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Patriotism Not Always Ignorant

In “Fear of the Flag” [January 30], Stephanie W. Wang made the unfair accusation that anyone who displays an American flag is doing so because they are “afraid of social stigma and political condemnation.” She clearly believes that all patriotism is “ignorant patriotism,” and this is a gross error.

I have a flag -- in fact I had a flag before flags were “in.” This doesn’t mean I agree with everything done in the name of America. It means I support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And most importantly, it means I share a sense of community with other Americans, along with all the responsibility that entails. Wang only points out the “extra courage to commit hate crimes” that can be inspired by the flag. But what about the acts of kindness and service it can inspire?

Patriotism is a powerful force that can be directed toward good or evil. We need to put our effort into directing it toward good, not endeavoring to stifle it. If you don’t support current U.S. policy, write a letter or stage a protest. That’s the patriotic thing to do.

Edward A. Faulkner ’03

Stephanie Wang [“Fear the Flag,” January 30] refuses to believe that Americans’ profuse displays of their flag since September 11 stem from love of their country and their countrymen. Oh, no. This is “forced patriotism.” American consumers are demanding patriotic decorations because they “are afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t demand.”

Forgive me if I’m not convinced. Though I consider myself deeply patriotic, I haven’t purchased or displayed a single patriotic decoration since September 11; I don’t live in fear. But perhaps MIT is an exceptionally tolerant community. Well this Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was back in my small, conservative hometown I noticed that my family didn’t display a single flag (or any other patriotic decoration) on their house or car, although many other people did; my family wasn’t afraid either.

But perhaps there are some people who are just scared to criticize the government because everyone around them is so patriotic. Ms. Wang wrote that she saw a deluge of flags in San Francisco and a small American flag stuffed in the glove compartment of her parents’ car. As anyone who has read her column will attest, San Francisco and her parents have obviously failed to bully her into a patriot, nor did they scare her into refraining from criticizing. She may have been uncomfortable being around patriots, but being uncomfortable is not the same as being coerced.

The worst thing about Ms. Wang’s farcical allegations is that they trivialize the evil of real forced patriotism in the world’s many undemocratic countries, places where people do not have the freedom of speech Ms. Wang enjoys but does not fully understand.

David Milovich ’04

[LTE]Parental Responsibility[body]
I am greatly disturbed by the lawsuit which the parents of Elizabeth Shin are filing against MIT, and the article in The Tech [“Shin Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit,” January 30] which reported it on Wednesday. It seems to me the parents are failing to take responsibility for their role in their daughter’s death.
The Shins’ statements that they thought Elizabeth “thrived in a challenging environment,” the failure to mention the high school incident in the timeline, and the parents’ attempt to blame MIT Mental Health for not calling them, point me to a conclusion that Elizabeth wanted to die because she felt she could never be the daughter her parents expected. If one cannot fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who gave you life, how can your life be justified in continuing?
The decision by MIT Mental Health not to call her parents was therefore a wise one. If her parents had been notified about her problems, they could have either talked to her about it, which would probably embarrass her and only add to her stresses, making her death even more imminent.
In my mind, the only way this lawsuit will be justified is the money is then donated to a scholarship fund which will pay MIT students’ tuitions without requiring that they maintain a high GPA or any other form of stress, and that will free them from the burden of being put through school by their parents, to whom they already owe their lives themselves.

Dawn Perlner ’01[sig]
[LTE]A Different View On Agostini v. Felton[body]
In “Snow Falling On Churches,” [January 30] Dan Tortorice misrepresents or misunderstands the Agostini v. Felton decision. The Supreme Court was addressing the issue of public school teachers providing remedial classwork with a curriculum established by the city, not the church, for economically depressed students, supported by federal funds. In effect, the parochial students were suing for access to federal funds which had been allocated for them but placed in the hands of the city. They were not suing for a part of the city education budget. The only way Agostini would support the plowing of church lots would be if the town received federal funds to provide snow plowing for, say, all non-profit organizations. To selectively make church lots the only non-public resource plowed with tax dollars is certainly not supported by Agostini.
Continuing his argument, he states, “By plowing the lots of all religious institutions the government is not taking a stance on religion. It does not say it is good to believe in God; rather, it says that if you wish to worship God we respect that and will do what we can to let you exercise that choice.” Well, many people chose to go to the gym on Sunday. Or the sex toy store. Or a meeting at their local ACLU. If the government truly isn’t taking a stance on religion, why is it not plowing the lots of these places (some of which actually pay taxes)? Why is the government not doing “what [it] can to let [me] exercise the choice” to spend my Sunday as an escort at Planned Parenthood by plowing its lot?
Susan Buchman ’01[sig]