Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Alter on Flag Burning Amendment

Jonathan Alter has a compelling essay on the flag burning amendment under consideration – again – in the Senate (it’s already passed the House). I’m with him on this one being a litmus test:

The phrase “litmus test” is in bad odor for good reason: politicians should be judged on a variety of positions, not just one. But deep down, nearly every voter has at least one litmus test–an issue so personally important that a politician who fails the test is forever tainted, or at least excluded from consideration for the presidency.

I inherited my one litmus test from my father, Jim Alter, who flew 33 harrowing missions over Nazi Germany during World War II. My father is not just a veteran who by all odds should not have survived. He is a true patriot. His litmus test is the proposal to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning, which will come up for a vote next week in the U.S. Senate. For dad–and me–any member of Congress who supports amending the Bill of Rights for the first time in the history of this country for a nonproblem like flag burning is showing serious disrespect for our Constitution and for the values for which brave Americans gave their lives. Such disrespect is a much more serious threat than the random idiots who once every decade or so try (often unsuccessfully) to burn a flag.

I’ll go even further than that. Hell, I’ll go a lot further than that. If you’re the kind of person who supports a ban on flag burning, that fact alone is enough to brand you, in my view, as either a demagogue or someone weak-minded enough to be led by demagogues who play on your most shallow and childish emotional responses. Like the flag itself, the flag burning amendment is purely symbolic. And anyone who would throw away free speech rights for symbolic achievement has no business being in any political office in this country.

Comments

  1. #1 centerguide
    June 25, 2006

    100% with you

  2. #2 Red Mann
    June 25, 2006

    200%. I served 24 years in the military (OK some don’t think the Navy is really military) and it totally disgusts me that these idiot politicians keep regurgitating this crap over and over. What they’re really saying is that the flag, and the country it represents, is so weak and useless that they (god fearing heros that they are) have to defend it. If such nonesense actually becomes the “law”, I believe that any truly patriotic American should go out, get a flag and reverently burn it in protest of such un-American bulls**t.

  3. #3 natural cynic
    June 25, 2006

    Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have more sense on this issue for purely theological reasons. To them, showing reverance to the flag is idolatry. Banning flag burning would be even worse.

  4. #4 Matthew
    June 25, 2006

    Flag burning is so rare that this seems completely silly to even be discussing it. Flag burning would increase 1000% if something this stupid was passed. The irony of course is that the rare times flag burning occurs it is to protest the dissolution of founding principles; principles the flag is supposed to represent. No act would call for flag burning more than a ban on flag burning.

  5. #5 Karl
    June 25, 2006

    A “Flag” burning amendment is so stupid that it’s hard to believe that legislators, who are generally quite intelligent people, would even consider it. So we must look for what their real motives are. It’s not hard to guess. They realize that most of their constituency is not very smart and can be convinced that flag burning is sacrilege. They want to stay in power, some for the direct financial benefits (besides the salary, there are lots of perks, some illegal), or for the honest ones, so that they will be in congress to try to do some real good.

    As to what is so stupid about the concept, besides everything mentioned above, are the practical considerations. What constitutes a “flag”? Where is it defined? Is the ratio of length to width defined? Is the size defined? is there a maximum size, or, more importantly, is there a minimum size? Is there a particular material required to be an official “flag”? What about the colors? Is the “red” defined somewhere by spectogram or frequency?

    All of these questions must be considered because: What if Johnny in 4th grade art class draws a flag, then doesn’t like it and crumbles it up. Has he desecrated the “flag”? Are there going to be flag-desecration police who will show up, pull the crumpled paper out of the trash and examine it to see whether it meets all the criteria?
    What if someone draws, paints, embroiders, whatever, a flag but uses the Japanese version of “red” (which is more pinkish than what we consider to be red) and then burns that? Will that be punishable?

    What about the existing “rules” for not desecrating the flag? Will they be enforced more strongly? Can we prosecute GWB for autographing flags that are presented to him at a rally?

    And on and on and on and …

  6. #6 Doug
    June 25, 2006

    “Legislators, who are generally quite intelligent people…”
    Clearly you don’t live in the same part of the country I do.
    (I’ll give you a hint–our textbooks come with stickers).

  7. #7 Red Mann
    June 25, 2006

    Redundancy: Stupid politician.
    Oxymoron: Intelligant politician.

    or

    Redundancy: Crooked politician.
    Oxymoron: Honest politician.

    Thus endth the lesson.

  8. #8 CPT_Doom
    June 25, 2006

    What if someone draws, paints, embroiders, whatever, a flag but uses the Japanese version of “red” (which is more pinkish than what we consider to be red) and then burns that? Will that be punishable?

    What about the existing “rules” for not desecrating the flag? Will they be enforced more strongly? Can we prosecute GWB for autographing flags that are presented to him at a rally?

    Exactly – what if someone wants to dispose of a tattered old flag using the correct disposal method? What is that disposal method? Why, burning, of course!

    Did anyone else read Dianne Feinstein’s insane defense of this amendment in USAToday? She basically argued “protecting” the flag as akin to protecting the Lincoln Memorial or any other national landmark. Apparently, the distinction between an easily available item like an American flag and a national monument is beyond her.

    Personally, from the moment that the Supreme Court struck down such laws and there was this movement to “protect” the flag, I have refused to salute it. I am an American, and I believe in this country, not a piece of cloth.

  9. #9 theRidger
    June 25, 2006

    Just under a hundred years ago (1907) Mark Twain wrote:

    Yet to-day in the public schools we teach our children to salute the flag, and this is our idea of instilling in them patriotism. And this so-called patriotism we mistake for citizenship; but if there is a stain on that flag it ought not to be honored, even if it is our flag. The true citizenship is to protect the flag from dishonor — to make it the emblem of a nation that is known to all nations as true and honest and honorable.

    If we lose sight of that ideal, then we’ve lost much, much more than a single beloved symbol. We’ve lost everything that symbol stands for, and everything that makes that symbol worth defending.

  10. #10 Treban
    June 25, 2006

    When I was growing up I was in a scout group specific to the church I went to – not affiliated with teh Boy Scouts. When we started meetings we had prayer then the pledge of alliegence.

    When they taught us about the flag rules – including burning a flag that is tattered. They also made clear that all of this had to do with symbolism – nothing more or less. In part I imagine they too had their fears of idolitry – but the big focus they put on how we could honor the flag, our country adn most important our God was to be honest, forthright and help others – to live with honor in everything we did.

    But over all of that they made it clear that the flag was a peice of cloth. A representation of a great ideal and a great nation but still just a piece of cloth. We were to treat it with respect – much like a bible but it was not an obeject of worship nor sacred in itself. And as a symbol it’s most important representation is the freedom we live with in this country.

    Oneof teh leaders of that group stopped saluting the flag at one point for several months. He recited teh pledge with us but would not even fully face teh flag when he did so. I do not remember what our government was doing at teh time to incur his wrath but he was obstaining due to some restriction that was passed. I imagine that this would give him pause in saluting the flag.

  11. #11 Matthew
    June 25, 2006

    Did anyone else read Dianne Feinstein’s insane defense of this amendment in USAToday? She basically argued “protecting” the flag as akin to protecting the Lincoln Memorial or any other national landmark. Apparently, the distinction between an easily available item like an American flag and a national monument is beyond her.

    Oh jesus, talk about a ridiculous argument. Maybe she just has no idea what a flag amendment would cover. It’s obviously not akin to defending a national monument since, gasp, individuals don’t own the Lincoln Memorial and therefore do not have a right to desecrate things that don’t belong to them.

  12. #12 raj
    June 26, 2006

    I, too, would object to any politician who tried to forbid me from disposing of my Made-In-China property–the American Flag–in any way I see fit.

    BTW, regarding Feinstein’s idiocies, it isn’t as if the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument was my property. And they probably weren’t made in China.

  13. #13 Gretchen
    June 26, 2006

    Flags are symbols. Marriage is a symbol. The same kind of mentality seems to be going on in people who want to “protect” these things by passing laws against what they see as desecration of them. What exactly is it that creates the kind of attachment to symbols that they are willing to sacrifice freedoms for them?

    It so patently obvious to us that it’s not worth it. I’m just fascinated by the kind of mind who could believe otherwise.