A grand old flag: Flag Day

by awindram

 [tweetmeme source=”awindram” only_single=false] Today is Flag Day, apparently. A day that, to this bamboozled immigrant, appears to combine America’s love of fetishizing national symbols with their habit of creating days that feel like there should be a public holiday, but that invariably aren’t.  

It’s not a particularly contentious observation, more an understatement if anything, to note that for the most part Americans are fond of their flag. They have even – like motorheads with their cars, or frat boys with their junk – christened it with a pet name. In this case, Old Glory. The best advice I can give any bamboozled or clueless immigrants is to leave well alone when it comes to commenting on Old Glory*. I discovered this at first hand when a man got irritated with me on just this issue when I described OG as “just a flag”. This man told me I better shut up as, in his words, he “bled red, white and blue.” I could only assume that he was suffering from a rare and nasty – though colourful – form of septicemia , so I graciously let the point rest.

Fathoming Americans and their flag is difficult for someone who comes from a country such as the United Kingdom that doesn’t invest such emotion behind its flag. Perhaps that’s partly a consequence of being a post-Empire nation, or perhaps it is because we don’t pledge allegiance to our flag, nor do we fly it with the frequency Americans do. The ubiquity of the stars and stripes is one of the most noticeable things when first visiting the US. We could see this as being a good thing. A society constantly and proudly reaffirming pride in its national identity. Equally, I could be mischievous and European (pretty much my default mode) and suggest it’s part of a larger collective neuroses which seeks to constantly vindicate its American identity. I’ll leave both thoughts hanging there, like an unpleasant odour.  

By contrast, there is technically no national flag of the UK. At least, no national flag enshrined by law, the Union Flag is there purely through precedent. Now it’s not that I don’t like the Union Flag, or the flag of St George for that matter. The Union Flag in particular is, I think, a great bit of design, as far as flags go. It looks great on a parachute, as we discovered with Roger Moore in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and it looked pretty darn awesome on Pete Townsend’s guitar, but I would feel odd if I had to pledge allegiance to it* because it’s just a square of cloth, it’s just a flag.  

But here in the US, my “it’s just a flag” attitude towards the Union Flag seems unpatriotic, callous even, to those, such as the septicemia sufferer, whose hearts swell when they see Old Glory fluttering in the breeze on the forecourt of their local Chevron.

You want to burn or desecrate the Union Flag? Go ahead. I’ll find it a pathetic exercise in attention seeking, I’ll think you’re a bit of a twunt, but I won’t feel violated, nor will I be enraged by the act. Now considering the success of British tabloids such as the Daily Mail, I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that everyone British would have the same, slightly nonplussed feelings as I do on this topic, but neither do I feel that those who’d be outraged by such an act of flag burning would be outraged in the same way their American counterpart would be. Desecrate Old Glory, and in act of patriotic transubstantiation, you’re no longer burning cloth, but America itself, or, at least, its ideas and values.


*Good advice I’m obviously not heeding with this post.

**Obviously I’m referring to the flag itself, rather than Pete Townsend’s guitar or Roger Moore’s parachute, both of which I may be amenable to pledging my allegiance to.