Within a month of 9/11, millions of Americans bought American flags. Small flags they flew from their cars, trucks, and bicycles. Medium-sized flags they planted in their front yards, put onto their home windows, and flew from recently-installed metal poles on doors and porches. Large flags they flew in front of their businesses.
In our tragedy and grief we stuck together, the flag a symbol of our unity and patriotism.
It wasn’t long until commercialism in the guise of patriotism dominated the American unity. In newspaper and magazine ads, in television campaigns, whether for cars or political races, we saw the message and an image of the flag. In myriad direct mail flyers, we first saw the flag and a patriotic call—and then an advertising pitch that each of us had an inviolate right to buy whatever the advertiser was pushing. General Motors even claimed that we could “get America rolling” again by buying cars.
During the 1960s, war protesters who wore clothes with the American flag design were beaten by “patriots” who believed the “hippies” were abusing a sacred image. However, for several years after 9/11, the fabric of America was “patriots” who wore high-priced T-shirts, pants, ties, and bandannas, all with images of American flags and slogans, all in violation of federal regulations.
Americans use flags and flag-decorated clothes, most of them made by non-union labor in China and other overseas countries, to “prove” they are more patriotic than the next person. They have demanded that politicians wear flag lapels. They have bought bigger and bigger flags, in the mistaken believe that flying a flag and being patriotic are the same thing. But, these “patriots” have also flown their flags improperly, often hanging the blue field in the wrong corner, sometimes tacking the flag to wooden walls. They have allowed their flags to have flown in rain and snow storms, to have become tattered and faded. And when some flags become too faded or too torn, their owners just throw them out, rather than give them the proper retirement that the Flag Code requires.
Woodrow Wilson established Flag Day in 1916, but it has never been a federal holiday, although Pennsylvania is the only state to declare the day a state holiday.
Ironically, many flag-waving pretend-patriots know little about American history and almost nothing about the Constitution.
This June 14, perhaps Americans should not only fly their flags, but might also read some American history, a little more about the Constitution—and, the rules and regulations for properly flying the flag. Patriotism, indeed, is not by how large your flag is, or how many days you fly it, but by how well you understand the principles that established this nation.
[Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]