“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
~ Alexis de Tocqueville
Students at the University of California Irvine made headlines this week when they voted to ban the hanging of flags of any country, including the U.S. flag, in the lobby of the student government offices.
The controversial resolution was quickly vetoed by student government leaders, though too many feathers had already been ruffled.
This is when the nasty, eyeless head of patriotism rears and roars, taking wild swipes at anything that does not smell of red, white or blue. We can boil our brains with climate change; we can waste bodies and billions on senseless wars; we can feed our children sex and violence until they are bloated and numb—but please don’t touch the flag.
I will qualify this article with one brief comment: I do not think the decision to ban the flag was warranted. The justification for the decision is understandable, as students stated that “The American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.” However, they surely knew that the decision would be a source of contention with students, administrators and the flag flying public.
The reason I decided to write about this topic is because it concerns me, to no end, that we value symbols more than values, more than humans, more than the fundamental principles on which the United States’ social-democratic system was founded.
I will say this though—it’s just a flag.
“Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.”
~ Alexis de Tocqueville
I first heard about this issue when I saw a few of my “friends” posting a photo of six students, with this caption (no, the A was not capitalized):
“OK people, here are the punks who voted to remove the american flag from UC Irvine campus….let’s make them famous.”
Whether it was real or manipulated, I don’t know, but there were six students of diverse ethnicities on the post. The trail of racist slurs that followed were so foul, I will not contaminate this article by including them.
But, here we are dragged back again to the painfully clichéd debate about what it means to be an American. Here are some of the surnames of the people who responded to the post with racist comments about these un-American students: Torres, McGeady, DeLong, Kozma, Hall, Olshavsky, Brown… here we go again. Does anyone really belong in the United States? Does anyone not belong? Most of us, especially white folk, have so many different brands of blood running through our veins, we are all dizzied with ethnic schizophrenia. My own family roots lie in England, Scotland, Ireland and Switzerland. They crossed the ocean on boats. Does that make me more a U.S. citizen or less?
“Globalization is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world’s people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the peoples of those nations.” ~ Noam Chomsky
One thing of which many citizens of the United States are unaware (Americans are all of us who live in the space between, and including, Canada and Chile) is the influence that U.S. foreign policy has in promoting migration around the world.
It is no secret that foreign policy is more about protecting economic interests than it is about promoting democracy or protecting our freedoms. Foreign policy is set by Congress and the president. Congress and the president win elections because of campaign contributions. Special interest lobbying groups (i.e. economic interests) contribute to campaigns; it’s as simple as that. U.S. foreign and economic policies, particularly free trade agreements, are really designed to expand U.S. markets and provide favorable conditions for investment. They are not designed to reduce poverty or to help developing nations compete in international markets.
This formula has been successfully repeated time and time again, around the globe.
The result of foreign policy developed to promote U.S. economic interests is often increased poverty in developing countries and loss of jobs as small businesses fail to compete with transnational corporations. When people can’t find gainful employment or small business opportunities in their own countries, what do they do? They migrate. Where do they go? To the land of excess.
Not to digress too much from the original issue of the flag, but it is important to plot out the reasons that many people are not blindly loyal to the stars and stripes. U.S. interventionist and imperialist policies have generated hatred and resentment in many countries around the world.
The United States of America is truly a great nation, but it is far from perfect. And, symbols are just symbols. If we continue to use symbols as weapons, to divide and destroy, we are only creating more conflict, mistrust and hatred. After the initial flag ban received public attention, UC Irvine administrators had to cancel a meeting of the student government meeting because of threats of violence.
“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Above all else, we must teach and practice tolerance and respect. We can’t let borders, flags, ideologies, skin colors and surnames get in the way of creating a peaceful society. Disagreement and dissention are part of any healthy, democratic society, but we must learn to agree to disagree. If the United States is truly a democratic society, as many critics of the flag ban stated so emphatically, wasn’t the decision to remove the flag democratic?
If we truly care about the United States, let’s show that by taking actions to reduce the environmental damages that are destroying our natural resources. Let’s take action to stop our government from spending billions and causing thousands of deaths in irrational wars. Let’s clean up the violence and sex that poison our children’s brains on television, the internet and the movie theaters. Let’s show our values by promoting peace, understanding and tolerance in our every word and action.
It’s just a flag.
~ Chomsky, Noam (2011). Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. Seven Stories Press
Author: Peter Schaller
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: AK Rockefeller/Flickr