I received an email from a family member calling one and all to display an American flag on 9/11 this year. On the face of it, I think that’s a nice idea. For all my impertinence about my country and its place in the world, I did something somewhat strange for a reasonably liberal civilian shortly after we moved into our new apartment this summer. The American flag out front was in piss-poor condition. It was a disgrace. So I set about to replace it. My father picked one up for me (and made in the USA to boot), and I replaced it.
The old one is folded and sits on my mantel until the next time I go camping, at which time I will set the flag aflame, salute it, and that’s that. My wife teases that it looks like a memorial, sitting in a sort of place on honor in our living room.
I say “somewhat strange” because more than one person acted surprised that I should care about the condition of our nation’s flag at all, let alone on a building I don’t own but instead pay a lot to live in. I mean, left-leaning people can’t be patriotic, right?
I remember doing something similar to what a lot of people did after 9/11/2001. I hung a flag from the balcony of my apartment just outside Boston. (Of course, I hung it correctly.) Some Boston-based newspaper printed a huge flag for people to hang that week, and there was one pasted to the token booth at the North Quincy T station. Flags were everywhere.
And the email I received points that out. Just after 3,000 people were murdered (or killed in an act of “war” – your pick), we all had flags on display. For some people, it might have been the way the wind was blowing. I suppose it could have been a solidarity thing, too. For myself, this was largely the case, but it was also partly a “fuck you” to all enemies, foreign and domestic, as they say. My own flag was draped not just in sorrow, but in anger.
So when my father, a career military man who served his country for three decades, was visiting me in Massachusetts and received a call in October 2001 that we were bombing targets in Afghanistan, I had a flash of, “Yeah, you bastards! How do you like them B-52s?!” Along with such a paroxysm of vengeful glee came my horror that this wasn’t over, that the list of 3,000 dead was no quorum, but was instead only the beginning.
Finally, the email in question addresses the fact that the flags that peppered the urban, suburban and rural American landscape immediately following 09/11/2001 are all but gone. This is true. Sure, some flags probably just fell apart and never got replaced. Some flags came down as a trend died, too. My own flag disappeared in March 2003, when we launched a pointless war on Iraq, I quietly walked out into a cold and gray day in Quincy and took my flag inside. I folded it properly and put it away.
I think that we might have something similar this 09/11. We’ll all put our flags out. Wal-mart will have a sale on Chinese-made American flags. They’ll go up everywhere, and there will be those of us who chide our fellow citizens whose homes, cars, workspaces and bodies are not rocking the red, white and blue. We’ll all display our flags until our leaders get us into something else foolish and dishonorable. I remember that the Boy Scouts of American stopped putting Bill Clinton’s signature on the gold card that Eagle Scouts receive to carry after the whole hummer in the oval office thing.
I’ll bet that after the November 2012 election, a lot of flags come down. On both sides of the aisle.