I'm sure you'll get a lot of mail on this, but let me just say that the letter you printed (from the self-professed liberal who doesn't display the flag) is a very good description of liberals today: They overthink even the simplest thing to the point where they lack the confidence in virtually anything anymore – even the things they say are important to them. There is really something wrong with believing in the flag but then refusing to fly it because others might think you are doing so because you've fallen prey to nationalism, or others might think you are doing so for the wrong reasons. We fly our country's flag because we are proud of the things it stands for. And we are proud of our country not because we agree with everything done on her behalf (and certainly not the nasty things that we would never agree with), but because we think of our country in the same way we do our family. We're proud of it, happy to demonstrate our pride to others, and don't think, for a moment, that our pride in our family reflects in any way some kind of put down on other families.
I'm a mostly progressive Democrat, and a proud flag flyer. And I'm absolutely comfortable in my love of country.
You can call me an unredeemable snotty Eurotrash transplant but personally, I find all this flag waving incredibly tedious. It seems very conformist, shallow and perfunctory, just like sending a bunch of hallmark cards on Christmas to all the people you don't care about but feels obligated to out of a misguided sense of propriety. To be honest, the single coolest moment of USA flag waving I've ever seen, the only time it was really, really, actually worth it, the only time it really meant more than just the USA but humanity as a whole – it's this pic of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting up the flag on Tranquility Base.
An Iraq veteran writes:
So I know this thread was mostly wrapped-up yesterday, but I keep thinking about it. And then reading the amazing Letter of Note from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. really drove home why I'm so uncomfortable around things like Memorial Day.
I'm an Iraq war veteran, though I very rarely tell people that. Partly because I never kicked in any doors or anything – I had about the cushiest of war zone duties possible, although being in Kirkuk in 2006-2007 meant lots of random motar/recycled rocket attacks and stuff. But the other reason I never tell anyone about it is the reaction, like everything about me being there was unambiguously positive.
Which brings me back to the idea of mandatory reverence around the flag, Memorial Day, July 4, etc. Part of the reason that Vonnegut letter hits me so hard is that it makes me angry when people are just unable to have two thoughts in their head at once – that we should be respectful of those who do the things no one else really wants to do, like kill people, and that sometimes, just maybe, the stuff we ask them to do is terrible. (Although the experience of reading Slaughter House 5 to the soundtrack of actual air-raid sirens probably has something to do with the letter's impact.)
Maybe it's that I grew up in a world run by Baby Boomers (I'm 30), who seem especially incapable of understanding nuance of any sort, but it seems that most people who "fly the flag" and "support the troops" subscribe to this uncompromising approach to patriotism. I don't know how exactly to fold some self-reflection into these holidays, but I think it would sure help those of us who see a lot more gray in the things we've done.
A reader in Albany who sent the above photo writes:
I'm liberal. I don't own an American flag (not one I can fly, anyway). But what's more American than baseball? I got one of those flags. And the colors are right.
Today in the neighborhood I saw a house with an American flag and a rainbow flag, side by side. I woulda taken a picture for you, if I'd known it was a topic right now. I was a mite jealous that the gay resident had a clear way to say in flags: "I'm a patriot, but not one of *those* patriots."
Strangely, in my neighborhood the non-conservatives did take back the flag, it led to less display of the flag. The more conservative four houses on our short street used to display the flag on every appropriate occasion. Then we, the gay couple, moved in and did the same out of habit from our previous residences. About two years latter a Muslim family moved in next door, proudly displaying the flag and bunting celebrating the day of naturalization. The following fall, Barrack Obama was elected president. Now, not one flag will be found on the reliably Republican houses. It is almost like they need to take their flag and country back.
Last but certainly not least:
Six years after I left the United States because its freedoms do not include the basic capacity to reside with the love of my life (my same-sex, foreign spouse). Your Memorial Day flag question made me pause. I realized that to me, the flag means barely more than the flag of any other country. It stirs no contempt but also no meaning above negligible. If anything, it seems to conjure some vague previous life, before this life crisis so ransacked my brain.
Memorial Day evokes more. It makes me grateful toward those who enabled the Americans I love – parents, sibling, friends – to live well. So it's a third-party gratefulness, and boy, is all of this just unforeseeably strange.