What Do the Stars and Stripes Mean Now?

[Editor's Note: Like many Americans, AlterNet readers have been struggling with the symbolism of the American flag. Does it fly in solidarity with the victims of 9-11's terrible attacks? Or is it a call to a war that many hope to avoid? The following posts, reprinted from AlterNet's message boards, show a range of reactions to our country's renewed interest in the flag.]

Flags In a Puerto Rican Neighborhood

I live in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Brooklyn and have noticed that quite a few of the Puerto Rican flags have been replaced by American ones. Is this a sign of solidarity? Perhaps. Unfortunately, the Vieques poster at the corner bodega is gone. Does solidarity mean grievances must be forgotten?

I've also noticed the amount of flags being displayed in shops and delis run by people of Middle Eastern dissent increase dramatically. Solidarity? Probably not. I suspect fear of racist reactions have prompted all the flags. Should the flag be displayed out of fear?

I work near Penn Station and I can tell you that almost all the street vendors have stopped carrying their normal products and are almost exclusively selling American flags. Is the flag nothing more than an indication of consumer consciousness?

Maybe I'll sport an American flag when it stops being displayed and used for all the wrong reasons.

-- Andres Pletch

Normally I Fly the Flag...

My office, where I am right now, seems swept into a surreal state of "flag-waving," "kill a commie for mommie" patriotism. I find it disheartening -- especially since I always fly the American flag and always stand behind the American people -- to see many people waving flags. Under normal circumstances, they are only concerned with shopping and mortgages and rarely ever vote. Talk about programming ...

-- T. Lujan-Herrera

A Simple Wish

I'd like to fly an American flag with a dove perched on top and an olive branch wrapped around the pole. NOW is our big chance to become the great nation we can be.

-- Cindy Viera

Paper Flag in the Window

I have a poster of a flag that came free in our Sunday newspaper in the lower left-hand corner of our front window. I want to show, not my patriotism, but the fact I feel this deeply. I do wish there was some other symbol, like a yellow ribbon, I could use to convey my empathy, but they haven't yet come up with one everybody will recognize, and until then, guess I'll go along with the herd.

The thing that bothered me putting the damn thing up is: how long do I have to keep it up? Until terrorism is defeated? If I put Christmas lights in the window, can I take it down? How long is long enough? Will people deem us unpatriotic if my love of kitchsy tinsel decorations superceeds my paper poster?

One thing is for certain -- the day that any civic group or government agency starts requiring a display, DOWN IT GOES.

-- "valossa"

Can I Decide What the Flag Means?

I've been having this very conversation with several of my closest friends lately. I wondered, "Isn't it up to me to determine what the flag means for me? Can't I choose to take it back from those who would have it mean America-first-militarism or Western-capitalist-imperialism?"

I thought, at first, that it was, and that I could choose that the flags means FREEDOM to me. Big, ultimate freedom. Freedom that no society has yet enjoyed or even come close to. Freedom that we strive for and that JUSTICE, EQUALITY, and BROTHERHOOD frame so that one person's freedom does not limit another's.

But then it was pointed out to me exactly what a flag is. It is a battle standard. Pure and simple. Displaying it symbolizes loyalty to a nation. And that loyalty is a concept I just don't understand. I understand loyalty to a person, and loyalty to humanity, but loyalty to a nation, for me, is only possible if it conforms to my loyalty to humanity, to justice, to freedom, etc.

So ... I've decided I can't in good conscience fly a flag, or salute one, or even acknowledge one. It represents something I don't stand for, i.e. the desire to remain loyal to a nation. Given what our leaders have been saying of late, I am most certainly not a "loyal citizen" right now. Am I being insanely strict? Am I giving the Washnigton pundits too much power by allowing them to decide what the flag represents? Or is that connection so deep that it can not meaningfully be overcome?

-- Damien Guay

Let's Fly Other Nations' Flags

A skeptic of nationalism and patriotism, I'm more than a little freaked by the American flags everywhere.

Clyde Haberman has a piece in yesterday's New York Times about flag waving. He writes of Todd Gitlin, an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) leader back in the day, who is flying an American flag because "this week, the flag affirms that you belong to a nation that has been grievously hurt, and you want to show solidarity."

People like Gitlin, certainly, are not calling for blind patriotism or fervent nationalism. In the words of Susan Sontag in this week's New Yorker magazine, let's by all means grieve together; but let's not be stupid together.

The flag is a symbol, carrying the complicated range of meanings we pour into it. We cannot abdicate the meaning of the flag to the warmongers and bigots.

So I've decided to believe that these flags lining my neighborhood streets, taped to car doors, draped over balconies -- with some exceptions, these flags are indeed being flown in solidarity, and not in hate; they are the hope for peace, not votes for war. These are not battle flags.

This link, from another part of this forum, is a photo essay showing the incredible depth of spirit and grief from around the world: www.speakeasy.org/~jc5810/thankyou. With other nations so ready to fly American flags as expressions of solidarity, we should be as generous in return. How about flying the flags of other countries who also lost scores of nationals in the attack -- Britain, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, China, Australia -- alongside our American flags?

A small and imperfect gesture, but one that may ameliorate the implications of war and bloodshed infused in the red and white stripes of our own nation's flag. And so New York City, a bouquet of flags.

-- Lisa Kung


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