What piece of cloth doubles as a lightning rod? The American flag. Today (June 14) being Flag Day, that’s worth talking about.
On this date in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the American flag—thirteen stars then. President Wilson established Flag Day in 1916. In 1949, Congress legislated National Flag Day.
The American flag is a powerful symbol. And often a symbol of power. As well, it’s a lightning rod to those who hate the United States. You’ve seen the photos and videos of flag burnings across the globe. There’s a reason: Many governments have much to fear from our Bill of Rights and continuing legislation to protect it. If they had such laws—and honored them—they’d be out of power.
On the other hand, some who claim to love this country also abuse the flag. America’s super-patriots see it as something of a free pass enabling this nation to do anything at home and abroad without question or censure. The flag represents license to the self-righteous to avoid self-examination. “We’re Americans. By definition, we can’t do wrong.”
We can and we have, but that’s not my point. I love the flag, because I love its symbolism of a nation continually struggling to evolve. We’ve always had our faults. Slavery and anti-Semitism make my list. I can’t say I’m sympathetic to Manifest Destiny, either. It slaughtered and ground down Native Americans.
But if our errors are all you see in the flag, you’re missing the boat. Which reminds me of the boat my father, Morris, sailed on to arrive at Ellis Island at age 2-1/2 in 1906. My family were immigrants and Jews at that. But America offered us a home. So in our flag I see the promise of a nation that continues to march forward despite its faults. That questions and protests openly—a process no amount of cell phone and Internet monitoring by the National Security Administration will halt. I mentioned slavery and segregation. I don’t have to mention that we have a Black president. And I don’t have to mention that anyone can criticize Barack Obama as freely as they criticized George Bush or Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan—and every president before them.
I like “The Star Spangled Banner,” too. I do a little meditation anywhere the flag is raised and the National Anthem played or sung: “May this symbol of the nation continue to remind us to strive to be the best we can be.”
Sometimes I hear Americans—mostly young—say how terrible this country is. I take their comments with a grain of salt. They’re idealistic as they should be. A dysfunctional Congress, Wall Street and the growing income divide upset them. Well they should. Yet their outrage is quintessentially American. We’re born to protest. As they grow older, they will learn a little more history and appreciate how far we’ve come—and that true patriots can seek to build a better society without devaluing the nation.
I’m proud of what America stands for, what we’ve achieved and our determination to be, as Israel in the Torah, a light unto the nations. May our flame, unlike lightning, burn bright and steady and for the good of all.
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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.