“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”—Erma Bombeck
A friend of mine died just a couple of years ago. She was a child in Europe during WW2 and was visiting here in Oregon on the coast during our 4th of July in the 80s. It was a horrific experience for her. Since then, many of my students have returned home and a few have not returned after serving their country. Many of them suffer lasting injury, physical and mental, from their service. But the most impactful story to me was one explained by the daughter of a man who fought in the first Gulf War and how changed he was, how damaged from his terrible experience.
Symbols are powerful. The recent lowering of the Confederate battle flag has been heartening to many. Not to all.
It is supposed to be the winning side that gets to tell history, but the treasonous rebels in our Civil war have been rewriting history for 150 years. "Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.'It's time we called them on it. The Civil War was about slavery.' " Despite a century and a half of trying to make it about something else, it is time to admit we fought a war about ownership of people, and many statements made before and during that war make that abundantly clear.
After opting a link about this, a FB friend posted back: "There are many people who are filled with fear at the sight of a pirate flag as they have had life threatening experiences at the hands of today's pirates. We should outlaw all pirate flags and skull and crossbones emblems and symbols. All fireworks should also be abolished because of their impact on soldiers at home who are suffering from PTSD after serving in action."
So perhaps you can understand why I began with the story of my friend who could still not stand to hear explosions forty years after the fact. (Perhaps the FB poster is being sincere or perhaps sarcastic, because I feel a disconnect between the beginning and ending of his comment.) I posted about this very issue on FB: . . . “the patients [veterans] asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff” because we do not only ask them to die for us, and they suffer from having done things against their moral code. Set aside the rah-rah for a moment and consider how necessary actions continue to pain our veterans long after society considers their work "over and done".
I find it ironic that the very people I know who are so insistent about the respecting the Pledge and "honoring the flag" are the very people who seem not to understand why this emblem is problematic. My father, who served in the Army in Europe (in Germany) during WW2, used to shake his head at people's ignorance and misunderstanding of our history.
A friend sends holiday cards that, for whatever holiday, consistently include a message about people "actively seeking to destroy our nation and the Constitution." Like most Americans, it's unlikely that this man has actually read the Constitution. Ever. He has plenty of conspiracy theories and a lot of fear, but no reason. For many years I required all my students to memorize The Preamble to the Constitution. It's a carefully worded document, hammered out behind closed doors and, as Janis Ian points out in a meme, with no mention of God whatsoever, but with concern for a more perfect Union.
Look again at the photo up top taken shortly after dawn this morning. Two American flags fly on the beach. They were left out all night, hanging from sticks because someone thought that was what it means to be patriotic. (According to official guidelines: "Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it’s illuminated during darkness.") In fact they were disrespecting the flag. In a dissimilar manner a man was wearing our nation's flag cut into shorts on the street in Seaside this morning disrespected the flag.
But fireworks on the 4th?
I have issues there too. I love fireworks. At a distance. I do not enjoy them directly overhead. I am horrified by fireworks mistakenly fired sideways, handled by young children, and booming at all hours of the day and night.
There were hundreds of fires in every metropolitan area of our country yesterday. Dogs cowered, veterans mentally prepared themselves for explosions that are mostly illegal, and we watched lanterns float high overhead and sometimes directly over our house on an exceptionally dry 4th.
Yesterday I made potato salad and stayed out till 10 watching the displays. The explosions ended after midnight. This morning there are newly dead birds all over the beach between the debris from legal and illegal fireworks.