After Sept. 11, American flags were widespread, from Ground Zero to jacket lapels in Alaska. I, too, attached the Stars and Stripes to my car antenna. I’ve always been patriotic, but never a flag-waver. Now, I will forever keep a flag where I can see it daily.
While our nation’s flag embodies its fundamental ideals, there can be as many interpretations of its meaning as there are interpreters. Today, Americans burn Old Glory or turn their backs on it during the playing of our national anthem. Although these “anti-war” protests are disgraceful, Americans have a right to such expression. Yet it is precisely because our flag essentially represents such life-affirming rights as free speech that they should refrain from these acts.
At root, the Stars and Stripes represent our nation’s fundamental principles: each individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s why when President Bush initiated our nation’s self-defense against terrorists who seek our death, the Taliban and al Qaeda, I proudly kept my flag up. However, when two former presidents had deployed Americans in the crossfire between tribal mentalities in Somalia and Bosnia, my flag was folded. That’s because in those conflicts America’s vital self-interests and self-preservation weren’t at stake.
Some Americans haven’t always upheld our nation’s fundamental principles consistently. Some Founding Fathers, for example, owned slaves, and our government once conscripted citizens to fight wars they opposed. But what makes America great — what has always made it a beacon of freedom and opportunity — is that our Founders were first to base a government explicitly on those principles, which individuals worldwide could and did point to with moral authority when their rights were violated.
Without the unprecedented achievements of Jefferson, Adams, and Washington, abolitionists had no substantial political ground on which to end slavery (an institution once practiced in virtually all cultures), and our youth had no such ground to have government rescind its draft.
As philosopher Ayn Rand once wrote, “If a drought strikes them, animals perish — man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish — man builds dams; if a carnivorous pack attacks them, animals perish — man writes the Constitution of the United States.”
In other words, if your rights to your property, speech, and life, for instance, are under attacked by aggressors, a document of ideas exists as legal precedent to protect you from perishing.
Today, I display the American flag because the US-led war on Saddam Hussein is another step in the self-defensive march our government must take to perform its primary function: protect its citizens from foreign and domestic aggressors.
If a future president engages America in a war I oppose — one in which our troops are used as sacrificial lambs in a conflict that serves no national interests — I would never burn or turn my back on our flag. Instead, I would now display it to remind me and others that our military exists to protect the rights of Americans to live free and pursue happiness.