Columbia and the Flag

Happy Flag Day!

This photo is from Bunker Hill Day, 17 June, in the year 1917. The United States went to war in Europe on 6 April of that year. Columbia and Uncle Sam made many appearances during the Great War, particularly in recruiting posters. Alas, when folk look at these posters today, they know who Uncle Sam is, but who’s that lady wearing the liberty cap? America By Another Name‘s goal is to correct this state of affairs.

I honor Flag Day as a person with a particularly intense relationship with the flag. Months after 9/11 I felt such frustration—countless drivers, who in a fit of patriotism had attached a cloth flag to their car, blithely displayed dirty, tattered flags rippling at 70 miles an hour. Old Glory so abused—and so ubiquitously! While at the World Trade Center site on later anniversaries, I silently bristled as teenage boys in cargo shorts wore the flag as some sort of cape.

Seeing flags flown at night with no lighting has at times prompted an urge to knock on the homeowner’s door—wake up for a lesson in flag etiquette! I’ve never done that, but if I see a business flying a tattered or dirty flag, I will walk in and suggest they replace it. And, I will defend a thoughtful protester’s right to burn the flag.

The emphasis here is on thoughtful. The American flag is just about as close to a sacred object that our country has, and I believe should be treated with care and consciousness. If your best consciousness has you purposefully destroying the flag so that your protest is clearer, I respect your choice. While feelings toward America and its symbols may feel religious, we all should know, the flag is not religious in fact.

When I say a prayer or make a pledge, it’s all about the tough stuff of life—e.g., living with deep and abiding love for all my fellow humans, developing my talents with bravery and deliberate purpose, etc. I feel our current Pledge of Allegiance has its priorities reversed: first and foremost should be “liberty and justice for all”. Why? Because maintaining our belief in—and practice of—liberty and justice for all is the tough stuff that requires our constant vigilance.

Pledging allegiance to these ideals should come before allegiance to a symbol. These ideals are already abstract enough without filtering them through the flag. Our tireless search for their meaning and development should never range far from our minds.

Over the years, the American people, via Congress, have codified our treatment of the flag, with technology obviating one of these tenets. Take a look at the flag in the photo above—you can see through it. It’s made of bunting, an inexpensive, crêpe-like cloth that has little ability to withstand rain and weather. Older flags needed removal from harsh elements, but today’s flags are of sturdy nylon, and so can handle (most of) what Mother Nature sends our way.

Old Glory won’t look too glorious bedraggled by rain, but there’s poetry, though, in watching the sun free the flag of its watery burden so that soon, a slight breeze brings her to life. May we as a nation, always weather whatever storms we may have, to ever renew our quest for liberty and justice for all.

Oh, and to you teenage boys wearing the flag? As the people would have it, only Miss Columbia can do that, okay? Thank you.

Miss Columbia helps Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific--at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Miss Columbia helps Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific–at the mouth of the Columbia River.