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Our flag evokes wide array of responses

by William Green
| June 14, 2010 9:00 PM

June 14, 2010 marks 233 years since the Continental Congress of the fledgling United States approved the official design of our American Flag. It has been 94 years since President Woodrow Wilson officially designated this day as "Flag Day," or "Flag Birthday," and it has been 61 years since President Truman signed into law the resolution of Congress, establishing June 14 as the annual day of celebration of the ideals represented by our Stars and Stripes.

One of the intentions of this resolution is to call us toward an appreciation of our flag's symbolic value, to remind us of its role as a frequent companion to citizens and soldiers alike in their efforts and sacrifice toward providing and maintaining for the rest of us a truly free society. As a symbol it has in that sense also wielded a great deal of power and influence in our society and in our world.

There are many who, upon singing the Star Spangled Banner at various ceremonies and events and seeing the flag lighted and waving in the distance, feel a true joy and happiness in mind and heart in knowing the gift of liberty. There are a great many who no doubt feel deep sadness as well as pride in the loss of loved ones who made the ultimate and total sacrifice that we others may remain free.

There are also those few who seem to find our flag offensive, insulting or representative of an oppressive, imperialistic culture bent on domination with an isolated focus on self interest. Others, not quite so belligerent, may think of our flag at best as overrated and exaggerated in terms of importance or relevance.

There are even some who find it quite acceptable or even "virtuous" to "burn the flag" or find other means for the expression of blatant disrespect. Such acts may derive from motives such as social manipulation, a militant-type aggression focused on the destruction of our free society, maybe even some form of jealousy or a combination of all of these.

This observation that our flag evokes such a wide array of responses certainly seems to highlight its symbolic value as well as the accomplishments of the free society it represents. For a great many it truly is a beacon encouraging diligent and persevering action in the service of values that matter most for the preservation of a society based on the intrinsic value and dignity of each person.

For others, ambitious for domination and intoxicated with the lure of social power, the flag is probably more of a threat and an obstacle to be demeaned by whatever means possible.

As citizens of these free and United States, and having the privilege of celebrating another Flag Day, another year of freedom, it is important for us to reflect on and re-emphasize the values our flag has always been meant to represent. What is it that could prompt our founders to pledge together their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the pursuit of invisible principles that offered no guarantee of security or bread? What could motivate the American soldiers struggling on the island of Iwo Jima and dying at the rate of three out of four to prevail against overwhelming odds and then to raise the flag as a sign of the values for which they were fighting so desperately? What could have prompted one of the soldiers taking part in that amazing raising of the flag to write to his parents that it was "the happiest day of my life?" It must have been the same ideals that motivated the American soldiers of Omaha Beach, whose vocabulary did not include the word "surrender," to scale the "impossible to be scaled" so-called impregnable walls of the enemy "fortress."

What is this invisible motivator? It can't just be "duty," or "love of country," or the "hope" of being able to accumulate gold that passes away. It must be something more essential, more deeply valuable and more attractive in its call to loyalty and perseverance. It is in part the ideals of an inner freedom derived from the conviction that each person, no matter at one point in the journey of life, is possessed of an intrinsic and unassailable worth rooted in the gift of a divine heritage. In the minds of many citizens and soldiers over the 234 years of our history, this has been something worth fighting for, both in an inner and outer way. In an inner way by cultivating the habits of self discipline to develop our talents in the service of others, and in an outer way by resisting the forces that seek to dominate and stifle the spark of life and creativity that is unique to every person.

It is a true gift that we can celebrate the inner meanings of our flag for the 233rd time. It is also an opportunity to recognize that our society has not been perfect, has sometimes failed to live up to the ideals of our founding, and has no doubt sometimes been hurtful to others and tarnished the image of Old Glory in the process. Thomas Jefferson once wisely commented that it is never worth it in the long term to act immorally, and that it would be better to give up "the earth itself and all it contains" than to do so. It is our opportunity today to strengthen our society by strengthening ourselves in the pursuit of those inner virtues that lead to the outer expressions of honesty, charity, self respect and respect for the intrinsic worth of all whom we meet. This is more truly the American Way.

Since each of us has the power to change ourselves from within, we each have the power to steer our society in the direction of our founding ideals and increase the chances that Old Glory will continue to fly free and proud. Happy Flag Day, and maybe remember to bring to everyday life personal habits that will increase the reach of the authentic American values our flag represents.

William Green

Coeur d'Alene

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