The tepid response from our national and state leaders — including political candidates — to the current flag controversy is shameful. We should not fear the courage of our convictions. No, it is not good enough to simply note Colin Kaepernick has a right to protest, and leave it at that. Our flag deserves more. Our nation deserves better.
I love my country. I love my country's flag. Across the globe, America's flag is a symbol of freedom, liberty, and opportunity. Oppressed people around the world view the Stars and Stripes as a beacon of hope. They flock to the colors seeking refuge. The flag is stamped on burlap bags and packages containing U.S. aid. The flag means peace, stability, tolerance and every life-affirming value cherished by right and good-thinking people whether they are American citizens or not.
My country is not perfect. No country is. My country has wronged many. But my country is not a nation of oppression. My country has shed much blood stamping out oppression abroad and at home. That work will probably never be done. Men work evil. But the evil of a few should never be confused with the good of the many. And the flag should never be tarred as somehow reflecting the corrupted values of those few (a marked minority) who dishonor our values.
Recognizing Kaepernick's right to protest does not mean forfeiting the right to point out his rather glaring ignorance. The Stars and Stripes is not a flag of oppression. It cannot be equated with the Stars and Bars or the Confederate battle flag.
People forget—perhaps they never knew— the "Jubilee" was the flag of the United States ("Hurrah, hurrah, we bring the Jubilee, Hurrah, hurrah, the flag to set you free, so we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea, as we were marching through Georgia."). People forget—perhaps they never knew—how compelling the sight of the flag could be and still is to dispossessed people seeking a safe harbor. ("Yes and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears, as they saw they honored flag they had not seen in years, hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth with cheers, as we were marching through Georgia.").
The French hung thousands of American flags from balconies when General Pershing landed. Vietnamese boat people were overcome with joy when they saw U.S. flagged merchant ships. Dutch children, heedless of danger, ran alongside American convoys rolling to the front during WWII. Germans in land-locked Berlin never forgot the American airmen who airlifted food and supplies, breaking the Soviet blockade.
To all of these, and countless others on every continent in every era, the Stars and Stripes symbolized, in the poet's words, "light and law."
The flag has inspired incredible bravery. U.S. Marines risked their lives raising the flag on Iwo Jima. The flag's presence rallied Fort McHenry's defenders. Barbara Fritchie famously waved the Stars and Stripes at Confederate troops advancing through the streets of Frederick, Maryland: "Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag." Moved by her courage, Stonewall Jackson supposedly ordered his men to spare both her and the flag. The order was never necessary. To their credit, Confederate soldiers, recognizing Ms. Fritchie's valor, saluted her and the flag as they marched by her home.
In contrast to the courage of a 90-year-old widow, the spoiled self-indulgence of those who refuse to honor the flag is not a brave act. It is, instead, a legacy of victimhood. I despise it. You should too. If Kaepernick actually stands for something he should, well, stand. We stand to fight. We stand to have our voices counted. We don't cower and sulk.
Our country is a good country. Our people are a good people. Our flag represents us. We should not be fuzzy on that. It seems to me that, if nothing else, our national and state leaders ought to be the most vocal defenders of our nation's symbols.
If they won't we should. Stand for the flag. Stand for your nation's anthem. Yes, standing for the flag and anthem is a symbolic act. There is value in that. It is unifying act expressing our collective values. If we are not yet what we aspire to be, we can still work together to achieve our goals.
Gregory Fisher is an attorney in private practice in Anchorage.
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