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Fear Of the Flag

Stephanie W. Wang

I have always been thankful that Silicon Valley is not known for that good old yankee doodle spirit of ignorant patriotism. Imagine my shock as I was greeted with a deluge of American flags flashing before me on the ride from San Francisco airport during winter break. Wasn’t this a place of nerds and Gordon Gekkos who only believed in science, technology, and the almighty buck? A place where hard-working immigrants flocked to realize their American dream and preserve their culture at the same time? Had the bursting of the economic bubble led them to place that faith in this country and its “impressive” military-industrial complex out of convenience? Or is there a much more sinister reason?

I refuse to believe that the overwhelming mass of people who have affixed American flags to their garage doors, roofs, cars, T-shirts, and even shoes were compelled to do so by a new-found love for their country. Furthermore, I don’t think they rushed to the store to buy these flags because they undoubtedly support the unconditional freedom that the flag purports to symbolize. No, they decorate their lives with the flag to announce, “I am not one of them. I am one of you.” They are afraid of social stigma, political condemnation, and perhaps most of all, cultural exclusion. The American flag has become their way of capitulating to the blatant jingoism spellbinding this nation.

With all that said, it’s easy to understand why these people are waving the flags for all the wrong reasons. The immigrants who cannot stop seeing and hearing the discrimination that has begun to engulf them must renounce their “foreignness.” Some factions among all those born and raised on this land have been indoctrinated with the “perfect America” propaganda. Of course, most opportunistically, the industries have cooperated very well with the military cries of rallying behind the country by churning out all possible love-thy-exalted-country paraphernalia. It’s easy to create demand when the consumers are afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t demand. After all, the T-shirts are really screaming, “united we stand ... against all who dare to differ.” Unfortunately, the flag no longer symbolizes freedom and all that is right with this country; the flag has become a reminder of all that is wrong with this country.

Perhaps when I call for an end to this American flag madness, you will use that ever-present First Amendment trump card to silence me. Let me state in unequivocal terms the irony of that strategy, because I fervently support the First Amendment. It is for my love of the rights so astoundingly iterated in this amendment that I am against this trend of the ubiquitous “I belong” sign. The American flag no longer symbolizes the expression of beliefs. Rather, it now represents the expression of the lack of belief, the lack of dissent, the willingness to disown convictions to escape persecution. I have absolutely no problem with all those who shout opinions which differ from mine at the top of their lungs. What I really fear is that the flags are beginning to stifle these shouts. This is not the American flag that unifies; it is the American flag that stupefies.

There seems to be no escape from this horrifying frenzy of superficial support for America and her causes, both just and unjust. Perhaps they are just decorations for the car; perhaps they are just T-shirts; perhaps they are just decorations for the house along with the holiday lights. However, I can’t help but think how many times all these American flags may just give a misguided jingoist that extra courage to commit hate crimes. I can’t help but wonder if this fake security blanket slowly but surely shaping the landscape will put us in more danger in the end. After all, forced patriotism, and no mistake about it, this phenomenon is indeed that, has blinded so many in the past to the unbelievable horrors of genocide and categorical persecution. Could another Japanese internment camp situation arise, only with a different race this time? If the flag-waving continues, it may just drown out the protests of those who sincerely cherish the freedoms this country promised to its people.

So what are we to do? How do I respond to my horror when confronted with cars sporting the flags, bigger and bigger in size, as if it was the new phallic symbol of brute dominance? How do I not be conflicted when I see a small American flag stuffed in the glove compartment of my parents’ car? What am I supposed to say to them? What can I possibly do? What I can do now is to speak out against what I cannot abide by: social inertia. There must be a distinct line drawn between expressions of loss and hasty acts justifiable only by the mob mentality. That line has been conveniently blurred with the vaunting of the American flag for the military-industrial complex which seeks to dilute and obliterate the thoughts we should all have the freedom to express.