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Of all the articles I read pertaining to this year’s celebration of Independence Day, this one seemed most appropriate to open this new page. I saw it on NewsMax and obtained permission to publish and archive it here from Dr. Stolinsky. I’m sure he would appreciate your feedback, as would I. Deb V.
Is Our Flag Still There?
David C. Stolinsky
NewsMax.com - Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem during the War of 1812. The British fleet was bombarding Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Through the night, Scott was encouraged that continued firing from the fort gave proof "that our flag was still there."
He couldn’t see the flag. But the evidence that those within the fort were still fighting renewed Scott’s faith. And sure enough, the morning sun showed that the tattered star-spangled banner was indeed still flying proudly.
Our current situation is not quite so dramatic. We are not citizens of a new and tiny nation being attacked by the world’s mightiest empire. Except for our service personnel, we are not in physical danger – at least not at the moment.
Still, our situation is similar. We are under attack, and on more than one front. And we hope that our flag is truly still there. Is it?
After 9-11, flags appeared everywhere – cars, homes and stores. Except on fire trucks, most of these flags are gone. This is to be expected. Initial enthusiasm often diminishes with time.
But the significance may be deeper. Inquiries flooded armed forces recruiting stations after 9-11. But actual enlistments did not increase.
Contrast this with the response to Pearl Harbor. The next morning there were long lines at recruiting stations in all parts of the country. The draft was already in effect and would soon intensify. Nevertheless, enlistments surged. Underage kids with phony identification stood in line with older men, many of whom had already served.
More people were killed on 9-11 than at Pearl Harbor. Most of those killed on 9-11 were civilians, while most of the dead at Pearl Harbor were service personnel. And 9-11 occurred in New York and Washington, not on what was then perceived as a distant Pacific island. The horror of 9-11 was carried on live TV, while news of Pearl Harbor came by radio and newspapers.
The impact of 9-11 should have been greater. The outrage should have been stronger. So, where were the volunteers? We may be so afraid of producing super-patriots that we are doing our best to produce no patriots at all.
Our military is stretched thin, with deployments to roughly 100 overseas locations. Afghanistan was a success, but more remains to be done there. We have barely enough personnel and equipment to get rid of Saddam Hussein – at least we hope we do. And what if, for example, North Korea takes the opportunity to attack its southern neighbor?
Will we re-institute the draft? That would almost surely spell defeat for Republicans in the next election. But what is the alternative?
With due respect to Francis Scott Key, the most encouraging fact was not that the flag was still flying from the fort, but that the flag was still flying in the hearts of Americans. Perhaps Key took this for granted. But we can no longer do so.
Comparing our traditions to those of the British is instructive. The British respect their flag, but the symbol of the nation is the queen. If she is present at a performance, the audience stands to sing "God Save the Queen" and faces her, while she remains seated. But when our national anthem is played, everyone including the president stands and faces the flag.
The British dip their flag in salute. To salute the queen or other high officials, they touch their flag to the ground. We never dip our flag to anyone, much less touch it to the ground. We chose not to have a monarch. Our flag is the symbol of our nation and the focus of our loyalty.
That’s the key word – loyalty. To whom and to what are we loyal?
I am old enough to have been brought up as an American. In high school, I had to memorize the first and fourth verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner.” Of course, the fourth verse is now out completely – it mentions God. And I had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address. But memorization is "old fashioned."
I studied American history and civics, not "social studies." But that might make some students "uncomfortable." We observed Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, not "Presidents Day," and certainly not Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.
On Flag Day we had a program about our flag. Our teachers wouldn’t have dreamed of asking us to march with the flags of the nations our ancestors came from, as was done recently in a local school.
Yes, I was luckier than today’s kids.
I took ROTC in high school and college. Many schools have kicked this program out. Many find uniforms objectionable, not to mention drilling with rifles, even deactivated ones. As a result, the services have been deprived of a major source of civilian-educated officers. And boys have been deprived of a major source of positive male role models, which they desperately need.
From grade school on, we said the Pledge of Allegiance to start the day. The Pledge has been eliminated in many schools. And now a court has banned it for containing the words "under God" and thereby brought on itself a storm of criticism.
Most critics stressed the second word. But the first word is the key. Liberals cannot tolerate the state being "under" anything. To them, the state is supreme. Unlike medieval kings, who were thought to rule with God’s permission, the liberal’s notion of government usurps God’s role entirely. It becomes the final arbiter of right and wrong.
What is legal replaces what is right. We see the evidence all around us.
The extreme example is Hitler, who proclaimed himself the "Supreme Lawgiver." We are still far from this extreme, but it is where the road we are on is leading. In the end, there can be only one Supreme Lawgiver – God or the state.
To put it another way, there can be only one god – God or the state. It is no coincidence that the most tyrannical regimes of recent times, Nazism and Communism, were atheistic. And it was an atheist who filed the suit that resulted in banning the Pledge of Allegiance containing "under God."
Certainly religious extremism can be dangerous – consider 9-11. But the answer is not to go to the opposite extreme, which is also dangerous. Incompetent doctors are dangerous, too, but in response we do not abolish medicine. We do our best to train good doctors. We try to steer a middle course.
Ben Franklin proposed "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God" as our national motto. With God banished, a major justification for opposing tyrants is removed. This may be the underlying reason that liberals banished God from public life.
The Bill of Rights gave us no rights – it listed God-given rights. But if God isn’t the source of our rights, the state must be. And what the state gives, it can take away.
If the Bill of Rights were repealed, would we still have rights? The Founders, who were religious to varying degrees, would say yes. Liberals would say no. Which point of view seems more hospitable to liberty? Which seems safer?
Again I ask to whom – or to Whom – and to what will we be loyal?
As kids grow, their circles of interest grow. First they are interested only in themselves, then their families, then their friends, then their nation, and finally the world.
Loyalty grows in the same way. We can’t "love all humanity" in any meaningful way without first being loyal to our family and our nation. Otherwise there is no reason not to love al-Qaeda as much (or as little) as America. In fact, many love only themselves and are loyal to nothing except their own selfish interests.
We claim to "understand" the point of view of the terrorists. In fact, we merely find excuses for our own cowardice and for our inability distinguish civilians from combatants, terrorists from soldiers, or aggression from self-defense.
If the defenders of Fort McHenry had been brought up like that, they likely would have run when the British fleet appeared.
If the Marines on Iwo Jima had been that faint-hearted and ambivalent, they wouldn’t have bothered to raise the flag. Of course, they wouldn’t have been Marines in the first place, and most of Asia would have remained under a brutal and racist tyranny.
And if those underage kids and older men hadn’t signed up, Europe probably would still be under Nazi domination. Those Europeans who incessantly criticize American "militarism" might remember to whom they owe the right to criticize anything.
The original Independence Day celebrated our declaring ourselves independent of Europe and all it stood for. We were announcing in a loud voice that America was a new idea, not merely a revision of old European ideas.
We were declaring that we did not want to be a slightly updated version of the class system, ethnic and religious bigotry, intellectual snobbery, and infantile reliance on the state to make all important decisions for us. No, we wanted something new.
We wanted a nation of individuals who were responsible for themselves and their families, who consented to be governed by laws that respected their God-given rights, and who were willing to fight to achieve these goals.
As another July 4 is upon us, we need to recall what we wanted to be independent of, and why we wanted to be independent in the first place.
Is our flag still there? Don’t look at flagpoles or car antennas. Look in your heart. Then answer the question.
Dr. Stolinsky is retired after 25 years of teaching in medical school. He writes from Los Angeles on political and social issues. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.