As a result of expansive readings of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court, two things have legally occurred that millions find deeply offensive. The first is that a few have disrespectfully burned flags. The second is that the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is picketing funerals of our military personnel killed serving abroad in a cruel, hateful and disruptive of privacy way.
Although the flag desecration is very rare and less devastating to specific individuals at a tragic time in their lives, Sen. Orrin Hatch apparently feels the flag needs more protection than the families picketed by the WBC. On Flag Day -- June 14 -- he proposed a constitutional amendment that would protect the flag from desecration.
A symbol becomes desecrated (made less sacred) when it becomes associated with base, vile or evil things. Nothing better illustrates this than the history of the swastika. One century ago no one considered the swastika offensive; it had been used by American Indian tribes for centuries. Yet after the Nazis adopted it as their symbol, it was regarded as repulsive and those who had previously embraced it strongly rejected it. In February 1940, the Apache, Navajo, Hopi and Papago tribes issued a statement declaring the swastika " has been a symbol of friendship among our forefathers for many centuries, but has been desecrated recently by another nation of peoples." They resolved that "forever more our tribes renounce the use of the emblem" known as the swastika on their "blankets, baskets, art objects, sand paintings and clothing." This occurred even before the U.S. declared war on Nazi Germany and before Nazi extermination camps were exposed.
Of course, the tribes had not felt that the swastika was desecrated because it was being burned by communists and other Nazi victims. Clearly the precise reason the swastika was desecrated was that the Nazis -- who were virtually identified by swastikas -- were murderous racists and aggressive imperialists. Nazi policies irreversibly desecrated their own symbol, the swastika. The real desecration to a symbol comes from those who have adopted it.
Unfortunately, the world links the flag to the policies of the U.S. government, and so the U.S. government polices can desecrate the flag. Moreover, the Republican Party, of which Hatch is a part, has taken the lead in promoting a more belligerent, macho, violent and brutal foreign policy which damages the flag's image. Not surprisingly, last fall the peoples of the world, likely fearing GOP belligerence, overwhelmingly wanted Democratic candidate President Barack Obama to win.
The fact is, regardless of how U.S. citizens remember Reagan, millions worldwide remember him for supporting Central American death squads, and a genocidal regime in Guatemala, and Jonas Savimbi's terrorist organization in Africa, and his disregarding the World Court. Similarly, George Bush is remembered for the illegal invasion of Panama, and the unnecessary slaughter in Iraq. G. W. Bush's unforgettable acts include an illegal invasion of Iraq on false pretenses, Abu Garib torture and war crimes etc.
Those and other victims of U.S. foreign policy are likely to view the flag, not as embodying the lofty ideals or the Declaration of Independence, but as an ensign of imperialist aggression. Their view of the flag is an exact reflection of their view of the U.S. government.
Yet many Americans make no connection between the government and the flag which represents it. In fact, many who practically worship "Old Glory" are incessant critics of the U.S. government who always seem to be aggrieved because of some government policy. It is interesting that these people feel foreigners can never be justifiably aggrieved with Washington. They seem to think that government is generally mischievous when it's dealing with U.S. citizens but never mischievous when it's dealing with foreigners. In fact, some regard it as anti-American to criticize US.S.foreign-policy. They resemble the woman who constantly criticized her husband but would not allow anyone else to criticize him.
In fact, many not only equate the love of symbols as the love of country, but leave an impression that they love their flag more than they love their country. Idolatry, which occurs when a symbol is elevated over the object the symbol represents, has occurred throughout the ages. Idolatry occurred anciently when symbols of God became substitutes for God and were worshiped.
Today, there are many who love the symbols of this country and revel in a nationalistic pride but are indifferent to the environmental degradation of this land and the poor international reputation of this nation and welfare of this country's people. Our burning forests are more concerning than flag burnings. While I do not condone any flag desecration, dealing with these realities should take priority over protecting our symbol from a nonexistent problem.
The senator has made eight previous attempts with similar proposals. Perhaps even he knows his proposal to fight a non-existent problem will go nowhere.
Jones lives in West Haven.