When I was growing up nearly every house on our block and in our small neighborhood of La Crescenta, California hosted an American Flag on Memorial Day. Sunday night my father would get out Old Glory from the closet and set it beside the door, in the hallway, ready to be posted the next morning. Our flag pole holder was positioned on the south-facing point of the house, near the front door. Drivers turning on to our street or heading up the hill couldn’t help but see the Stars and Stripes and Dad working in the yard.
All day as we kids rode our bikes around the streets or played Kick-the-Can, a dozen flags waved in the breeze. As youngsters, we cared more about the BBQ or baseball game than we did about the flag, but still, the flags mattered.
Today as Mike and I walked our neighborhood in Seattle and as I drove through Mercer Island and into Bellevue, I didn’t see a single house with an Amercian Flag hanging in the sun.
I don’t want to be cynical; I think Amerians are still patriotic. And I think we care deeply about democracy and liberty. I just think somehow that we as a whole citizenry are less touched by war and the sacrifice of our service men and women today than we were 4o years ago. The wars Americans fought during my life time have been plagued with controversy and for some, shame: The War in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, The War in Afghanistan, The Balkins Conflict, the invasion of Grenada, The War on Drugs — all waged abroad while at home, controversy divided the nation. The nation has not been turned upside down by war.
From our seat in the 21st century, the the past seems more noble, our citizens less conflicted. The wars we fought engulfed us as a nation and as a people. During WW2 the men, women and children on the home front were mobilized to support the war effort. There was a clear enemy and a certainty of victory. Every family had someone serving; most families lost a son, nephew, grandson, father, husband, daughter, niece or mother. And most of their parents or grandparents had served in Ww1 or the Spanish American War and had survived a depression that changed our nation forever.
We can’t say that today. Most of us have not been directly touched by war. I know only two people who have served in Iraq, one as a Captain in the Army, the other in the Foreign Service. My father fought in WW2 as did my father-in-law, three of my uncles, and my friend Kim’s father. My mother and Aunt built war planes at Lockheed. I know 17 other people who served in WW2 and my mother-in-law still tells the story of massive crowds celebrating V-E Day in downtown Washington, DC.
You can’t say that about the wars America fights today.
Raising the flag on Memorial Day doesn’t signal support of the war. It doesn’t signify support of our country’s invasion of a sovereign nation for oil, or support for torture and wrongful imprisonment, legacies of our most recent conflicts. Raising the flag on Memorial Day does say thank you to those who have risked their lives and their well-being to ensure we have the liberties and freedoms guaranteed by our constitution. Raising the flag signifies our willingness, as a populace and a nation to fight against apathy and tyranny; to do hard things. To fight against injustice even when we as a nation are unjust.
Raising the flag is about honoring the vision of our founding fathers and acknowledging the need to fight for our beliefs however, and whenever, we must. And to thank those who serve, even when the war is not popular.