Franke: Flag Day
June 14 is Flag Day in the United States, a holiday sandwiched between the patriotic holidays of Memorial Day and Independence Day. Unfortunately, almost no one honors it by flying flags or other appropriate decorations. It’s sad, really.
My cul-de-sac has a tradition of putting out small yard flags to line the street on the major holidays. I suggested we add Flag Day to the summer big three and my neighbors agreed.
Flag Day is even more important this year than in the past. We are coming out of a pandemic which fundamentally changed our lives and may have left permanent scars on our national psyche. I am proud of my friends and neighbors for rallying together to get us all through it. I am also proud of the thousands of Americans who have tried to go about their business while honoring official and unofficial requests to keep social distance and wear masks. We are an exceptional people, in spite of what the historical deconstructionists want us to believe.
This is the kind of Americanism that our flag symbolizes. It is a symbol, sure, but one that represents ideas and ideals that come to life through this powerful symbol. What saddens me is that this symbol meant to unify has itself become divisive.
As best I can recall, flag disrespect first reared its ugly head during the Vietnam era and the highly publicized flag burnings by protestors. My generation of baby-boomers were in the forefront of these protests and we were quite successful in passing this unfortunate legacy on to subsequent generations, if scenes from our large cities are any indication. Perhaps I should blame my parents’ generation, the greatest generation according to many, who did such a poor job of instilling their values in us. But Father’s Day is just around the corner so I won’t take such a cheap shot.
While flag burning is not so common anymore, other disrespectful conduct has become almost commonplace. Think of all the athletes who kneel during the national anthem to show public protest of a nation that enables them to earn millions of dollars playing little boys’ games. I should add this disclaimer: I have not seen any kneeling at my local minor league baseball stadium. Many of our local players each year are from Latin America. They know.
I am fortunate to have membership in the Sons of the American Legion due to my father’s service in World War II and the Korean War. This organization, whose members are veterans who put their lives on the line defending the republic for which the flag stands, takes respect for the flag seriously. Each year the Legion’s legislative agenda includes support for a constitutional amendment to prohibit physical desecration of the flag.
I certainly understand the intensity of the feeling that Legionnaires have for this issue. They served their country under her flag, many at great risk to themselves. Most were draftees, at least through the Vietnam era, but they don’t begrudge the sacrifices they made in a noble cause. The flag is the most tangible symbol of this cause and its nobility. How can you not empathize and sympathize with this?
That said, I can’t help but believe that a true love of liberty ought to allow desecration of the flag as part of our inherent freedom. Naïve as it may sound, I do believe that the silent majority of Americans take note of such behavior and ignore it. In my case at least, such disrespect strengthens my belief in the American ideal. They won’t want to hear this, but even the kneelers remind me why America is the greatest nation on the planet.
I am thankful for those who act to reinforce this ideal among us, such as the small-town Wisconsin schoolteacher who initiated an unofficial flag day in his school back in 1885. It became an official holiday in 1916 by decree of President Woodrow Wilson but it was this humble schoolteacher who should get the credit. His name, by the way, was Bernard Cigrand.
I expect my street block will be lined with flags again on June 14. Will yours?
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.