Affronts wear flag ragged


I need a new flag.


For so long I had kept my flag stowed away, neglected and taken for granted. Sure, I understood the meaning of the stars and stripes and the beloved freedoms they represented. But there never seemed to be much cause to proudly wave it and express my patriotism.


All that changed on Sept. 11. Once we painfully realized how fragile those freedoms are, waving the flag suddenly became a priority; indeed, even a mandate. Overnight, patriotism became our sworn duty as American citizens. So I waved the flag.


After all, we were at war. Not a traditional war declared by Congress against any specific nation, mind you, but a symbolic war against evil itself. And so I waved the flag, oblivious to the affronts upon the very freedoms it was supposed to represent.


When the president pushed for yet another massive tax cut skewed disproportionally toward the wealthiest people and the largest corporations while scoffing at increased benefits for the working poor directly affected by the economic effects of the attacks, it was not my place to question why, nor how we would then be able to fund the military and the rebuilding of New York within our tight budget constraints.


When the White House instructed the American media to censor their coverage of the war, even admonishing reporters to "watch what they say," I willingly gave up my right to know the truth. I stopped questioning the actions of our leaders, believing that dissent might be perceived as disloyalty.


While newspaper columnists were being fired for daring to speak their mind and Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" was nearly canceled for saying something that was, well, politically incorrect, I just kept on waving the flag, hardly noticing how tattered the fabric had become.


On that day, the Bill of Rights became an anachronism, its significance obscured by clouds of "reasonable suspicion." As the Constitution slowly became less and less relevant to our new "secure" homeland, the stitching on my flag began to unravel. But I just kept right on waving it.


I waved it when Bush sealed Reagan's presidential records in defiance of congressional law to protect members of his own cabinet. I waved it when John Ashcroft announced that privileged attorney-client communications could be monitored. I even waved it when Bush authorized military tribunals to try terror suspects, giving his own executive branch the power to be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.


I cannot recall the exact moment when I finally took a good, long look at the frayed banner in my hand. Its dilapidated state shocked me. Only then did I realize how, in my jingoistic fervor, I had failed to notice the damage caused by my overzealous thrashing of our national symbol of freedom. Only then did I reflect upon the motivations behind my nationalistic behavior.


America is nothing without the liberties bestowed upon its people. Countless men and women died to protect the freedoms embodied in our symbols, and yet we are only too willing to give them up for a perceived level of security. The people of Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union were willing to give up freedom for strong leadership and a secure homeland. Now, the people of the United States are at a crossroads and face an eerily similar decision. Which choice is the patriotic one?


As much as I feel the urge to express my love for my country, I can no longer wave this flag. The fabric has become so soiled, the stars and stripes so ragged that the symbols are barely recognizable. What's the use of waving a flag if you can no longer be certain what it represents?


I need a new flag.


Geoff Trowbridge - The Elkhart Truth - 11/25/2001