greece. Of course, Greece is far from being a major world power. Very few people outside of Greece know what is going on here. But the world knows what America is doing, and judgment runs fast and deep. It is a bit sad, I suppose, that I live in a time when the American flag can stand for so little of what it should really stand for – in a time when even I can question the merit of displaying an American flag, and what message it sends to the world. Does this make me un-American? I hope not. At least, I don’t think it does in the larger scope of things. Yet I can’t help wishing that things could go back to the way they were when I was a little girl. When I could see the flag and only see the good things, the proud things. Maybe some day, I will again. Until then, I think I'll stay away from flag displays of any kind. At least until I find a good Baron.


Anonymous said...

Well, I can’t imagine Bruce Springsteen without the Stars and Stripes beside him, and he is not very fond of Dubya.


adfjkaj said...

God Bless America. That was very nice

The SeaWitch said...

I'm not much of a "flag" person. I have a little Greek flag I carry with me when I attend the Oxi and Independence Day parades to show my respect for those who died fighting for Greece. People have asked why I don't fly a Canadian flag from my balcony and somehow, I just think it's disrepectful to fly the flag of another country while living in my adopted country. This is just my own personal belief. I never hoisted the Canadian flag on my house in Canada, I would feel hypocritical if I did it here.

On 9-11, however, I really felt like flying the American flag to show support for all the Americans affected by that horrific event.

It's too bad that all American citizens are being held accountable for the actions of the present government. You've raised some really good points in your post and I guess it all comes down to your personal reasons in the end and the ones you've stated (baseball, apple pie, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights) definitely symbolize your America.

Sandra said...

I'm not a flag person either. My father was in the military when I was growing up and we never had a flag. I think they're fine for public buildings, but I'd never put a flag on my house, car, or clothing.

sappho said...

Great post! I don't think it makes you un-American...if anything it makes you more American. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. You can surely love America, yet hate the current goverment. That is my personal opinion. I love America, but am very dissapointed in the current administration (to say the least), & I too am weary of waving the American flag around with pride-for I'm not so proud at this moment. I hope for the day when the world will once again be envious of America, & I can be proud of it. 2008, I hope!
I actually fear traveling with an American passport. I have, and recieved much shit for it.
Once again, nice post Mel!

Anonymous said...

I think Bush will be proven to have been one of the best presidents we have ever had. "Bush bashers" should take the time to look at the facts for themselves instead of parroting the predjudiced media. I think he is one of the few politicians today who is really trying to make things better - he doesn't waste his time playing political games as most politicians do these days. But honesty doesn't play well.

Anonymous said...


You just wrapped your hands around
my shoulders and reminded me when i was growing in southside chigago.

A young boy of immigrants from greece,
the smells of grass, hotdogs,
the leather of the gloves felt,
on my hand
starting the game ,
and singing "oh say can you see ,
hand or hat across the chest ,
the hot innings under the baseball caps ,
the faces of 3'd base and 1st base ,
a lovely girlish face in the stands that i liked,

proud and secure, under the flag that gave me all this.....
And then something happened,
igrew up,
became wise to the world ,
cynical at times ,
flew some other flags,
then became more cynical and a bit more wiser.
Finally i dont fly any flags
greek ,american , or others...anymore
cant , because they represent nuthin good , an they hurt.

But your article hit a soft spot
of an innocence lost, and yes sometimes when the movie is truthful
or the music real
I cry about the flag ,yes the american flag,
and the times i miss ,
The times which i wish upon all the world to have.....
to be proud and secure.

of the american flag. BUT IT IS NOT.



Thanos said...

Yea, Bush is a great president. He probably single handedly (actually, that is unfair, he has a host of help) overturned every Amendment and nullified most of the Declaration of Independence. I would be very interested to see some of the good that he's done, Anonymous, if you would like to post some.

He *is* a good politician (or again, those around and behind him). He's a master manipulator, he makes things (things he wants) happen. He certainly fooled most of the people. Perhaps even stole an election - even two! That must be some kind of record. Hats off for that...

Alice in Austria said...

I have to admit I was rather amused at the profuse display of US flags by private homes on non-holiday days (while I studied in the U.S.). I can understand people hanging out flags on their national holidays. By all means! But on normal working days? So I was wondering at the purpose of all this display of patriotism. Did it mean they supported current politics & Bush or simply God bless America - but why declare that within the country, wouldn't it make more sense to do so abroad. So I found your explanation here enlightening. I agree with you, displaying the US flag abroad might be taken very badly by some people. Flag display is a political statement, after all.

I personally don't care at all for flags. I don't have any Austrian flag and I won't ever buy one, either. (Or if I ever do I have to make sure to buy a Korean, an Ecuadorean and a Swedish one as well!) ;)

sappho said...

Thanos....The voice of reason!

scarfalonius said...

Timothy Garton Ash wrote something in today's Guardian,,1689811,00.html

Anonymous said...

Always nice to see some voices of reason in the blogosphere. Keep up the good work !

What's shameful is that so many right-wing politicians have been able to get away with using and abusing the US flag for so long. The flag is supposed to be an emblem for all Americans, not a prop for politicians who adopt a superpatriotic pose as a means of implying that their opponents are disloyal.

But it's actually the American left who let this happen. When the left rolls over and plays dead when its loyalty and patriotism are explicitly or implicitly questioned, there are two pernicious consequences. One is that the right gets away with impugning leftists' loyalty. Two is that the right is able to twist the flag into something it really isn't supposed to be: a partisan/ideological emblem rather than a national emblem.

The American left must embrace the flag, but in an intelligent, tasteful, and not over-the-top fashion. No harm, then, in splashing around a little red, white and blue. Moderation in all things.

As for traveling as an American, well I went to France last summer and encountered no problems. The passport control guys were the only people who actually saw my passport, but they're doubtless under strict instructions not to make any snide remarks. Perhaps the French aren't so bad as some claim. Had I been confronted, I could simply have said, "Mais je n'ai pas voté pour ce con là." [Pardon my French !]

Anonymous said...


melusina said...

Since the last ignorant comment was from an Albanian, I'll have to forgive it, since Albanian/Greek history has been quite vitriolic. But I will say that both countries should do more to be neighborly with one another.

Anonymous said...

Have u all, seen the "vidoe" made by greek soldiers.???? Sorry! By greek rabits. Singing anti-albanian songs....

Anonymous said...

Greeks =pigs, shit, scum, mierda, vomit, faggots, whores, idiots, pendejos putos de mierda

melusina said...

Congratulations on proving yourself to be exactly the same as the people you are complaining about by showing the same racist beliefs.

All racists are the same. It is an illness that spreads rapidly through ignorance and stupidity.

Anonymous said...

I am not offended from your comments
I find, that you are the only person on the earth, who doesn't hate greeks!

melusina said...

Freedom of speech sure requires a large burden of tolerance sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Go and cook some lamb,qirje...
Thats what u do...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with melusina. Thanks to Governor (the highest office he ever attained LEGALLY) Bush -- our nation's flag is now seen as a symbol of arrogance and imperialism throughout the world. One can only HOPE that the next president will begin the process of healing the damage and again make our nation a cooperative player among the family of nations. Maybe then I will again be proud to display the flag as a symbol of the positive values our nation stands for -- and not as a symbol of the jingoistic values of the far right, fascist conservative, Evangelicals "Christians" who control the GOP