Thursday, March 12, 2015

Respect for the flag

As a child, I was told that you weren't supposed to 'wear' the flag.  I don't know that I had a very clear idea of what patriotism really meant, but I knew that it was important and that it was somehow connected to the flag.  And I knew that I pledged allegiance to the flag every morning in school.  And I knew that flags were displayed at parades, and sporting events and in front of many buildings.  In the beginning, it wasn't clear to me why we weren't supposed to wear the flag - it was just a rule.

As I grew older and the year was 1960-something, I remember seeing pictures on the news of people wearing pants with flags on their bottoms  (the bottoms of the people, not of the pants).  These people were arrested, and now I was told that the reason you weren't supposed to wear the flag was because it was disrespectful.   At first I thought it was disrespectful because of the location of the flag, and because that meant you were sitting on the flag, but then I was told that it was deemed disrespectful to wear the flag anywhere on your body.  I didn't understand this.  I could understand not being allowed to burn the flag, but I didn't understand why you weren't allowed to wear it.

The federal flag code went into effect in 1942.  While the federal flag code carries no penalty, many states had laws that did carry penalties for certain acts with regard to the flag.  But the enforcement of any penalty for violating those laws has been struck down time and time again, and in 1974, the US Supreme Court noted "What is contemptuous to one... may be a work of art to another."  (Smith v. Goguen)  And, oh yeah, don't forget the freedom of speech issue.  As a result, over time we've seen t-shirts and jackets and purses and  - well, nearly everything, with the American flag on it, and society seemed to accept the notion that it was ok to wear the flag as long as you wore it with pride.

On the website for the American Legion, the question is asked whether you can wear something that looks like the flag, and the response is that as long as it isn't an actual flag, there's nothing wrong with it.  And that, of course, brings me to the current controversy regarding the flag.  A photographer posted a photo of a someone in a military uniform holding a flag that cradles an infant.  The uproar has been huge.  Technically, this is indeed a violation of the flag code.. but as I already said, there's no penalty for violating the flag code.  According to the American Legion website, this would not be a problem if it was a blanket that looked like a flag, but it is a problem since is it an actual flag.  Except that before you start thinking about whether there's any logic to the 'looks-like vs. actual' notion, you should know that I can't find anything official that supports that idea.

Let's try this on for size...  The flag is merely a symbol.  If the use of the flag or flag image is intended to show disrespect for what the flag represents (democracy, freedom, the US, etc ... take your pick)... then you shouldn't do it.  If the use of the flag/flag image shows respect,  or at least shows that you like the flag, then go ahead.

When I wear one of my very many t-shirts that displays a flag, I do so to show my respect for the flag and all it represents.  When I carry my straw bag that has the flag on it, I do so because I like the flag and the bag is the perfect size for an airplane carry-on.  Does the fact that I like the bag-with-a-flag because of its size mean that I'm disrespecting the flag?  Of course not.

Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about what constitutes respect for the picture on the rectangular piece of fabric, and more time worrying about what that picture and piece of fabric symbolize.

This post is intentionally being made with no images.  All of you know what the flag looks like.

And now it's time for a cup of tea.  It's typhoo tea, as usual... which is a British tea.  This is not a sign of disrespect of anything American, just a sign that I prefer typhoo.


  1. Well. I think that the American Legion is trying to maintain a very strict respect for the flag. I think that they are worried about "give an inch take a mile" sort of thing. I can't blame them. I mean, I understand your point and I agree, but it's tough.

  2. Seems to me that cradling an infant in an American flag would be considered an honor!

  3. I agree, like cradling in the arms of America. I didn't think it was disrespectful. If I thought so I would have a different opinion.

  4. If you really want to find out how you feel about the flag, you should go to a flag retirement ceremony like I did when Adam was in Scouts. Wow!