On Keeping Watch Over Old Glory

On Thursday July 4th 2013, our flag, old glory, will have its 237th birthday. This flag that has been rended and mended many times over is a touchstone in our psyche.

Only ten years after America began, our country was nearly torn in half over whether or not to aid the French with their own revolution. We were torn in half by civil war, but we mended. We were divided again just before World War I. Most Americans saw no reason why we should cross the ocean to fight “a war between cousins.” Most of the countries in Europe were still monarchies, and royal families were intermarried all over the continent. World War I was indeed between cousins.

Vietnam tore America up, and on its heels, the Civil Rights Movement. We tear and we mend, over and over, generation after generation. Just like our flag, when it’s been left out in the elements too long, it frays and tears until we take it down, mend it, and put it back up the flagpole.

And now we are being battered by the elements of terrorism. How much privacy do we have to forfeit to prevent another attack? In the wake of 9/11, we have traded much privacy for security; showing ID and subjecting ourselves to searches at all portals of public conveyance, allowing tracking chips to be factory-installed in our laptops and cell phones, suspending habeas corpus when terrorism is suspected. Where should we draw the line? Now we learn our government has been taping phone conversations and tracking e-mails of ordinary Americans with no ties to terrorism. How far do we bend before we break?

In spite of all the trauma, we have grown so much together—matured enough to look back and acknowledge our mistakes. We never had the right to move Native Americans off their land. We never had the right to drag people here in chains and make them slaves. We never had the right to make children work for low pay in dangerous situations. We never had the right to create Jim Crow laws. We never had the right to deny women equal pay and opportunities. And now we are growing into the realization that, regardless of our own personal beliefs, we never had the right to deny our gay brothers and sisters their right to pursue happiness. Each generation seems to learn one good lesson to pass down to the next generation. You might say that our flag has earned its stripes.

I’ll tell you something else I know. Every American is deeply patriotic. We may moan and groan about the government, but when threatened, as we were on 9/11, no one closes ranks faster than Americans. We still choke up a little when we hear “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Every time we pass a flagpole, we look up for a second or two, just to see our flag. Our flag links us to all Americans, past, present and future. No matter what challenges have come before, or lie ahead, and even though we might feel too corny to admit it, we all keep a watchful eye on that grand old flag.

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