Thursday, June 14th, is Flag Day.
President Obama has signed a proclamation, as all our presidents have since 1949 and beyond, encouraging Americans to fly our flag proudly, and we will.
We always do.
I’ve read criticism of Americans for having too great a fondness for our flag. Visitors from other countries don’t understand why we take such pride in displaying our nation’s flag in front of our homes, our businesses, every public building, and every possible uniform. And it is true that you can see an emblem of our flag on the bumper of pickups as well as luxury cars, domestic and foreign made. The image is even on backpacks and water bottles.
But to understand why we choose to display our flag so prominently in our lives, the visitor would have to look close at the drivers of those vehicles and the people running those businesses and public buildings.
The visitor would notice we don’t all look alike. We don’t have a common ethnic heritage. Our differences are often deeper than the superficial. We have dissimilar beliefs, values, desires, and goals. Granted, we have certain traits that are predominant: we are fiercely independent, uncommonly loyal to what we hold dear, and are passionate in our defense of our personal ideologies. But we’ll even argue about those stances as well.
Pity the president in charge of us. We all have an opinion and the blessed right to express it.
Which is why we take such pleasure in displaying and honoring our flag.
Our flag is what connects us. The sight of the Stars and Stripes means the displayers hold dear principles that we take pride in. We believe the individual has the right to determine his own destiny. That she can choose what she believes and how she puts those beliefs in practice. We value a rule of law that has been developed over close to two hundred and fifty years, a law that gives us the power to govern ourselves and even change our minds with recall elections.
Our flag is our common heritage. It is our family. Whether our backgrounds are Vietnamese, Russian, Irish, German, Chinese, Peruvian, Ugandan, and the list goes on and on, these principles, as symbolized by the American flag, unite us.
We lower it when we mourn; we raise it high when we celebrate. We honor our flag by giving it prominence in our ceremonies.
And, yes, we wear it on T-shirts and lapel pins.
Its presence is a code: we may have our differences, but we stand together in our freedoms.
In 1914, Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, gave a Flag Day address that included these words: “I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”
Today, in 2012, when Americans are serving in all parts of the globe, when our businesses have reached out to every empire, when our population is more diverse than ever before, Lane’s words were not only prophetic, but have never been truer.