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Flag the Dog

One cannot walk a block without finding American flags adorning houses and buildings, cars, shops and school uniforms.

Is there not something perverse in our identification of the American flag with Tuesday’s victims? What was lost were lives -- human beings with hopes and sorrows, with books left unfinished on nightstands, flowers to water, dogs to feed, bills to pay, school lunch boxes to pack.

How odd that we should think to honor these dead by flying a flag, by erasing everything which made them human, by abstracting away all but their nationality and our own, then shamelessly parading it before our Great Leader and generals. And if flag parades were not answer enough to our horror of last Tuesday, we grant our Supreme Standard-Bearer -- the President of the United States -- the powers of a king so that he may spend $40 billion without hint of congressional oversight.

Is our grief so easily placated? Are our minds so unquestioning? Our trust so sure? Our faith so secular? Since when did Americans grant the powers of absolution and redemption to their government? Since when did this democracy celebrate the divine power of kings? We might more carefully choose those from whom we seek answers and restitution, if only because the thousands who lost their lives demand we do. How cheap and temporary the recompense by waging war, by killing others in distant lands who, this night, have books on their nightstands and childrens’ uniforms neatly folded for the morn. How inappropriate to restrict the very civil liberties which made Tuesday’s dead American. Yet this is what our government believes is its mandate with every unfurled flag and dollar and bipartisan vote. Of course the government has constructive work to do. First it should see that justice, as kept in hundreds of years of American and international law, is brought to bear upon the perpetrators. Next it should consider (with a humility unknown to monarchies) its complicity in the rage directed at us. That is all we can and should ask of it. The wherefores and wheretos of Tuesday’s enormity are left for our own lives to answer.

Duncan Kincaid
Master of Architecture, ’97