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Proud Patriotism

Guest Column
Daniel D. Burkey

Stephanie Wang’s opinion piece [“Fear Of the Flag,” January 30] is one of many that has surfaced in The Tech in the months since Sept. 11 that has questioned the motivation and sincerity of much of the apparent patriotism that has surfaced (or perhaps resurfaced) in the wake of those terrible attacks.

Every time I read one of those pieces, I am left with a varied mix of both anger and sorrow. Anger, because I don’t enjoy being labeled a “blatant jingoist” because of my desire to display an American flag, and sorrow, because I can’t help but feel for people who have such a patently cynical view of America and its citizens.

Sept. 11 was probably the darkest day that the current generation has had to face. More than 2800 lives were extinguished in a few hours for really no other reason than irrational hatred. I know that I, like others, felt helpless and powerless in the hours, days, and weeks that followed.

But I also felt that I needed to do something. So, I stood in line to give blood; I sent a donation to relief efforts; and I went to the flag shop in Arlington and bought an American flag, which I put in my window at home. Then I bought one and affixed it to the rear window of my car. Then I bought another one as a lapel pin and wear it proudly on occasion.

I did these things not because, as Ms. Wang suggests, I was “afraid of social stigma, political condemnation, and perhaps most of all, cultural exclusion,” but rather because I felt that displaying the flag proudly was a symbol of national unity in a moment of tragedy, as well as a sign of respect for all those who lost their lives tragically and needlessly. I did not consider it “superficial support,” as Ms. Wang puts it, but rather a simple gesture that was well within my capabilities.

I do not see this reemergence of patriotism as a necessarily bad thing, but rather as something that has always been present in America from the start. Granted, the current generation has not had much exposure to it. During the sixties and seventies, in the quagmire of Vietnam and government scandal, it became unfashionable to be supportive of the nation in general and the government in particular. Now, with an event like that of Sept. 11, an attack on American soil unlike any since Pearl Harbor, the nation and its citizens returned to what they knew to be right, American or not: being supportive and unified as a people in a moment of horror and sorrow. The way that many of them chose to do that was with a display of the flag, and in that respect, it most certainly does symbolize freedom and all that is right with this country.

I do not wish to see anyone’s rights trampled, or freedoms denied. I do not support those who would use the attacks on our country as an excuse to persecute or ostracize others who are different or of a differing viewpoint. That is not what America is about, nor what the flag stands for. Ms. Wang was correct in that her first amendment rights allow her to express her opinions. What I take exception to is her unfair generalization that many of the displays of patriotism and national pride in the preceding months have been forced or falsely motivated. I know that mine have not. I believe that her observations represent the exception, rather than the rule, regarding this reawakening of national pride. I, for one, choose to have a more positive attitude about the motivations of my friends, neighbors, and citizens at large. As for Ms. Wang, I am again left with a sense of sorrow that she has chosen so cynical and pessimistic an outlook concerning what can be regarded as a rediscovery of civic pride. Ms. Wang’s First Amendment rights allow her the choice of not displaying the flag, taking offense at those who do, and expressing that opinion in print, but she should also be prepared for a response when she makes sweeping generalizations about the motivations of millions of Americans.

As for me, I’ll continue to proudly display my flag, not because I am a nationalist, or a jingoist, or any of the quasi-pejorative terms that Ms. Wang saw fit to throw about, but simply because it is one of the simplest ways that I can show my support for my country and its founding principles and pay my respects to those lives lost.

Daniel D. Burkey is a graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering.