how the world sees america

America's Two-Edged Flag

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After 9-11, I hung an American flag prominently at the entrance to my house. Didn't think twice about it. But to a group of young British politics students at Loreto College who visited Washington and New York City last year, the omnipresence of the American flag and unabashed patriotism was “very peculiar.”

In Britain, they told me, it’s very hard to find their flag displayed publicly, especially by citizens. This is in part because the National Front movement, strong in the 1980s, co-opted the British flag for its xenophobic politics. Flying the flag in homes is often understood as a symbol of racism, they explain.

They also claim not to see displays of national pride very often, explaining it ebbs and flows with the soccer season. One girl continues: “And even then we use the flags just to support the teams, really.” “When the soccer match is on, flags are up all over the place. But if we lose the match, those flags will come right down, nowhere to be found.”

Studying politics in a multimedia classroom.
Whether the prominent flags and patriotism in America are a good thing, the crowd of students could see both sides. Generally, they had positive feelings about the camaraderie Americans exhibit for one another, a sense of “a shared dream and vision for the country which we don’t have here.” And though anti-Bush paraphernalia littered the classroom walls, the discussion of our president was moderate, with students crediting him with developing a strong sense of national identity. The cost of this, one girl said, is that some Americans are less eager to criticize his policies; it seems to go against that national solidarity.

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Comments (149)

oli:

unfortunately many english people would rather have another as an allie bvut the only allternative is russia, and they are even more untrustworthy.

Laika's Last Woof:

Cheer up, Citizen. Always keep in mind that the world isn't anti-American, it's polarized. For every loss of a Howard to a Rudd there's a swap of a Chirac with a Sarkozy.

One of our most consistent allies, though, is also the largest democracy in the world. The only people who think America is universally disliked in the world are Eurocentrics who either think India is still a third-world country -- which it hasn't been for some time now -- or more likely simply don't think of India at all.

By their omission these people demonstrate their ignorance of other nations, peoples, and cultures, which makes their criticism of Americans a projection of their own shortcomings rather than any sort of relevant complaint about us.

We Americans understand that the world is a complicated place and that in it we have more friends than enemies, precisely because most people appreciate having a strong ally whose motives are compatible with their national agenda.

Rather than complain about Mr. Bakshi stacking the deck with America-haters we can contribute something positive ourselves, simply by coming to these forums and telling the truth. Do so with the confidence that most of the free world loves America.

Citizen:

Gee, looks like the reporter found what he was looking for poeple around the world that hate America. Good job, I bet your left wing anti-American boss is real proud.

Laika's Last Woof:

"... it crams Americanism globalisation/consumerism down the worlds throat ..."
Right, like we force you to buy our stuff. The Opium Wars were I believe a British affair.

"... dancing around with evangelical funadementalistic views ... president of the world."
Actually fundamentalists believe the next "President of the World" will be the anti-Christ ...
Wow, I just realized you and they have something in common. Imagine!

"Just watch one british satirical show to confirm my views."
Wasn't it British satire that decided witches by duckweight? That your intellect was nurtured at the feet of Sir Bedevere explains everything.

William Warren:

"Thank god we don't live in a country where it is considered racist to fly our flag"
I am English and believe that as a nation we are very tolerant especially in London of other cultures. America however is not it is so far up it own arse that it crams Americanism globalisation/consumerism down the worlds throat and it is too blind singing i'm proud to be an american while dancing around with evangelical funadementalistic views that they may as well follow futuramas idea and have a president of the world.

Just watch one british satirical show to confirm my views. just piss off and make the world a better place before you heat the world up so much it burns even the fat on your bodies

Laika's Last Woof:

"... Paris Hilton ..."

South Park

STEPHEN:

"wow, british women are strikingly ugly."

Except we don't name ours "Paris Hilton" and then stick them on television.

Laika's Last Woof:

"All you have to do is go to any venue with a large group of Yanks and you'll see the mob mentality at work."

Frequent bathers tend to stick together.

"How else were Europe supposed to get rid of their religious lunatics?"

Would that emigration to America had been Europe's "Final Solution".

"... how were we to know that those lunatic losers would actually survive ..."

It's amazing how well a country's religious minorities thrive when they're not being hunted by Roundheads, Inquisitors, and the Gestapo.

"Or maybe we should remember ritual burning of CD's by the Dixie Chicks?"

And still more Americans burned the flag. Dissent all 'round, looks like. I realize that someone from the country that banned Piglet might not be familiar with the concept of allowing EVERYONE freedom of speech.

"They left to set up theocratic fundamentalist govt ... I love the [C]onstitution ..."

And there's the contradiction. If there were factions seeking to impose theocracy in America at the time of our founding, they failed. The First Amendment is proof -- as are our thriving religious minorities Europe chased away.

In America Gershwin and Einstein will always be revered ... one more piece of evidence that we're wiser than you.

"... wow, british women are strikingly ugly."

Those fox hunters are foxes! Have you seen those babes in the body paint? "Kiss me, Hardy!"

John K :

wow, british women are strikingly ugly.

Anonymous:

Can I just ask Steve Gregg to get his 'facts' right, paticularly after whining about others getting their facts wrong. EU citizens don't need a passport to go anywhere in the EU. As for tribes and flags... well America is a tribe. All you have to do is go to any venue with a large group of Yanks and you'll see the mob mentality at work. Just like anywhere else in the world. Various people have written that the flag and patriotism does not stifle dissent I would remind everyone (paticularly Americans) of the tone of debate in the run up to the Iraq war. The French were characterised by huge numbers as almost pure evil. (Freedom fries anyone?)Or maybe we should remember ritual burning of CD's by the Dixie Chicks? Everyone (Except you Barack! As we hear so often.) was jumping on the Iraq gravy train at the time. You're right by the way, America has done has done various good things in the world, just like it has done various crummy things in the world. As to the poster complaining that America was founded by people thrown out of Europe, that is definatly true. How else were Europe supposed to get rid of their religious lunatics? If Australia had been around then who knows where they would have gone. It has come back to bite us though, how were we to know that those lunatic losers would actually survive. All we can say is thank god for immigration since then which at least diluted the lunacy for a while. Winnie, if you're going to make moronic statements can you please preface them? Preferably with "This is my moronic statement." Britain had a form of democracy centuries before the US was an apple in the founders' eye. Freedom from the govt has also been a British tradition - Parliament since the 12th century. What makes you think you have the right to lecture us? The settlers/pilgrims didn't leave Europe to set up a free and democratic govt. They left to set up theocratic fundamentalist govt did'nt they teach you anything about the founding of your country? In fact, maybe that's why you're having trouble with your local loonies now. Crack open a history book, you might learn something. As to those people who don't care what the world thinks, (Mike) you might not care now but you will when you want something. Marching around threatening countries works for a short while, but on the long term it'll backfire when countries start telling you to stick it up your ass. So, you'll care when you want something and who knows, by then it maybe too late. America isn't going to be top dog forever. (Once again, check history books) One last thing, I'v noticed that people 'defending' America frequently deny that posters from foreign countries have a right to feel the way they do. Everyone has a right, I'm not American but I love the constitution, hate the President and find it a pity that you're country is full of fruitloops.

Laika's Last Woof:

That's quite an imagination you have. That appears to be all you have, as there are no actual records of any of the incidents you've so vividly described.

Ever heard of Scott Thomas Beauchamp? You and he ought to do lunch, talk to an agent ...

victoria:

just for the record, im a very white blue eyed 5'2"(small) woman of irish-french descent.

so there was no race issue- prior to 911, other than my head covering, no one ever had an unkind word for me as im a very helpful and cheerful person.

some of the people were ashamed of how i was treated but not enough to stand up.

as a matter of record, i was a very active catholic before i became muslim, on my own, and was head of the womens committee in the church and well known for my service activities for the community.

victoria:

i lived in a small town called millvale when 911 hit. the steel mills had been closed for some 30 years at the time and there was high unemployment, alcoholism and other attendant problems when a whole town is thrown out of work.

the center of the town was the veterans of foreign wars club, and a canon with a monument.
this was in pittsburgh pennsylvania- which is the second city after DC on the hit list because the defense systems and star wars are located in a 40 story underground building there.

many people living there have no idea they are the number 2 target for a foreign bomb. the entire town was evacuated on 911.
i had to walk several miles home as there wasnt a single car in the city. the second plane was downed right outside its borders.

i went home on 911 and didnt really kknow what was happening as there was no one to tell me-
(i was going to work, but there was no one there).

when i went home i turned on the tv and learned what happened.
i painted a large peace sign on my blinds in my front window, facing the main street.

i went out later, and every single home and building had a flag hanging proudly- except me.

i was the only muslim in my town, and no one had cared one whit before. i was very active in serving my community and loved.

i wear the head scarf which no one seemed to notice before, many thought i was a nun.

before i even left my home to see the flags, someone threw a brick through my window.

i was spit on every single day on my way to work, a lady came out of her house to wait for me and scream at me to go back to my country, followed by a volley of spit. (it was the only bus stop to the city, no other way to get there).

a man used to come out of the bar every day, he would rush out when he saw me and scream filth at me-

a man pumping gas that id worked with in the past, told me he was going to punch my face in and beat the f*** out of me, then he followed me slowly home in his car.

i called the police when a group of drunks were screaming at me outside my home, and they told me to come outside(police), then they jacked me up on the car, arrested me- (my neighbor kept telling them that i was the one who called them they were arresting the worng person)
after 6 or so hours in a cell they drove me to another station and ripped my hijab off my head to humiliate me.

i was driving once, and the same policemen stopped me because they "suspected" my license was suspended. my record of 20 some years was perfect- not even a parking ticket.

one month later i received a ticket for 500 dollars.
a few days later, i was driving and again stopped, and informed my license was suspended.
and ticketed for driving without a license.

they took an old ID number, and transposed it with my current valid license number, invalidating it somehow - (illegally)

it took 3 years and 4000.00 dollars to get my license back, now tarnished with this false suspension.
they sent a constable to my house every month before the "fine" was due, and added another 50.00 for his visit almost every month.

i have many other stories, but these are the immediate happenings after 911.

and every single person involved was a proud flag waving american.

so the flag has a different connotation for me.
thank you and peace

Laika's Last Woof:

"Please tell me their efforts are about more than a piece of cloth."
Their oath is to the Constitution, which is indeed more than a piece of cloth: it is composed of paper and ink.

"I wish that Americans were culturally literate ..."
"we have no cultural identity ..."
This pernicious myth was invented by Europeans jealous that we invented jazz.

"[B]ombs create ... terrorists."
So does appeasement. Bombs also eliminate terrorists, a feature appeasement lacks.

"The level of self-censorship in public discourse is mind-boggling ..."
Sometimes they even manage to restrain themselves from comparing Bush to Hitler before 10 AM.

"There's something quite violent in tonal and symbolic terms when people 'rally round the flag,'"
"The militarization of US popular culture is stronger than in any other country I've seen"
We like to keep our options open.

"How can you take a symbol of the American empire and identify with it... much less die for it?"
Read the Constitution.

"To be a hyperpower where most of the citizens don't know which countries, never mind understanding their cultures, invade is tragic."
Get over yourself. How much did YOU know about radical Islam before 9/11?
Unless we're The Amazing Kreskin there's no way we're going to know all about our enemies before they attack us.
Rest assured since 9/11 I've learned a great deal about radical Islam and even picked up some vocabulary, words like "Dhimmi" and "Sharia" -- "Fatwah" I already knew thanks to Salman Rushdie -- and that's really the best we could be expected to do.
I doubt many Americans had heard of arahito-kami on 12/6, either, but just the same they knew what to do about it on 12/8.

"The symbolism of the flags is also reflected in childish ideas of god ..."
I've noticed a curious trend of late: the foreigners most likely to label us Americans "childish" or "ignorant" are themselves the most ignorant of us.
Our flag stands for secular democracy as written in our Constitution -- if you'd bothered to read it before styling yourself an authority on Americans.
"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion."
Those words are in fact the root cause of the War on Terror, as is the Sharia code of our enemies. The basis of our conflict lies in the incompatibility of these two doctrines.

"America is no freer than the UK as far as i'm concerned."
Second Amendment, US Constitution.

"Europeans see them flying from a ship that his now headed for the Abyss of self-destructive nationalism ..."
Reminds me of this quote: "Fascism is forever descending on America, yet always seems to land in Europe."

Patapsco:

I read an editorial in the left-leaning London Observer right after 9-11 which seemed to really capture the essence of what the flag is to the USA. Here is a link:

Waving not Drowning - Ed Vulliamy explores the many meanings of the Stars and Stripes

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/2001review/story/0,,624156,00.html

It is quite good.

Patapsco:

I read an editorial in the left-leaning London Observer right after 9-11 which seemed to really capture the essence of what the flag is to the USA. Here is a link:

Waving not Drowning - Ed Vulliamy explores the many meanings of the Stars and Stripes

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/2001review/story/0,,624156,00.html

It is quite good.

Patapsco:

I read an editorial in the left-leaning London Observer right after 9-11 which seemed to really capture the essence of what the flag is to the USA. Here is a link:

Waving not Drowning - Ed Vulliamy explores the many meanings of the Stars and Stripes

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/2001review/story/0,,624156,00.html

It is quite good.

Doug Purdie:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't flags created for the purpose of displaying them?

Winnie:

I'm amazed at all the British/Europeans who are proclaiming their countries are more "free" than the U.S. Forget about travel, pick up a book please! The only reason your countries are free now is because they followed America's excellent example. America was founded by Europeans escaping the tyranny of their governments. Eventually Europe caught on. They're a little slow but they get there eventually. Now if they could only extend those freedoms to their "refugees."

Marcus:

LOL! Europeans having a discussion about American nationalism? They do realize that they live on a continent half the size of North America but it has been broken up into over 47 countries all due to nationalism, right? That's almost as nonsensical as Europeans giving America advice on how to integrate immigrants into their society!

Steve Gregg:

I am one of those flag-waving Americans. Nice to meetcha.

It's amusing to read through this thread, a festival of hyperbolic hatred of America. I'm particularly struck by how many of these things the posters know for a fact are simply fiction.

For example, the charge that Americans don't have passports and don't visit foreign countries. Until recently, Americans didn't even need a passport to enter Mexico nor Canada. Europeans need a passport to cross the street. If you drive two hundred miles in Europe, you might need to get your passport stamped a couple times. If you drive two hundred miles in America, you may not have left Texas yet. Millions of Americans have lived all over the world, especially Europe, by serving in the military. There is no equivalent program that delivers Europeans to America. This passport criticism is intellectually dishonest.

The reason Americans like me display the flag so prominently is that we own America. Unlike the subjects of most other countries in the world, we are citizens of America who run our country and have a stake in it. Of course, you can't expect that same kind of pride nor patriotism from countries where the rulers run roughshod over subjects who have no rights, which is most of the world.

Also, the American flag, unlike other flags, stands for a set of principles: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Other flags are flown by countries who stand for blood and turf. That makes a big difference. For example, if you're Japanese, your pride is centered on your race and the islands of Japan. That's not something the Japanese would want to trumpet after that Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere didn't work out. In that respect, the flags of other countries stand for something less than the noble ideals of the US flag.

The same goes in more muted form for European countries which are based on race and territory. Who wants to fly a flag based on that these days? America, by contrast, has no tribe.

You can only be citizen of many of these countries by being born into them. However, anybody can become an American by believing in the same things we do, things like freedom and democracy and merit and private property and individual rights. These are the best ideas ever thought. Some foreigners who immigrate to America believe that they were always Americans but simply born in the wrong country. They're right.

I might point out that America has served the world well. It was America that provided the muscle to win WWII and the benevolent treatment of our fanatic enemies which led them both to become economic superpowers. Such generosity is unprecedented in human history. We've also cured polio, landed men on the moon, fed a large chunk of the world, and rushed to help every time there is a catastrophe. We have a lot of which to be proud. That's a good reason to fly the flag. Yahooo, America!

The idea that anybody made us fly the flag after Sep 11 is nuts. The day after Sep 11, everybody was scrambling to fly a flag. Most people didn't have one. You saw a lot of faded and ragged flags the weekend after the attack, flags which had obviously pulled out of the back of the closet. It took about six weeks for fresh flags to hit the store shelves to catch up with demand.

When dopey foreigners say we were forced to fly the flag, it's obvious they don't understand America and are erroneously projecting their own values on to us. I don't doubt that in most foreign countries the only way you could get everyone to fly the flag is to force them. America is different from those countries.

Flag flying has not stopped anybody from criticizing America, as if anything could. When such critics claim that nationalism has suppressed criticism of the war with accusations of treason, I might point out that many of the critics of the war are, in fact, traitors.

I've been to all the large anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC. Every one of them was organized by the Communists of ANSWER and UFPJ who fly banners promoting the overthrow of the US government in favor of a socialist regime. Revolution is the main theme of all these demonstrations. I see people walking around with signs saying "AMERICA MUST BE DESTROYED." Call me crazy, but that sounds like treason. And I have yet to see anybody, not even one out of hundreds of thousands of protestors, tote a sign criticizing Saddam, jihadis, snuff videos, beheadings, etc. What a curious omission. The traitors doth protest too much.

Bob:

I am an American and I must say I'm a little disappointed in this discussion, particularly the views on the flag. The American, to me, represents the best in America, regardless of who is in office. It exemplifies the resilience of the American people and their determination to live as free peoples. When Francis Scott Key wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner', he saw a flag that stood throughout the night despite being battered by the British, as if it were determined not to be destroyed.

I myself and most Americans are not of the mindset that we don't care about the world. We do care. What we don't care about is naked hatred for us and our wrongs (real or imagined). What we don't like is running to check the rest of the world for permission to walk out of our front door. And what we don't care about is Third-World dictators telling us what a free country looks like.

So criticize us if you want. We appreciate healthy discussion. But we don't appreciate being called "Nazis" or "Fascists". We are quite far from it.

P.S. - Regarding Bush, I will unabashedly say that I like and admire him. That does NOT mean I have not or will not criticize him when I believe he is wrong, like on the recent immigration issue. Liking someone doesn't mean you never question or disagree with them. I think Bush, in regards to Afghanistan and Iraq, did something few would have even dared to do: he decided to take the fight to people who had years ago already declared war on Western civilization. You can say they are no threat, but when 10% of a one-billion-adherent religion think Osama bin Laden is a hero, that is not a benign problem.

What a lot of people don't see is that, regardless of who is in office, these Islamists hate us all the same. Why is Thailand being ravaged by terrorists, or the Philippines? Why do terrorists still plot against Spain even though they pulled out?

The truth is that these characters would hate all of us even if we abandoned the country and settled on the moon, for the mere fact that the way we live is "un-Islamic". For the world to criticize Bush for being pro-active where it was complacent is despicable. This is particularly geared toward the Brits who despise us, who suffered from the 7/7 attacks and are facing a creeping demand for sharia law by a growing population of British Muslims.

I am not saying, "eradicate Islam" or anything like that. But it's time for the West to stop the self-flagellation and start asking the tough questions. Blaming ourselves for every evil in the world is not only wrong and stupid, it's dangerous.

Dylan:

It's always amusing to read how obsessed the Brits and Euros are with America and its people. It just reinforces America's leadership and any manager worth their weight can tell you nobody likes the leader. This is what they discuss in schools across the pond? American flag-flying? SILLY!

Reality:

And I suppose wearing a green Palestinian headband or waving a yellow Hezballah flag (featuring an AK47 no less) while screaming for the death of anyone who doesn't do as they command is quite alright, is it? Morons.

susan:

I love America and her beautiful flag of freedom and liberty for all.

Steve:

America is an evil and imperialistic society that needs to be eradicated from our world. All this talk about "freedom" and "self-determination" and "individual choice and opportunity" is not only outdated, it's a bunch of naive tomfoolery.

Everybody knows that peace will only come about through acceptance of a non-democratic, totalitarian alternative to the virus of freedom that those arrogant Americans have spread all over the globe.

So please beat me, stifle my opportunities to better myself, and make my wife and daughters wear a burka. And if a few gay bathhouses get bombed...well, that's just "cultural" and we'll have to accept that. Because anything's better than those millionaire entrepreneurs and those middle America "moral values" rubes...

pak:

Wow! these statements are absolutely amazing. If America is such a horrible place why is it that so many people want to move there? Why is it the most vibrant economy in the world? Maybe America should just step back and say "hey you guys, take care of it yourself. we're out of here." i've seen the employment figures for Britain. Shoot NHS can't even hire 9,000 junior doctors as the system is broke.

Everett:

Tony Harding posted "Naturally enough since it was the American people who voted this man into office they are held responsible for a choice which the rest of the world is obliged to live with".
Gee Tony I have to say that I'm really sory about the Clinton years also.

Amar C. Bakshi:

The primary girl who speaks in the video is Beth English. The other students include Adam Cotton, Jessica Carter, Caitriona Burgum, Stephanie Morris, Simone Burton, Hannah Lister, Roisin McDermott. They are all part of Colleen Harris' class.

JD:

I heard the same concerns among Europeans about American flag-waving among my friends there. (They also point out that no one there places their hands over their hearts during their national anthems.)

I think Europeans misinterpret American flag-waving. In most cases, it isn't a case of nationalism but of self-indulgence. Americans who display flags are usually making a statement of personal/civic identity (as we did after 9/11) rather than sending a message.

Europeans have a much darker history with nationalism than we have on this side of The Pond. The Iraq Was has been a terrible mistake. Our immigration dilemma dates directly to the apex of American Nationalism, the Mexican War (1845-48).

With that said, America has never produced an ueber-nationalist on the scale of Napoleon or Hitler (although, I might grant us a Milosevic or two), nor has our country suffered with the ramifications of extreme nationalism in the way that the citizens of France and Germany did.

Worse than the flags or the anthems, perhaps Europeans see them flying from a ship that his now headed for the Abyss of self-destructive nationalism--an abyss they know all too well.

Beth:

i'm one of the students featured on the video

and i'd just like to clarify that we were not in any sense saying that the presence of the American flag stifles protests over the Iraq war, merely that Amiercan patriotism, in some instances, has led dissenters to be labelled as 'un-American' (e.g. criticisms of the Patriotic Act), particularly in the wake of 9/11, something which was covred greatly on British tv.
JRLR i think you pretty much summarise what we were trying to grasp. thanks.
as for the large number of ignorant and aggressive posts on here- may i remind you that we are entitled to our opinions just as you are and would like to be respected for them.
America is no freer than the UK as far as i'm concerned.

Beth:

i'm one of the students featured on the video

and i'd just like to clarify that we were not in any sense saying that the presence of the American flag stifles protests over the Iraq war, merely that Amiercan patriotism, in some instances, has led dissenters to be labelled as 'un-American' (e.g. criticisms of the Patriotic Act), particularly in the wake of 9/11, something which was covred greatly on British tv.
JRLR i think you pretty much summarise what we were trying to grasp. thanks.
as for the large number of ignorant and aggressive posts on here- may i remind you that we are entitled to our opinions just as you are and would like to be respected for them.
America is no freer than the UK as far as i'm concerned.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Thank you Terry for that clarification.

terry reilly:

i was born and grew up in the uk from the thirties on through the sixties. to see a union jack or a scottish standard was a rare event. even during the the 1939 -1945 war it was virtually invisible. in those decades in glasgow the flag was unfurled mainly at football stadia on saturdays to draw attention to the existence of the availability of anti irish comfort zones. the british nationalists were purely an after thought and i would suggest that they only play a minor role in the flag war. i hope this sets the record a little more straight than the comments of the students who may not be aware that the non flag waving is in fact the british tradition and remained so until the thatcher years when efforts were made to capitalize on nationalism for political gain.

terry reilly:

i was born and grew up in the uk from the thirties on through the sixties. to see a union jack or a scottish standard was a rare event. even during the the 1939 -1945 war it was virtually invisible. in those decades in glasgow the flag was unfurled mainly at football stadia on saturdays to draw attention to the existence of the availability of anti irish comfort zones. the british nationalists were purely an after thought and i would suggest that they only play a minor role in the flag war. i hope this sets the record a little more straight than the comments of the students who may not be aware that the non flag waving is in fact the british tradition and remained so until the thatcher years when efforts were made to capitalize on nationalism for political gain.

tonyharding:

The very real hostility towards the USA has come about because the President becomes the very personification of the country and its people. In this instance, when you have a President whose integrity at best is questionable and whose advisors /administrators seem to be blessed with a greater than bearable dose of lethal arrogance,you have an amalgam which unsurprisingly leads to a rejection and hostility towards most things American. Naturally enough since it was the American people who voted this man into office they are held responsible for a choice which the rest of the world is obliged to live with.

JRLR:

Amar, as we can see, the issue of the flag (two-edged like a sword) is an extremely sensitive one, even in Mother Teresa’s backyard (Loreto)… It is one that arouses the most passionate debates. In the US, where the flag is omnipresent (I can bear witness it has been the case at least for the last sixty years…), where so many people literally wear the American flag, it should come as no surprise that the issue generate such a large number of comments.

What I like about those British students’ reactions, more particularly, is: 1. The fact that they seek the meaning and purpose of peoples’ gestures involving the flag. 2. That they do not take the matter too seriously (let alone dramatically). 3. Hearing them giggle and laugh at how people sometimes use the flag. Those are very healthy reactions, I believe.

It is commonly assumed that to raise the flag is simply to assert (proudly?) one’s national identity in front of everybody. Simple: It means “I am American” or “We are Americans”. The gesture reinforces one’s sense of belonging, of being part of, being of the substance of the American nation.

What those thoughtful British students mean to say is that the issue “The flag and us” is not that simple.

People do not always just raise the flag. Sometimes, the flag is raised at half mast. There are cases where people would simply display or carry the flag. There are other circumstances where some will display the flag upside down, walk on the flag, spit on the flag or burn the flag.

Those students wish to know what the “flag gesture” really means, in each and every case. “WHY that gesture of yours with the flag?” – “What exactly do you mean by that gesture?”

Are you indeed asserting your national identity publicly?
Do you mean to say: “Standing on guard for thee!”?
Do you mean to communicate that you subscribe to shared ideals? (Which are they, then?)
Do you mean to tell the world: “My country right or wrong!”?
Are you saying: “Long live America and damn the world” (“Deutschland über alles!”)?
Should we understand you mean: “Let’s keep America white!”?
Did we hear: “In your face!” (Saddam Hussein’s statue, face covered with US flag)?
You mean: “Watch the winners marching in, you catholic losers!” (Northern Ireland)?

Pray tell: Is your gesture one of pride, of fidelity, of idealism? Or is it one of fanaticism, of xenophobia, of racism, of dominance and intended to scoff at, to humiliate others? Is it daring, insulting? Does it express solidarity or rejection? Does it convey one’s presence or the fact that one is taking possession of the place?

Or are you now rejoicing and celebrating? Are you grieving and mourning? Is it a rallying gesture? Is it in protest, defiance?

Is your gesture generous or mean, conciliatory or arrogant, compassionate or hateful?

Tell us, which is it? For flags can be appropriated and used to further one’s causes, you know?

Those British students know full well the issue cannot be summarized in this simplistic equation: “Flag = raise the flag = innocuous = being patriotic = undoubtedly good = “that’s it that’s all!””

One may therefore want to decide just how and when one will choose to be patriotic. There are shameful ways one may not wish ever to raise the flag. Time to take an oath, then: “I, an American, will never raise the flag as a gesture of... So help me God! ”

Mark:

I know crazy isn't it. The notion that one can be patriotic without fyling a flag. You see the notion in Great Britain is that all people are considered equal, regardless of their ideas. Crazy!

Sara:

Alex Florida - That's a very bold statement you make.... care to back it up a little?

vamospues:

Jonathan:

I objectively read through most of the postings here, and without a doubt yours is the most inane. While others convey some intelligence, yours enlightens no one. Maybe you are one of those phony patriots, who hides behind the flag.

vamospues:

Jonathan:

I objectively read through most of the postings here, and without a doubt yours is the most inane. While others convey some intelligence, yours enlightens no one. Maybe you are one of those phony patriots, who hides behind the flag.

Jonathan:

Wow, there are some ignorant people in the world. (That is directed at the people posting on this forum by the way.)

Robert Whitlock:

This flag bearing nationalism is very troubling. It impedes our abilities, or tendencies, to criticize the government's trespasses and wrong-doings.

Fear of Criticism:

This flag bearing nationalism is very troubling. It impedes our abilities, or tendencies, to criticize the government's trespasses and wrong-doings.

alex florida:

I love how europeans constantly criticize america's foreign policy, if it weren't for Europe and two world wars we would not be in Iraq, we would not had 9/11.

Does anyone remember this?

Alex:

Someone said that it is the Constitution we revere, not the flag. That is true to a point ... we revere the promises and assertion of the most basic rights in the Declaration of Independence (no matter that this merely reiterated points made years earlier).

The Constitution safeguards those promises. If the party in power abuses those rights, there are mechanisms to pull things back. You can argue whether Bush has gone too far, but the bottom line is that he and his ilk can only go so far, whatever your political stripes.

FYI, for those who equate us to nazis, you all make me sick ... I guarantee that people like you never once took real action to attempt to help other people.

chigal:

America - land of the free, home of warrantless wiretaps and torture.

Morgan:

Wow. When you add it all up we do look pretty bad. We were the only country to ever use the atomic bomb. My grandfather was in the Navy and visted Nagasaki and Hiroshima after WWII. He said it was so obvious we targeted civilians that he later renounced his American citizenship out of shame and moved to Switzerland. American patriotism is synonomous with naziism.

Anton:

I agree, Chuck. Ethnic cleansing (the mass extermination of the American Indian), concentration camps (aka reservations), and Lebensraum (Manifest Destiny)to name a few were American inventions. Slavery was introduced by the Dutch, but Americans made it uniquely their own. Saturation bombing of Vietnamese civilians, My Lai, and napalm. Now we have Abu Ghraib. We kill thousands of Iraqi women and children so we can have oil. Our soldiers rape and massacre civilians and get a slap on the wrist. Yes, we're the Nazis of the 21st century.

Chuck:

The stars and stripes is the new swastika.

Zoltan:

"Finally, I wanted to ask you, do you prefer comments to go newest to oldest, or oldest to newest. Email me at america@washingtonpost.com and let me know."

oldes to newest please. That way, you can catch-up with a conversation. It's more natural to read from top-to-bottom


Chaz:

Have any of you been to Denmark? They fly their flag even more than Americans do theirs - it is a ubiquitous presence throughout the country. Are they hyper-patriotic imperialists?
Policies and laws are one things, flying a flag is another.

Madrone:

Re: "Alien"

Alien is an old word, which I assume we (the United State) got from legal codes from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Alien, as in no from this World (Extra-Terrestrial) is a much more modern use of this word. (Probably this use coincided with the sci-fi novels in the 19th and early 20th cenury)

While perhaps we should use a more "friendly" word, - its not a word that the US picked to make people feel like little green men, its a word, that we'e been using for a long time, that is now associated with little green men.

WILLEM:

i think its stupid to display your flag every day it should only be on special occasions but its a free country (not too free under bush) so i let u go ahead,
i was born in holland and they really show the flag in a very special way on the queens birthday and liberation day to remember that the americans and canadians liberated holland on may 5th 1945.
so several times a year makes it very very special otherwise it becums a a common site . but i will admit my flag will be flying hi the day cheney (viz.prez. incharge of torture) and bush leave the whitehouse and go on trial for killing 1000s of our soldiers in iraq and 100000s of others in iraq.

lorenzo van perg:

my precedent post was direct to Mr MiKE SMITH..who enjoy about the number of refugees..to decides that he lives in the only one paradise in the world

lorenzo van perg:

sorry..but your logic is really poor.if you judge your country from the refugee number...Italy or German will be the best countries in the world..or if you like the Tchad, with a million refugees from the Darfur..
and when you say "Who cares" you show the same selfish arrogance of your Leader Maximo..the Great Decider, or the Great Incompetent and Liar, as you like..Mr Bush..

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Mike,

Not sure how best to respond. On the one hand, the answer includes: both some US citizens and our government, and a number of foreign publics and their governments. Not much help there, I suppose.

To be specific, US citizens (travelers, teachers, NGO workers, soldiers) can be greeted warmly or face harassment abroad (as I did in Zimbabwe, among other places). Foreign governments can choose to create anti-US alliances or redirect domestic discontent toward a foreign "enemy". In the long run, these alliances aren't good for us, and can provide safe-haven for more militant enemies.

And then there is the issue of where talent is flocking. The US has been the destination of choice for years, but there is indication that in many parts of the world, talented graduates we could use are going to England, Australia, and other nations. These are just some of the issues to watch for. Perceptions have a lot to do with the choices people make.

However, I don't necessarily have an answer for you, just a couple hunches as to why this is an important topic. As this unfolds, I'll let you know as I come across some better explanations, and if not, I'll let you know too. If nothing else, for Americans who haven't traveled much or are curious about people in diverse parts of the world, hopefully this can provide a somewhat useful window.

Mike Smith :

Mr. Bakshir I note you have one typo in your article. You forgot the first two words "Who Cares" as in "Who cares how the world sees America."

When people aren't scrambling to live in America to escape their own lands of little opportunity and two bit Castro wannabe dictators like Hugo Chavez and Mugabe.

When millions of immigrants stop risking their lives to arrive at our shores I will start to worry what the rest of the world thinks.

Amar C. Bakshi:


Jhurwi,
Very nice, well-illustrated point about how the contested symbol of the flag, and how its meaning changes over time to different people, so that those who don't live through certain periods don't carry certain meanings around with them. I wonder what significance the flag will take on for American teenagers today, just coming of age.

Hououji,
Where are you from? This is another powerful post from someone visiting the United States. I'd be curious if another reader here could elucidate the use of the word-choice 'alien' in the customs offices...

Finally, I wanted to ask you, do you prefer comments to go newest to oldest, or oldest to newest. Email me at america@washingtonpost.com and let me know.

Eric:

ROY:

"It is extremely embarassing living in a foreign country as an American. Three years ago, people were friendly toward Americans greeting them on the streets. Now, people scowl and talk of the great arrogance of George Bush. At social occasions, the subject of Iraq inevitably comes up. I am finally more accepted after I tell my hosts I don't support Bush or his war. The world hates America. The arrogance and unilateralism of Cheney, Bush, Rove, et. al is the reason."

Hmmmm...cowardly?

Phil O:

I have travelled the world and take offense when I hear Euro's talk about how America doesn't understand the world. Well, we are the refugees that you kicked out of your own countries. We were the ones who were tired of your old bigotries and hatreds. We were the religous minorities that suffered under your persecution. We were the ones with the courage to leave and start anew. That is what the American Flag means to us. Is there hate in America? Yes. But nothing like there is in Europe. When I was in Iran before the Shah fell, Iranians always said they liked Americans and couldn't understand why we supported the Shah. I asked them why they liked Americans so much, given our governments support of the Shah? The answer was that Americans will talk to anyone from any class and treat everyone the same. This makes sense. We were not the entitled. We were the tired, poor scum that Europe and the rest of the world threw away. We never under value human potential, because we know what today's under trodden can become. Because once, they were us. America revels in its flag in a way that Europe will never understand, because you were the ones who threw us away.

scowow:

The difference is simple.

Some folks who fly the flag are nationalists who believe that American policy should be in place around the world.

Other folks who fly the flag are patriots who love their country and the ideals of democracy and personal freedom.

Speranza:

If the mentality of Americans was more adult they wouldn't need the flags. The symbolism of the flags is also reflected in childish ideas of god, of the US's role in the world, the incredible degree of conformity (genuine fear of freedom) and in the culture of instant gratification. The fact is - and if American's travelled more they would know this - the US is a lot less free in its thinking and conformities than practically any European country. If you need proof just look at the cloning of Republican presidential hopefuls. Pathetic really.

Speranza:

If the mentality of Americans was more adult they wouldn't need the flags. The symbolism of the flags is also reflected in childish ideas of god, of the US's role in the world, the incredible degree of conformity (genuine fear of freedom) and in the culture of instant gratification. The fact is - and if American's travelled more they would know this - the US is a lot less free in its thinking and conformities than practically any European country. If you need proof just look at the cloning of Republican presidential hopefuls. Pathetic really.

lorenzo van perg:

i dont want hurt anybody..but...the use and abuse of the flag, late me remember ( i am old enough..) the german or italians windows..before the IIWW..
its seems that people try to find in the flag..the security over what they doubt..a surrogate in a few woords
i speak evidently about the majority of the normal people..not about the small minority of fanatics and nationalist..

Roy:

It is extremely embarassing living in a foreign country as an American. Three years ago, people were friendly toward Americans greeting them on the streets. Now, people scowl and talk of the great arrogance of George Bush. At social occasions, the subject of Iraq inevitably comes up. I am finally more accepted after I tell my hosts I don't support Bush or his war. The world hates America. The arrogance and unilateralism of Cheney, Bush, Rove, et. al is the reason.

jhurwi:

I think one's reaction to this depends a great deal on one's age. I remember how the ostentatious display of the U. S. flag became a symbol of right-wing sympathies during the late 60's, at the height of the Vietnam era. This prompted much comment on how its symbolism had changed in just a few years. Earlier in the 1960's, the display of the U.S. flag had been a symbol of support for civil rights, in contrast to the Confederate flag used by supporters of segregation.
My father worked for the State Department, and I remember how happy I always was to see the American flag flying when we came back from a tour of duty overseas--it meant we were really home. But having lived through the Vietnam era (my father was one of those airlifted out of the American Embassy on the day Saigon fell), I have never been able to get over my visceral reaction to the political uses of the flag in that era.
Recently my daughter moved to a suburb of Philadelphia full of older houses with neat displays of flowers in the front yard and, it seemed, a flag on every front porch. She couldn't understand why this made me feel uncomfortable--it just doesn't have the same associations to her generation.

John:

For me, the flag is a symbol of our SHARED ideals as embodied in the Constitution of the UNITED States, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
I believe that flying the flag, (which I rarely do), shows I am for a shared ideal to which we should always strive, freedom, of expression, of action, of thought without due burden of a LIMITED government.
I will limit my comments to THIS subject.

Brent:

This is an interesting discussion. I believe that the flying of the American flag means different things to different people.

For those who are non-thinkers is means "My country, right or wrong." They are the xenophobes who think that dissent equals disloyalty.

Others display the flag because it is a reminder that, despite the efforts to repress criticism, Americans can still vocally object when they disagree with the government.

Of course, the flag is a symbol. It can symbolize blind loyalty-- or it can symbolize freedom to be critical of the policies of the nation.

If you want to know why someone in America is flying the flag, just ask them. They will tell you without fear of repercussion.

Jukka:

How does the world see the US? Unfortunately it sees it as a country blinded by its hubris and misguided foreign policy. The US wants to be a "nice guy" but in truth it must pillage and kill citizens in foreign countries to maintain its global status. All superpowers from Ancient Egyptian times have tried the same strategy of conquest and rule but have in the end fallen from grace.

Hououji:

To address the question of what foreigners think of the constant display of the US flag when travelling to the US:

Well, as a foreigner who's been visiting the US quite a few times, I get very mixed feelings from seeing that flag hung out more or everywhere when I travel to the US.

Before 9/11, it seemed like an overenthusiastic display of patriotism, rather too obvious, but then it also seemed to me that it was a simple cultural difference. Flags where I live are used during worldwide sports events, namely the Olympics, the World Cup and the European Nations Cup (football, the true thing, not the US version of rugby). So even though I found it a bit too much, "over-the-top-ish", I tended to view it as almost "cute", the way you feel when you see in reality a thing that is portrayed in TV series or movies.

After 9/11 and all the measures taken by the Bush administration, I noticed that the flags were more and more numerous. they were everywhere. So much so that, to my foreigner's eye, they became intrusive, and symbolic of a forced uniqueness of vision. It was a bit like "patriotism display is mandatory". It reminded me of the way the press and all the media all shut up and went dead while the Bush Administration launched the horrible mess that is the Iraq War--dead because any dissenting voice would have been considered treason, and has been called so by what amounts to propaganda media. From "overenthusiastic show of patriotism but cute", the US flag became a symbol of nationalism, and reminding me of darker days in US history (the Mc Carthy/witch hunt years).

All in all, the US flag has, to me, lost all the appeal it might once have had. In much the same way, I have finally had to admit that there is a reason that in the US Customs administration, you don't say "foreigners" but "aliens". I thought it was just a simple difference of language. I have to admit it isn't. I wonder if people in the US realize how insulting it is to be called an alien, ie an entity that might very well not be human. This is a striking choice of word. There are others: stranger, foreigner. But in the US, it's "alien".

How would people in the US feel if they were called "aliens", I wonder.

geo:

Ah, so we are just like Britain in the sense that those flying all those American flags on their homes, vehicles and putting them on overpasses are all right wingers who feel that liberals are traitors. Interesting how that maps onto the National Front. Reminds me also of the Nazis! What is that famous saying? "Those who do not know History are condemned to relive it!" Unfortunately, they are causing all to relive it! Look at Vietnam... err, I mean Iraq!

Mike:

Anns:

Perhaps your life is empty enough to do fact checking on other people's blog posts. Don't chastise the rest of us for viewing this as the mindless diversion it is.

If you think anyone is really listening or learning on this board, you are delusional. This is a place for folks to come to tell us how much they hate America and demonstrate their ignorance of our Constition.

Mike:

Richard:

Like many angry liberals, you need to understand what freedom of speech means.

Freedom of speech means that the government can not restrict your speech. It does not mean that your comments are not subject to coments in return.

You should remember O'Reilly is "ridiculed and lambasted" by tons of liberals. Are they restricting his right to speech too?

You are probably really confused about seperation of chuch and state too, but that is another topic ....

Amar C. Bakshi:

Pat, interesting question again, about the proper uses of the flag. Many of your fellow readers have weighed in: Are flag bikinis appropriate?

Kali, that's quite a moving post: using the American flag as a symbol of freedom and cool in India, and becoming hesitant to use it here. I'd love to hear more as you think through what changed for you.

Feeder, I was recently in Antarctica: you can set foot here:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/needtoknow/2007/03/video_touring_the_antarctic_pe.html. If you''ve traveled so much, it's a must. I think you'll love it. Nothing but penguins, ice and seals.

Gaeta14, I love your post! I really hope Americans who are living around the world weigh in on this blog and share their experiences. I'll collect them and post them in their own section once we get a good number of them.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Brian, Nice point about deep nationalism - based on a knowledge of history - rather than rote nationalism, performed without being understood. These students were actually very impressed with how much Americans seemed to understand, and have a shared vision about, their past and future. One thing I heard repeatedly from the students I've spoke to is that there is an "American Dream" that everyone knows about -- a meritocratic one, a bold one -- and that there is no equivalent for them. Many of them say they are inspired by that about America.

Zathras, Nice to see you around here. Read Harvey Mansfield's Manliness lately?
http://www.amazon.com/Manliness-Harvey-C-Mansfield/dp/0300106645

Michael, check out Daoud Kuttab's post on this topic entitled "How Could They Reelect Bush?" at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/daoud_kuttab/2007/05/how_could_they_reelect_bush.html

Richard:

"nowhere in the world are people as free to question -- even ridicule and lambaste -- their government than here."

Tell that to Bill O'Reilly.

Amar C. Bakshi:

DCER

Thank you for the post. This is a very good counterexample. This image of a Spice Girl Gery Halliwell wearing the Union Flag dress at the Brit Awards in 1997 speaks powerfully against a simplistic reading of what these students saw and felt:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/f0/GeriUnionJack.jpg/180px-GeriUnionJack.jpg. Perhaps its interesting to think of the context in which the flag is used as well: at a sporting event, as a fashion statement, as a political marker, or a sign of solidarity. I'll keep my eye out over the coming weeks and will add nuance to my reflections on this as days go by.Thanks again for bringing this up.

Leila,

I'll post all the names of these students shortly. This was Colleen Harris' American Politics class at Loreto College in Manchester, and the main student who was speaking was in her final year at the school, age 18.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Tony, Your posts speaks very powerfully to the struggle to claim symbols, to twist them toward one political aim or another, and the importance of allowing certain symbols to main as inclusive as possible. Thanks for that. As far as visitors understanding to United States, it is indeed a mixed bag. Some, like Tocqueville, are said to be some of the best observers of America in the world, because of their distance. Many others, of course, pull out far few insights. But it's important, I think, to stay tuned to them either way. But let's see. As I meet other people around the world who visited the United States, it'll be interesting to see how their experiences overlap and diverge.

John, likewise, thanks for the post about contesting these symbols.

Jukka:

To be a hyperpower where most of the citizens don't know which countries, never mind understanding their cultures, invade is tragic. To hide such ignorance with the help of nationalism and flags is covering ones eyes to the problem. Nationalism is the last recourse governments with little regard for the law and human rights use to justify their bellicose policies.

Tony, Doha, Qatar:

Did I miss something in this debate? I thought it was supposed to be how the "World thinks if the USA". How did it move to the display of the American flag? Well, I will try to comment on the main topic of the day.
As an American who for many years has worked and lived in many countires of the world, from Australia to the USA and many countries in between, I could see the deterioration in the standing of the USA in many countries. I recall way back when gas was 20 cents a gallon, ships of the US 6th fleet visited ports in the Middle East, how young kids used to flock to the ship and be welcomed by the sailors and given small treats. Would any ship of the fleet dare to visit these countries now?
I recall when it was everyone's dream to go to the US for the opportunities it gave them and for the freedoms offered. Does this still hold true? I doubt it; at least as far as the citizens of certain coutries are concerned.
I have also witnessed the steep decline in the stature of the USA in countries around the world since 2000. Yes, since Bush/Chaney (or may be I should say Chaney/Bush) took over the government of the USA.
I don't think you need for Mr. Bakshi to go arond the world to see "how the world thinks of the US". What has changed in the policy of the USA to make people change the animosity they feel towards the USA? What has changed to make people say "Well, they are now becoming more understanding of my or our problems, so now I will think better about the USA"?
People around the world know what is going on in the USA. They read about Scooter Libby and the betrayal of trust. They know about Chaney looking for ways to see how far he can go in bending the rules before he breaks them? They see Gonzales lying to Congress day in and day out and making the Justice Dept the playground for Bush/Chaney. Yet Bush and Chaney still utter full support for him. They see Wolfowitz, while he may be not have broken the law, but bend it do far out of shape that it is going to take a major effort to straighten it out again and yet, Bush/Chaney are looking for an "honorable way" for him to resign, knowing full well what a dishonorable person he is and that what he did is corruption personified.
Unless Bush/Chaney change course the way the world thinks of the USA will get from bad to worse to worst. I fear we have to go through another 17 or 18 months before we see any change, which hopefully will come after the Democrats are in the White House.

AnnS:

What is more frightening is the illiteracy and literary ignorance of the Anerican public. I refer to these comments above:

“MIKE:
"patriotismis the lat refuge of a scoundrel" has been tossed around this board several times tonight.
Twain did not mean this as "all patriotic people are scoundrels". Twain was himself quite patriotic, as is Tom Wolfe, a fellow- white suit wearer. Wolfe wrote a great article about how his wearing ofa small American flag on his lapel made so many in literary and media circles terribly uncomfortable. He thought it was quite petty of them and I agree.

SW:
"The last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism." Mark Twain circa 1900.


The quote "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" comes from Smaule Johnson (1709–84) who was a British poet, essayist, political commentator, linguist and lexicographer. According to Boswell, Johsnon first uttered this witticism on April 7, 1775. In 1774 he printed a pamphlet - the means then of broadcasting opinions - called The Patriot, a critique of what he viewed as false patriotism.

James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck (1740 -1795) was a British lawyer, diarist and author. He was a close friend of Johnson and wrote "Life of Johnson" - a biographer of Samuel Johnson - in 1791.


Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1913/1914), an American satirist, critic, short story writer, editor and journalist added the bon mot ""In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first."


If you wish to use a quote, please make certain that it is correctly attributed. Mark Twain said many amusing things but he did not originate the comment made by Dr. Johnson.

Comments such as the two above merely serve to confirm that the Internet is nothing more than the vast wasteland of rapidly spreading ignorance where misconceptions, wrong information and half-truths fly faster than the wind among a group to lazy to check primary sources to ascertain the accuracy of their information.

Jack:

At times I find it amazing just how much Americans really hate America. But that is your right as an American. I've been blessed (I think I can still say that) to serve in the USAF and have traveled all over the planet (literally). I currently live in Belgium close to the French border and have the opportunity to visit/work with many different nationalities. Most people are just like me in that they want to provide for their family, better themselves and enjoy life. In our society we have the opportunity to do that...but I've also lived in societies where people are oppressed by their governments, get thrown into jail without court hearings and are killed for their beliefs. People here have talked about "better" times for America, I'll bet you can go back and find two people 50 years ago saying "I used to like the good 'ol days". America has had their fair share of problems, but NOWHERE in the world do people have the Freedoms that we do here.

One blogger wrote that he's "offended" at the sight of our flag...I was very proud to arrive at Normandy to see the American Cemetary and see the American Flag flying high. The flag is a symbol of all that we, as Americans believe in, something that other cultures and countries strive for. It is the Declaration of Independance, the US Constitution, represents Freedom, and even represents the right to dissent or be "offended". No where in the world do you have those kind of freedoms.

Spoofer:

The only flags that come out for English soccer are English flags - The Cross of St. George (white field/ red cross). You would never see the British Union Jack.

Anonymous:

When the American flag ceases to symbolize the constitutional freedoms that many brave patriots (actual patriots, not the phony Bush patriots) have fought and died for, and is commandeered by thugs and tyrants in their unholy quest for power, that is when I cease to fly the American flag. Such is now the case, with the many attempts the Bush thugs have made to destroy all that was wholesome and good about our country in their usurpation of unprecedented power. They in many ways are much worse than most if not all the dictatorships around the world—they certainly wield way more power and their actions demonstrate complete corruption and complete contempt for the American people and our freedoms. I will fly the flag again when Bush and Cheney are impeached.

Roy in Vegas:

Is it my imagination, or are there more self-styled patriots on the home front waving flags than there are self-styled patriots on the home front volunteering for duty in Iraq?

As for all those "I support our troops" stickers, the question remains, "How?" By knitting socks? Rolling bandages? Paying your own way to Baghdad, where you'll serve coffee and doughnuts at the USO booth? Sure!

Alas, all this flag-waving, all these looped yellow ribbons on the backs of cars, all this heroic breast-beating - bundled with all this incredibly courageous hands-off approach to any real (read "active") involvement with either the war or the youngsters who are engaged in it - I'm afraid we've become a nation of scoundrels.

Mike:

"patriotismis the lat refuge of a scoundrel" has been tossed around this board several times tonight.

Twain did not mean this as "all patriotic people are scoundrels". Twain was himself quite patriotic, as is Tom Wolfe, a fellow- white suit wearer. Wolfe wrote a great article about how his wearing ofa small American flag on his lapel made so many in literary and media circles terribly uncomfortable. He thought it was quite petty of them and I agree.

While we are misusing quotes how bout this quote misakenly attributed to Churchill, but otherwise quite accurate:

"If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain".

Bob:

I'm just one guy (age 45, Oregon), but I find the American flag to be a moderately offensive symbol that is waved and displayed by people I almost never find I like. How can you take a symbol of the American empire and identify with it... much less die for it? I don't get it. Needless to say I'm no fan of the Fourth of July either. In fact, I subscribe to Cabel's view that "Patriotism is the religion of hell" and to the well accepted idea that "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels." Flag waving is just a very low form of cognition... and living in America one is surrounded by these flag waving mouth breathers. No point in getting angry about it... you can't really fight it... except by standing for values that matter instead of the militaristic and jingoistic and nationalist values that the flag represents. Sure I know some leftists who say we should claim the stars and bars for our own cause... but there are some symbols that are too tainted to be redeemed. I don't give the flag much thought... just try to stay away from the dangerous people who wave it, and the causes they wave it for.

HV:

My own opinion about the public display of flags by private individuals is that although we can agree that they signify something, it's not at all clear if and whether they should signify any single thing or set of things. This reporter seems to have begun this discussion on a non-neutral tone by titling the piece "Two-edged flag" - a nice provocative title for a journalistic piece but perhaps one that betrays the ambivalent feeling of many people around the world about flags more generally?

Mike:

Are you kidding me? Read this and other blogs, watch TV, read a newspaper or a magazine. Tell me again how you can think that anything is stifling criticism of the government.

It's also puzzling that so many European "intellectuals" are so offended by our flag. Are you really that desperate to find another fault to find with Americans?

We get it. You don't like us. Thanks for telling us.

DCer:

DCer, I also lived in Britain during the Cool Brittania phrase, and for you to say that the entire premise of this article is false is simply ridiculous. Just because a few London advertisers put up some slogans, and Newsweek and Time did cover stories on this very short lived phenomenon does not mean that regular citizens put flags outside their homes. Yes, the flag has been hi-jacked by the right in Britain. The only time I saw the Union Jack flying (which is not the official flag of the country by the way--the U.K. doesn't have one) was during the European cup.
-----------

I don't get it. When I was there in 98 I saw the flag everywhere OR I saw the individual flags that make up the Union Jack or the Welsh flag. I saw them with my own eyes, on stores, on products, on cars, stickers, posters, bus ads, on TV commercials. No one can tell me I didn't see the Union Jack everywhere in London. I did. I think it was far more prevalent than the US flag is here in DC.

Gaeta14:

I am the spouse of a military officer and I have lived all around the world. I live in Japan now, where the nationalism movement, led by Abe, is gaining strength in the country. You do not see the Japanese flag displayed outside homes, etc., but the law now requires that Japanese children do a morning pledge similar to our one. It is illegal to not do it; a schoolteacher and 5 of his students were taken to court when they refused. No Supreme Court decision ( 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette) to help them out.

DCer, I also lived in Britain during the Cool Brittania phrase, and for you to say that the entire premise of this article is false is simply ridiculous. Just because a few London advertisers put up some slogans, and Newsweek and Time did cover stories on this very short lived phenomenon does not mean that regular citizens put flags outside their homes. Yes, the flag has been hi-jacked by the right in Britain. The only time I saw the Union Jack flying (which is not the official flag of the country by the way--the U.K. doesn't have one) was during the European cup.

I also lived in Spain. The only place I ever saw the flag flown at dealerships or private homes was in La Mancha. Anyone who knows anything about Spanish history or regionalism should know that La Mancha pretty much consolidated power over the rest of the country and so no surprise that many Spaniards view the flag as a symbol of oppressive central authority.

I moved to Italy--and flags were everywhere. I was shocked--then realized that the World Cup was starting. As soon as Italy lost in the finals, every flag was down.

I was in Hawai'i during the September 2001 attacks, and what I saw chilled me. I will never forget the enormous flag I saw on the Windward Side, and the equally enormous sign exhorting people "If you love your country WAVE your flag." It frightened me--I could tell what was coming.

I live in government quarters now on an American base in Japan. I personally have the Revolutionary War flag of the American/French Alliance outside my home --to remind people that we have had better times in the U.S. I personally view, despite 45 years in military service, so to speak, that the flag is too often used as a method to impose conformity and stifle dissent. I remind my children that it is the Constitution we revere, and not the flag, and if they wish to sit down during the pledge, even on an American base--I am right behind them. Whatever they do is fine, as long as it is respectful--and the Principal agrees, of course.

I don't like to see tattered flags flying , but I view our bizarre rituals of cutting up flaps to burn them, or refusing to let them touch the floor, as akin to flag worship. You are not spitting on the graves of anyone if you burn a flag, no one has ever died for a flag--at least I hope not--it is the Constitution that is the cornerstone of this country.

To quote Justice Robert Jackson in the previous mentioned Supreme Court decision; "If there is any fixed star in our constituional constellation...no official...can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matter of opinion or force cizitens to confess by word or act their faith theirein."

Hans B:

Michael wrote: "It makes me wonder how extensively foreign media report on dissent within the United States, or Bush's low approval ratings (hovering at 28%, I believe)."
Rest assured, we foreigners are quite aware of the dissent and disapproval. But we also have learned, as you have, that the American system of checks and balances is not as reliable as we thought and that things can go awry in the US just as easily as anywhere else. After all, Rove's dream of a "permanent majority" (newspeak for a one-party state) almost came true.

Regarding flags, I went to an American school and it was not so much the flags that bothered me. It was teaching military songs to ten-year-olds. The militarization of US popular culture is stronger than in any other country I've seen (admittedly, I haven't been to North Korea) and it starts at a very young age. Compared to the glorification of the military (who are "doing a great job" by definition, never mind the obvious truth), flags aren't important. Flags are cute. The French speak French even to people who don't, the Dutch wear orange T-shirts during soccer season, Americans wave flags, and Italians eat pasta, in all of the above cases, as a matter of national pride.

B in Illinois:

Response to Feeder et al:

We're talking about self-referential obnoxious flag-waving--that has nothing to do with being "an American." I think you should take seriously the comments of Kali, who calls himself a recent immigrant. There's something quite violent in tonal and symbolic terms when people "rally round the flag," whatever flag that is. Kali's fear is palpable, and we need to take it very seriously.

My use of the term culturally literate may have sounded stuffy. In fact, what's interesting is that, in international terms, this land had one of the highest levels of literacy in the mid-late 19th century: that's no longer the case, whether literally or figuratively.

This country had its very good moments, such as those, but unfortunately, the mean crowd has been in control increasingly over the past few decades. Kids are paying for their own football uniforms because other folks send their kids to private schools, and undoubtedly it's the stingy latter group who likewise (or are more likely?) fly their big bad flags.

Although the internment camps of Japanese-Americans were terrible, at least the country had more of a sense of community spirit in the Roosevelt era. That's unfortunately dead for all intents and purposes now.

We naively home-school and fly flags to try to convince ourselves that despite the inexcusable poverty rate, the inexcusable lack of universal medical care, the inexcusable infant mortality rate, the lack of effort to teach our children about our own history (Japanese children know more about American history than Americans do, on average--I'm not kidding) and about other languages: these are all things that are INCREASINGLY problematic and for the worse: and we CAN CHANGE them. We just have to have the will--the will to stop patting ourselves on the back and actually become a much better society. There's NOTHING wrong with America--there's just something wrong with a lot of Americans today and, especially, with our reactionary government.

Feeder:

I love the assumptions in here that Americans are a bunch of uncultured louts who sit around waving flags rather than traveling to Europe to, presumably, be properly educated about why it's better to hate your own country.

I've traveled the world for almost two decades; every continent 'cept Antarctica, and nearly every country. Most of it is bleak, repressive, uneducated, and horrible. I thank almighty Jebus every time I safely set foot to American soil, where I am presumed innocent of any charges, have the right to legal counsel, and where the cops will actually get offended if I try to bribe them, rather than expect it up front before they will deign to assist me. If you compare the United States to a few upscale coffee houses in Amsterdam, it might seem unhip and backwards, but I encourage European students themselves to actually travel the world and see for themselves. America is an exceptional country largely comprised of honest, polite, hard-working people (a few right wing faux-skinheads and vehemently anti-American "liberals" aside).

C-dog:

I agree that the flag is used in this country to stifle dissent. I am amazed at how ignorant many of my fellow Americans are of the rest of the world and in their arrogant, self righteous belief that we are always right--despite knowing absolutely nothing about other countries. Most people don't even have a passport, much less have been to Canada or Mexico, yet we are 100 percent convinced that we are the most free and that our way is the best way. If we disagree, we are told to leave. "America, love it or leave it!". I recently got into an argument with a Veteran at a bar recently when I told him I was going to the UK and it would be good to be in a country that doesn't have American flags flying all over the place. He almost had a stroke! He couldn't believe that I would feel comfortable not seeing the American flag. I told him I don't pray to the flag and, no, why would I want to go to England and see the American flag? I want to see the Union Jack. I see flags here at car dealerships and every office building. I feel like I'm in the Soviet Union with all of this propaganda. Actually, that's too close to the truth!!

Paul:

I would like comment the previous post, that states that "that nowhere in the world are people as free to question -- even ridicule and lambaste -- their government than here."

How many countries you have been to and how many discussions on their governments have you seen?

This discussion is nothing special at all. In all European countries, at least, I'm not familiar with the rest of the world, people enjoy the same, if not larger, freedom in questioning, ridiculing and lambasting their governments.

And usually without waving their national flags and thinking that they do something unique in the Universe.

B in Illinois:

Note about Boz's comment:

There are various arguments that can be made to counter Boz's claims.

1. The US IS NOT the freest country in the world. That's an utterly ludicrous statement, even in concrete terms, as of the current administration. The level of self-censorship in public discourse is mind-boggling; and the taping of citizens on phones, of data-mining, and a whole variety of venues of government surveillance is extensive. This, of course, is completely different from the PRC (China), which IS a dictatorship. However, to claim that the US currently is the freest in terms of expression or activity is ludicrous. We have a biopoly--Democratic and Republican lock on power, no viable socialist or other party unlike the majority of countries of Europe, many of which function much better with parliamentary systems.

2. The media flow of information is increasingly controlled for both monetary and political reasons. To whit:

a) I was in Japan when 9-11 occurred and saw an NHK (their version of the BBC/PBS) documentary a few months after the onset of the Afghan invasion that demonstrated, through direct interviews at CNN, that CNN's producers were threatened--yes, threatened--by Karl Roves office in the following way: a phone call, which said that from now on, when you report on civilians being killed in Afghanistan, that you MUST say "This has happened in response to the attacks on 9-11." AND CNN PROMPTLY CHANGED THEIR REPORTING--it was shown through about 10 straight running clips from CNN in the video.

AND NOW what does CNN do? CNN is the great venue for "tabloid journalism": seven or so years ago, you could have seen real journalism on the CNN website, but now more than half of the reports are tabloid spots about odd deaths or Paris Hilton etc. DUH, Bush has taken our sons and daughters to war, and they're reporting on Paris Hilton? They buckled under to Rove/ Bush, and now they're buckling under to the almighty (and I mean that literally) dollar--not to "democracy" or "freedom" of information etc.

My case is made. Fly all the flags you want, and pat yourselves on the back. Imagine you're the freest people in the world. Depressing, but it's just a delusion.

Kali:

I am a recent immigrant to America from India. Back in India I used to display American flag on my bike as it was a sign of cool or everything hip or freedom for me.
After coming to U.S,especially after 2001/09/11 attacks, some how I have started associating display of American flag with a person who is basically saying, Stay away from me/I have a gun/I am xenophobic/I am a racist/I am a redneck etc.
I know that I am wrong but somehow I tend to stay away from people who display American flags very prominently. I think non hindus in India might feel same thing about folks in saffron clothing or displaying indian tricolor.

When I tried to reach those people I felt a wall between us.....!
But onething is sure something happened somewhere and it changed my mind.

Tom:

I understand that blindly following your government or countries policies can be a very bad practice. However, I think we have a problem with balance in this country and it has to be either we are 100% patriots and we don't say anything bad about how our country is run or we show that we aren't "sheep" and we point out all the horrible things about our country and our government (i.e., the press). One major concern I have is not that we focus on a "piece of colored cloth", but that we should focus on what that "piece of colored cloth" stand for. One of the things it stands for is the right to express your dissatisfaction with our leaders and their policies without having to be put in prison, tortured, killed, etc. However, it also stands for all the great men and women who have fought and died to defend the great nation and I believe that if you dishonor the flag or defile the flag or country it represents it is equitable to going up to the graves of these great men and women and spitting on them. Also, while we can't ignore the ingorances of our leaders at times and their mishandling of policies, money, etc. we need to allow a more positive focus in this country and also allow heroes. Heroes are no longer allowed in our country and it is hurting everyone. No one is perfect and if you want to find fault you will! If Babe Ruth were alive today and doing what he did, the media would not allow him to be a hero. They would follow him and catch him drinking and/or eating too much and play it over and over again on SportsCenter. And John F. Kennedy's exploits would be played and talked about continuously on CNN, Fox, CSPAN, etc. The list could go on and on. Abrahaham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Ted Williams, etc. Our culture looks for the worst in everything and wants to highlight it (i.e. "reality television"). I don't think a little nostalgia and focusing on patriotism (the good things about the country such as pride, honor, freedom, etc.) that is represented by our flag is a bad thing. Although, since it is a good thing, our culture will want to do something to make sure the bad ("real") side of it is examined thoroughly so not to be "sheep". I've heard people say that they don't like movies with happy endings because they are too sappy and not "real". The violence, anger, sadness, and R rated material is more "real" than the phoney make believe stuff they had to endure in the 50s. In closing let me ask you this, "would you rather live with happy, peaceful sheep who can think for themselves or miserable, depressed, psychotic, rage filled foxes who can see clearly but have to follow along with all the other miserable, depressed, psychotic, rage filled foxes to prove they are not "sheep"?

Ryan:

Unless you own a boat, you cannot fly the flag at half-mast. You can fly it at half staff. Masts are on boats. Masks are worn on the face.

Boz:

This is the silliest discussion ever.

One need only look at the responses to this posting to see that nowhere in the world are people as free to question -- even ridicule and lambaste -- their government than here.

Yes, they may be denounced for it, but not by the government. Just as you have the freedom to question government, others have the freedom to defend it.

Whether you fly an American flag or not, has nothing to do with it.

Oh, and it was Samuel Johnson who said that, not Mark Twain. He was denouncing ACTUAL censorship laws in Restoration Britain. Look at our enternment industry and try to convince me that ANYONE is being censored. (reminder: censorship means the government is telling you you CAN'T say something; it does not mean Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh are condemning you for saying it).

Fred Miller:

I fly the flag even more now precisely because I hate everything Bush stands for. I fly the flag because I own the flag. You own the flag. We own the flag. Bush, the Republicans and America's violent, xenophobic radicals do not have a monopoly on the flag. I fly the flag now out of defiance. I am a patriot, and I fly my flag in the face of those who say I am a traitor because I don't support the president or the war.

SW:

"The last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism." Mark Twain circa 1900.

mike hudgins:

i have made the decision to not buy any american flag postage stamps until Bush is out of office. If i flew the american flag it would be at half mast anf would stay at that elevation on the flag pole until Bush and Cheney leave office. I would encourage everyone who disagrees with this war should fly their flag at half as an individual protest against the war. To Bush this war is nothing more than a high school style power play. Bus has violaed every single rule in the book of responsible government, and he plans to keep on breaking rules until the authority to make governmental decisions are taken away from him by congress.

Stephen:

I, too, am disgusted when I see our flag improperly displayed (which is nearly everywhere) or turned into any number of tacky articles of clothing, jewelry, drug/sex paraphenalia, etc. I'm also disgusted at the way the Repugnantcans have tried to own it as their exclusive property. I have a little flag attached to my office cubicle, and one day a co-worker asked if I was "a patriot." I said I was, and that I regarded it as my patriotic duty to scream bloody murder when I see my government being hijacked by a gang of hypocrites, crooks and liars.

B in Illinois:


I wish that Americans were culturally literate--which only requires that they spend about the same amount of money required to fly half-way across this country and instead go overseas. Canada could also do the trick, but at any rate, get out of the country for a few days, if not weeks, and you'll start to sense the island-mentality that's pervasive.

This nation-state is an unrivalled hyperpower that spends incredible amounts of money on nuclear bombs and on planes for dropping a variety of bombs (and, sadly, not enough for its own troops on the ground). Then the members of this nation-state keep trying to remind themselves that they're good and important.

We're an insecure bunch, but the world is our playground. Think about it: we have no cultural identity OTHER than in political terms--the claim to some kind of UNIQUE quality that folks like Bush call "freedom." And, when you analyzed it carefully--particularly as Bush, Big Brother, watches us daily--we actually don't even have that. But the flag makes a lot of us feel good--except, of course, for a series of minorities and the vast majority of the rest of the population of the world.

None of this flag-waving will defeat so-called terrorists. It's all about patting ourselves on the back for something we've actually never done. Let's stop the flag-waving and become the kind of people all people should be: normal HUMAN BEINGS, not members of a nation-state that forces others to have self-determination (i.e., "brings democracy")--a ludicrous contradiction in terms. Feel free even to read the Bible. I challenge you to find ANYTHING remotely resembling the United States in there; it's about turning your check and allowing your enemy to hit you again, and then to walk with the poor. There's nothing about a "manifest destiny" in there.

btw, I go to Japan a lot, and like the British, they don't fly flags. Flying flags is seen there, and I dare say in most countries of the world, as crass and stupid and brutely nationalistic, whether you're a Democrat, a Socialist, or a Republican (or of some other party affiliation in other cases). Look yourselves squarely in the mirror, my friends.

You don't destroy "terror" with bombs or flags: flags and bombs create further hate, and it's hate that makes terrorists.

America's killed 150,000:

The number of "people" in Iraq is somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000. 3,400 is the number of Americans killed. When you start a war you get all the blood on your hands.

Never trusting anything with a flag is true patriotism. In America is our responsibility to doubt and question the government.

Ann:

I have no problem with its prevelance in use in whatever form -- flag, shirts, bathing suits, plates, balloons, towels, etc. It gives the flag itself less power. Afterall it is just a symbol of the more important ideas and values behind it. Let's leave the reverance for the more important things it stands for. Even as a kid I was uncomfortable with the idea of pledging allegiance to a flag. (The mandatory pledge debate just makes me shake my head and sigh.) It always makes me sad when people talk about soldiers risking their lives to defend the flag. I hope that isn't what they are really defending. Please tell me their efforts are about more than a piece of cloth.

K:

I have to admit that one of the reasons I don't display an American flag it that I don't find it an attrative design. There are so many flag designs I find more attractive -- DC, Japan, Canada, Greece, Israel, etc. The American flag is kind of "busy."

Mark Zoeter:

Does anyone actually know how to fly the American flag properly anymore? I can't count how many people I have seen that leave their flag flying outside at night without a light shining on it or flying the flag in inclement weather. A former marine who lives near my home has 12 little American flags planted in his front yard. The only problem is that all of them are ripped; the color has faded on all of them and their all touching the ground. I don't have a problem with people flying the flag but I wish they would fly it correctly or not fly it at all. Also the flag does not belong to one political party. Something Bush loving Republicans do not understand.

penguin:

I fly the flag and am for the war. People seem to forget that we were attacked by Radical Islamists. The regime of Saddam Hussein was in the cross hairs of the Clinton Administration also. Bush just finished the job. Iran is next.

penguin:

I fly the flag and am for the war. People seem to forget that we were attacked by Radical Islamists. The regime of Saddam Hussein was in the cross hairs of the Clinton Administration also. Bush just finished the job. Iran is next.

Sam Mendez:

Go and ask an Araba or Muslim resident of a largely white neighborhood and he will tacitly tell you that "Homeland" has become equivalent to "Fatherland" to him. He suspects each and every move he makes, be it at the grocery store or while cleaning out his garage is closely scrutanized by his neighbors, who in his view will not think twice to call FBI or the authorities on him if they hear a funny sound or smell a funny smell coming from the direction of his home. It is more than xenophobia, it is outright suspicion, and when it comes to civil rights of the Arab and Muslims American Citizens amongst us...WHO CARES!!!

Heather:

At its most basic core, the flag is a symbol and like any symbol, its meaning is derived by those who use it. Therefore, while many in this forum seem to believe that the flag is somehow related to support of this current administration or the president, it can mean much less or more to those who fly it.

My family has displayed the American flag outside our New England home for years, irrespective of administration or foreign policies. I personally keep an American flag, flown over the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in my bedroom, folded and kept according to custom and rule. In my many moves since my college years, it has never once touched the floor and it never will.

To be an American is patriotism and love for your country.

I am a mixed raced, mixed nationality (dual-citizen) American, and no matter the president or his policies, I will always love my country. Does that mean I will always support its action at home or abroad? No. I find the actions of the Bush administration and consequently this country to be absolutely loathesome, but I still bleed red, white and blue.

Frank:

You are against the war and a Democrat? Which Democrat? I'll bet it's that Zell Miller freak from Georgia. Isn't it?

Sky:

I fly the flag upside down now. I've never been more ashamed to be an American than now, thanks to Bush and his idiotic ways.

Sky:

I fly the flag upside down now. I've never been more ashamed to be an American than now, thanks to Bush and his idiotic ways.

Sky:

I fly the flag upside down now. I've never been more ashamed to be an American than now, thanks to Bush and his idiotic ways.

Wade:

I'm with Tony:

I fly the flag for the troops, but I am against the war and a Democrat. I cannot stand it when conservatives presume that I am ideologically with them when they see me flying the flag or wearing a flag lapel pin. The flag should transend politics and send the message that a country needs to come together to get through a tough time.

colorado kool aid:

"The cost of this, one girl said, is that some Americans are less eager to criticize his policies; it seems to go against that national solidarity."

Well I don't see much evidence of that! Nowhere does it appear that there is much of a reluctance to criticize the President's policies. To the contrary, there is an open season on calling the President all kinds of vile names and attacking his motivations for almost everything he does.

I am not put off by displays of the flag -- that is about our country . . . and no one seems to be cowed by it into a reluctance to criticize. Just read some of these posts to confirm that -- they are saying the most disgusting things about people they disagree with . . . including attacking their patriotism! No one seems shy in this country.

Margaret:

I think the ubiquitous flying of the American flag has just the opposite effect of stifiling criticism. Everytime an American sees that symbol, they are reminded that they live where you can say virtually anything you want with no reprecussions from the government. You may get fired for saying something stupid, but you're unlikely to be jailed.

Margaret:

I think the ubiquitous flying of the American flag has just the opposite effect of stifiling criticism. Everytime an American sees that symbol, they are reminded that they live where you can say virtually anything you want with no reprecussions from the government. You may get fired for saying something stupid, but you're unlikely to be jailed.

saeed:

The American flag is used in different ways. Illegal immigrants who do not know a thing about America hold the flags and shouting freedom, freedom while running, some use it for decoration, some use it to show their ancestral captains and generals, some cover their marches with the institution of the flag, some considered the flag as essential part in their offices ingredients, some consider the flag as a piece of cloth, some use the flag as the accepted norm and tradition, some use it to enhance business, but few see the flag as a symbol for the great democratic institutions that preserves the Nation together – the heritage of the founding-fathers. The US Army tops all other institutions in preserving the true symbolism of the American Flag.

saeed:

The American flag is used in different ways. Illegal immigrants who do not know a thing about America hold the flags and shouting freedom, freedom while running, some use it for decoration, some use it to show their ancestral captains and generals, some cover their marches with the institution of the flag, some considered the flag as essential part in their offices ingredients, some consider the flag as a piece of cloth, some use the flag as the accepted norm and tradition, some use it to enhance business, but few see the flag as a symbol for the great democratic institutions that preserves the Nation together – the heritage of the founding-fathers. The US Army tops all other institutions in preserving the true symbolism of the American Flag.

Pops:

A flag is nothing more than a piece of cloth. It's what it stands for that's important. Sadly, in America, people revere the cloth far more than what it once stood for. Thanks to Bush the America flag now stands for nothing.
Flap your flag if that's what gets of off, but you're not achieving a thing.

Tom Brucia:

At least in Texas it's mostly right-wing Republicans who hang the American flag out and drap their ideology in 'we support America' rhetoric. It makes those of us who are not Republicans hesitant to make statements of support for the US. It's easily misinterpreted as support for the current Administration, right-wing radicalism, the Republican Party, and continued military involvement overseas. It's sad. And it looks as though we're going down the same road as the British, where the national flag has been expropriated by a partisan group for its own political advantage.

Anonymous:

so many so afraid of a piece of colored cloth.

Nathan:

Flags can be innocent enough.

Yet flags can be symboic of a deeper mindset, one which is profoundly tribal. Identification of oneself with the larger group is a primitive human inclination, particularly when fear is in the air and an individual alone feels powerless to defeat it. Particularly too, when the larger group offering membership has big weapons without peer in the world.

America has both fear and power. After 9/11 fear was certainly rampant, but fear chugs along pretty steadily at the best of times, fueled by crime, poverty, racism, a shifting economy, and so on.

For the group member, a group can be very reassuring. For the group's outsiders, not so much. When the mood strikes them, groups can attack outsiders without warning, mercy or reason. From gangs of teenagers and football hooligans to entire nations, this sort of thing happens all the time.

Then too, while flags are not evil, they can provide opportunities for a bait and switch. Love the flag and the country for which it stands, and it may be hard to think straight when a clever rhetorician conflates policy with country.

When flags are proudly waving, it is prudent for outsiders to beware.

Pat in Boise:

In India, where I come from, there is a ban on display of the National Flag except on the three National Holidays.

I think it makes a lot of sense because the flag is then displayed in the appropriately respectful manner.

Considering that the flag is considered to symbolize the nation and we have heard many stories of how soldiers fought bravely just to ensure that the flag (representing the country) was not desecrated, it is really galling that the Stars and Strips pattern is used even to make Bikinis, Bandanas and other sundry items.

What would the martyred soldier think if he / she were to see the flag for which he sacrificed his life, was being used to make bikinis out of?

michael:

Wow, the assessment that Bush is "credited with developing a strong sense of national identity" could not be more off base. I think it's safe to say that the US is more polarized that it has been in quite some time, so it's puzzling and a little disconcerting that people abroad could think that we all back the president. It makes me wonder how extensively foreign media report on dissent within the United States, or Bush's low approval ratings (hovering at 28%, I believe). If a country is presented as monolithic, that could explain why a lot of foreigners view Americans with greather antipathy. It would behoove this reporter to focus on how America is portrayed in the foreign press.

ShelbSpeaks:

Thank God we don't live in a country where national pride is rare and where display of our flag is considered racist! These poor kids, where's the sense of homeland? Even war torn, africans who've been abandoned by their gov't still take pride in where they come from. This is really sad.


Curious? Check out Christopher Ruddy

Zathras:

It's plausible that American flags displayed conspicuously could intimidate Americans inclined to be critical of an incumbent administration's foreign policy. Frankly, though, that's mostly because most such people badly need to take some toughen-up pills.

That's especially true of people in public office. They're afraid of everything, really: of being accused of racism or being soft on illegal immigration, of being charged with raising taxes or of wanting to cut some popular spending program. After 9/11 there were a lot of people now strongly critical of the now-unpopular President Bush who went along with everything he asked for. Criticizing him now is easy; opposing what he wanted four years ago involved political risk. But if what you want most is to avoid political risk, what's the point of being in politics in the first place?

And it's also true of people who don't hold private office. There were plenty of Americans spooked by 9/11, something anyone can understand, but being spooked and staying spooked are two different things. President Bush, one of those who stayed spooked, still relies heavily on other people who stayed spooked. All sorts of highly dubious activities are justified by the need to keep everyone "safe." The appeal of this argument is testimony to a serious decline in manliness in this country.

And even more testimony to this can be found by looking at some of the administration's critics. You don't have to look very far in the media or blogosphere to find people who interpret everything the administration does in the context of fascism and Naziism -- nothing to do with American history, of which most of these people are largely and blissfully ignorant. No, it's the Cliff Notes version of 20th-century Central European history they picked up as undergrads that is their intellectual point of reference. The drama-queen criticism of the administration that results doesn't register with ordinary Americans. There's no reason for it to, and no reason to think it ever will.

Could some Americans today be intimidated by flags (and mice, snakes, and ghost stories)? Sure. But it doesn't take even that much to intimidate Europeans.

braultrl:

As American novelist Sinclair Lewis once opined, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." I think we can agree that the unholy alliance of fundamental "Christianity" and the GOP lead by such people as Alberto "Warrantless wiretap and torture" Gonzales and the rest of the Bush Crime Family has proven Lewis a prophet.

brian:

I'm certain that the british students did not base their comments on scientific studies of flag waving and willingness to disagree openly with the government. And until they do, I will ignore them.

But the problem for me with waving a flag as a symbol of patriotism is that it requires no thought. Instead of waving the flag and claiming to love America because of the vague term 'freedom', I would much rather people express their patriotism by studying the history of our country and reading the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and if they are feeling frisky perhaps all of the Federalist Papers for kicks.

After reading the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, waving the flag will mean something more than "I like where I live", and it should.

James Buchanan:

The omnipresence of the flag in mainstream America lately has two origins.

1) Flag displays have been off the scale since 9/12/01. Prior to that, I'd say 1 in 10 homes with a flag flying in a neighborhood was anomalously high, except around the 4th of July. After September 11th, I'd say 4 out of 5 homes flying one was the new norm. It was somewhat symbolic of us closing ranks as a country from an external threat.

2) We've got a massive deployment of troops. You saw the same kind of uberpatriotism when we were in Iraq and Kuwait back in the early 90s. Again, nothing unusual.


Dovetail those two together, and yeah, it probably looks a little crazy. Truth is, we're no more or less patriotic than usual, we've just got a few more reasons to put it on display.

Mickey:

Open display of American flags by some Americans does not necessary mean true patriotism. I don't trust chicken hawks (Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, ... et al.) to defend our country. Many of them are only patriotic to money.

I believe Americans who don't openly display American flags are patriotic but don't like to show off their patriotism.


seb:

Anyone who's ever been to a World Cup qualifier would know that English Nationalism (and Spanish, Italian, Dutch, etc.) is far deeper, and far uglier than anything on this side of the puddle. We fly the flag because it's really our most coherent national symbol, in the absence of a national language, religion, or monarchy. It's pretty harmless.

Jack:

I believe we need to understand the distinction between our Country, the Constitution of the United States, with our current or past leaders. Simply because a majority of people openly disagree with the current Administration and its' actions doesn't, nor should it mean that we fail to respect our country, its' flag and all that it stands for. Though it's been tossed around by many in our own country, to disagree with the President doesn't mean that we can't steadfastly support our troops, our country, its' Constitution, or our flag.

Augusto:

"Wes in St. Paul, MN:
Flying the flag does not equate to being patriotic. Seeing Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld all wearing their flag lapel pins is enough to make this old veteran sick.

Same with those who "patriotically display" flag bumper stickers on their cars and trucks - how is it respecting and honoring the flag to have it covered with road dirt and grime?"

Wes, because those people are merely show offs, a real patriot doesn't need to tell or show everybody, a real patriot does with actions rather than silly stickers or lapel pins. No wonder Samuel Johnson said "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" but in this case false patriotism.

Maureen:

You couldn't understand a thing they were saying in the video? Just turn it up a little a LISTEN. It's quite easy to understood what they're saying.

Guess you don't watch much British tv.

John:

It's interesting to see the reactions of others to the unabashed patriotism of Americans. However, what they don't understand is that the patriotism they see is not as monolithic as they might think. True enough, a number of Americans equate patriotism to blind loyalty, whereas others equate patriotism to the fundamental principles our country was founded on, i.e. freedom of speech, religion, equality, etc. Both kinds of patriots will fly the flag, but obviously for different reasons, and will often clash bitterly over the meaning of that patriotism.

Further, various groups have tried to co-opt the flag for political gain, just as Britain's National Front apparently had done. Every year, some clown tries to make it illegal to burn the US flag, ignoring the irony that such a ban contradicts the fundamental principles the flag represents. In the US, we always manage to beat back these nuts. The Brits should do the same, and reclaim their own flag for the great things that Great Britain stands for, rather than some nativistic racism peculiar to the National Front.

Wes in St. Paul, MN:

Flying the flag does not equate to being patriotic. Seeing Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld all wearing their flag lapel pins is enough to make this old veteran sick.

Same with those who "patriotically display" flag bumper stickers on their cars and trucks - how is it respecting and honoring the flag to have it covered with road dirt and grime?

Leila:

There is dissent all over America. Bush's numbers are extremely low. I think the argument about speech stifled given by the unidentified "girl," (what's up with that anyway, not id'ing her?) is wildly overstated. Also, what exactly do you or does she mean by "some Americans are less eager to criticize his policies." How many is some, do you even have a ballpark sense of what you are trying to indicate, and about what region? Do you really think the "national solidarity" issue is the same as it was, say, in October 2001? Sorry to go on, but honestly, I think you were stretching a bit. If you don't want to see all the dissent that is out there, even in the heartland, you won't see it. If you do want to see it, you will see it every day.

DCer:

It is definitely false that the Union Jack is not used as much as the American Flag is here. During the "Cool Britannia" movement when Oasis, Blur and other British bands were popular in the 1990s, the Union Jack was used extensively in advertising everywhere in London. It could not be missed.

The premise of this article is false and can be proved false.

Do a search on the phrase "Cool Britannia" in google images and everything has the Union Jack. period.

Has anyone here ever attended an Italian soccer game? get real.

tony:

I don't expect people visiting America to understand anything about it. My parents were immigrants from Poland after WW2, so I think I know what I'm talking about.

It doesn't take much to get people here to fly their flag. I don't normally do so, but within hours of 9/11 I had one outside my home. Our Swedish friends were freaked out by this and eventually moved back to Sweden, giving up a lucrative business opportunity here in the flag-happy states.

People of the world, please don't read too much into Americans flying their flag. Republicans may try to steal it, but it's my flag, too and I'm a Democrat. Everyone should fly their flag, and then it's not such a big deal, then, is it?

I do not believe national iconography like a U.S. flag stifles political dissent in America. Because, look, it's also the dissenter's flag, too. See my point? It's every American's flag. Not just the ruling party. Or the minority party. I guess foreigners have a hard time with that, like feet and inches?

OD:

"Generally, they had positive feelings about the camaraderie Americans exhibit for one another.."

Indeed, that camaraderie extends so far that many Americans will tell you the Iraq war has killed 3,400 "people".

OD:

"Generally, they had positive feelings about the camaraderie Americans exhibit for one another.."

Indeed, that camaraderie extends so far that many Americans will tell you the Iraq war has killed 3,400 "people".

bill:

I couldn't understand a word those brits said in that video.

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