Monday, August 5, 2002

They're Cooking with Flags

You can hardly go a day without seeing a news report showing someone, somewhere, putting the stars and stripes to the torch. It's become so mundane a spectacle that we're desensitized to the act —we forget that the incineration of a US flag is supposed to be a mournful ceremonial act. Instead, it's a protest. A dam breaks in Syria, out come the flags and matches. Germany places a tariff on cornmeal or jobless rates rise in Korea, Old Glory goes to the flame.

But why do they do it? Why is our red, white, and blue an object of worldwide incendiary hatred?

In our pseudo-ally Saudi Arabia, activists (of the non-terrorist persuasion), burn our flag and effigies of our president in protest of the ten-thousand American soldiers stationed in their country. What they fail to protest is the Monarchical government that invited those soldiers within the borders and built the multi-million dollar complexes they inhabit. Do they burn the green standard of the Saudi kingdom? Of course not. Our Saudi allies welcome us in English and defame us in Arabic. We are the menace, the intruders, the meddlers.

Worse still are the occasions of hatred inspired by our lack of intervention. Palestinian nationalists, frustrated with the Clinton-administration's progress toward the realization of peace in the Levant, burned our flag in protest. When the Bush-administration took a hands-off policy in the region, they burned the flag in protest of our absence. Damned if we do, damned if we don't

Notice the flags themselves. Certainly ours is not the only national standard put to the flame; Britain and Israel have their fair share of bonfires to their credit. But our flag must be hard to come by — often the flags being burned are home-made replicas fashioned from bed-sheets and paint. They're easy to spot: the stripes will be in the wrong alternating order, the canton will be the wrong color or filled with Stars of David. But every now and them you see a demonstration setting fire to an authentic American flag, colors crisp and sewn edges clean and straight.

Where are these people getting these flags?

Someone must be making a tremendous amount of money selling these flags to Hamas rally coordinators and Oregon anarchists. Perhaps we should put indestructible VIN numbers in the stitching, like we do with cars, so that government investigators can track the burned flag back to it's vendor. Perhaps we should make the flags out of something that burns noxious just to mess with the protestors.

I don't mean to tout the jingoist trumpet. Does the US meddle too much in the affairs of nations? Absolutely. Do we give them cause to hate us? Likely. But the reasons for our tampering are much simpler than I think most political scientists realize. The US isn't, fundamentally, a bully or a tyrant. We just want everyone to get along. Live in peace and make money — that might as well be the State Department's foreign policy creed. If there is instability or unrest in your nation how can we make money together? How can we all live in consumer bliss? Malls just don't last against the backdrop of war.

Those ten-thousand soldiers in Saudi Arabia are there, ostensibly, to prevent invasion. The peace process in the Levant is working to create two safe, stable prosperous countries — Israel and Palestine. The war against terror is meant to quiet a ring of global criminals. Are these really causes for such animosity?

Depends on where you're sitting, I suppose.

I say let them burn the flags. Each time I see them setting alight an Old Glory I see the strength and influence our country — something we should be proud of. We can't even go to our local polls without foreign governments and interest groups watching with baited breath. fb

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