Memorial day is tomorrow and the country is awash with flags, especially in cemeteries. I used to idly wonder who carefully arranged those flags in neat rows and assumed that it was some private veterans body or something like the Daughter of the American Revolution or the Rotary Club or something like that. I discovered that at least in our county it is paid for by the county government, i.e., the taxpayers.
This bit of information was embedded in a news story in the Plain Dealer because a conflict has arisen over what to do with the flags after Memorial Day is over. Apparently they used to be burned but the county decided this year that this was a waste and decided to give them to schoolchildren and newly sworn citizens. But the county-funded Veterans Service Commission has got in a huff and said that not burning the flags was disrespectful to the dead, and have refused to help in distributing the flags, a task that has now fallen on the public works department and other groups.
Why reusing flags is less respectful than burning them, however ritualistically, is something I don’t understand. This is the kind of silly controversy that arises when people succumb to the flag fetish that I have written about before where I said:
While Muslims justifiably get made fun of for getting all bent out of shape when they feel that their prophet is being dissed by even drawing a cartoon of him, the veneration with which Americans treat their flag is very similar to that irrational reaction. If you were to go on a public street and place the flag on the ground and stomp on it, I would not be surprised if you angered many bystanders and even rouse some of them to violence against you in order to protect the ‘honor’ of the flag.
I recall a community discussion during the first Gulf war in 1992. In one incident in that war, a group of fighters had used Allah as a rallying cry to fight US troops, saying they were defending Islam. In the discussion, some people said that they could not understand how so many Muslims could get so impassioned about fighting for Allah. The idea of fighting for god instead of nation seemed irrational to them. I pointed out that American troops use their flag as a rallying cry in just the same way (the national anthem itself is all about such an incident), and from the point of view of Muslims, Americans must seem even more irrational in the way they were willing to fight for a mere flag instead of their god.
The people in the room were surprised by my comments. Until I raised it, the thought had never crossed these people’s minds that the honor and value they placed on the flag was a form of idol worship similar to what people place on god and religion.
I believe that the county should go further and reuse the flags every year and thus save the cost of $43,000 per year, as is done in other counties.
The dead won’t care.