On June 22, the House of Representatives voted in favor of an amendment to outlaw flag desecration. It marked the seventh time the House approved the measure and sent it to the Senate, where it has regularly been defeated. This time, the vote could be even closer than the four-vote margin of defeat in 2000.
Is this a big deal? I don't own a flag and have no plans to burn one. I think as much about the Stars and Stripes as I did when I half-heartedly mumbled the pledge of allegiance as a schoolkid.
Is the bigger deal free speech? Maybe, but there have been few flag desecrations in recent years. People who care most about free speech aren't burning flags. They're busy blogging or trying to free others from the matrix of societal stasis.
The real issue is good ole patriotism morphing into nationalism and its surly cousin, jingoism. Congress keeps pushing this amendment because the flag is a mythical symbol that reinforces blind faith in country, and love of its past. Though heroic, the past should be studied first, glorified second.
Consider: The colonists of 1776 had ample "state" pride but little understanding of a national federated system of government. States had their own currency, taxes, tariffs and, yes, flags, just as most nations do today. It was a big deal for the founding fathers to put aside state loyalties to form a more perfect union. Virginia, for instance, gave up land claims as far west as the Mississippi River. It agreed to give little Rhode Island equal say in the Senate. Consider what would have happened had our forefathers put the flag of Virginia or Massachusetts above Old Glory in 1789. (See Civil War. )
Consider the present global situation. Nation-states wrangle over everything from human rights and war to oil and fair trade. The fetish of nationalism is tearing at the fabric of society. There were few international measures in place to stop the madness of Rwanda in 1994, Congo in 2001 or Sudan in recent years. Nothing could stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the death squads of Latin America or current war mongering. The nations of this planet must choose to create another country. It already has a name--Earth.
Truly, most of our ancestors are from other countries. What am I--Polish, Italian, American? I'll take human and move on. Until there is a shift of consciousness from pride in country to pride in humankind, pain will continue. Until an international system of governance is established, war will continue, just as Albert Einstein once said.
This, if our current statesmen are indications, will take a long time. But history is a long, interesting story. As the plot unfolds over the next century, I hope each of us finds a positive role to embrace. In the meantime, as is my First Amendment right, I unfurled a flag on the Fourth of July. It was white, with a fat photo of Earth.