Flags

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Mon Sep 17 15:20:14 MDT 2001


Personally, I don't see Flags generally as being a heavy issue deep or
high -- but they can be -- and  the matter has arisen on other lists.  It's
all worth some comment.

I've never been a Flag Man.  Perhaps most Indians never really can be -- I
like a feather or two and I have a bear-claw choker that I wear on special
occasions. [In addition and from another dimensional perspective, I have
many Canadian roots.] The American flag has always tended to make me wary:
George Custer to the John Birch Society come immediately to mind.  I can
live with the American Flag [I did as an  Army trooper ] and it often showed
up in the front of even very Left unions.

But, even in settings where the American flag was, at a particular place and
point in history, anathema -- e.g., Mississippi in the early '60s --  I
could never really find comfort in it. [ And I should, say, too that the
Flag of the Southern Confederacy  makes me very, very wary indeed!]

I was not surprised when, a few days ago,  young people from a local realtor
firm, trooped up to this far far corner of  this Idaho town,  with a heavy
supply of small American flags which they dutifully planted in or near each
yard -- including ours.  They do this just before every Fourth of July --
small flags in every lawn or what passes for a lawn -- and, when the smoke
of the firecrackers fades, the flags disappear.  This time, the flags have
stayed around in most cases.

I don't feel threatened by this -- I just feel primarily oblivious to this
particular ritual and these particular flags.  [But I am  greatly troubled
in another way -- and more on that in a moment.] Our neighbors are -- in
almost every case --  very friendly and pleasant people [there are a couple
of other Native families right near us,  and several Chicano families and
two Black families not all that far away.]  I know the man who heads the
flag-distributing real estate firm to be a gentle person and, like many in
this region, a Mormon [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.]

I should add that I've always been a bit surprised by Mormon patriotism.  I
grew up in a Northern Arizona setting where, in addition to many Catholics,
there were also many LDS people. The great grandfather of a good Mormon high
school buddy had been shot by a US Army firing squad.  As a rule, I tend to
get along well with grassroots Mormons.  And I'm aware that there was once a
time when their leaders were lynched and their churches burned and when they
finally found a place in the Salt Lake Valley, built their Zion and
established their Land of Deseret, the Gentile forces [land and mineral
hungry capitalists backed by the US government and US Army] attempted to use
the polygamy issue to smash the Mormon Commonwealth and seize all of its
resources.  Those were the days, 'way 'way back in the 19th Century, when
the Mormon Battalion was formed to resist, in the high mountain passes, the
forces of the United States; and when the great Mormon gunman, Porter
Rockwell, guarded Brigham Young [the prophet was himself  personally armed
also] against possible assassination via Washington, DC.  [In his
fascinating autobiography -- Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of
William D. Haywood, 1929 and many subsequent editions, must reading for
radicals -- Big Bill, born in Salt Lake City in 1869 [an Episcopalian by
birth], opens with the chapter, "Boyhood Among The Mormons" and has kind
words for the Saints and a very good word for then rather old, and kindly,
Porter Rockwell the gunman.  [And, BTW, how many people are aware that Butch
Cassidy [George LeRoy Parker] was a Mormon boy -- as was much of his Wild
Bunch?]

But, anyway.  In time, part of the Mormon world grew rather conservative,
patriotic -- even as the theology has slowly liberalized to some extent [but
the West abounds with Mormons who are very good and militant, and sometimes
very radical, union labor activists. ]

So I didn't find  these flags of the other day -- coming 'way up here to
us --  unusual.  I don't find them directly threatening. There are, of
course, plenty of instances where flags  do signal reactionary violence --
but most  Americans flags don't.

So why am I troubled by this Flag Situation?

Because to many people -- especially in this moment of high crisis for all
of humanity -- flags are a palliative, a mind-soother.  If, on the one hand,
flags -- like prayer -- can somehow make this hideous tragedy a little
easier to live with, flags  can also block cognizance of the massively grim
and lethal storm clouds that are now coming in upon us and much of the world
from the very Four Directions:  War, hideous war; the gutting of our
democratic civil rights and civil liberties; a rising racism against
darker-skinned people.

And flags, and all of the other palliatives, and rationalizations and
transferences,  certainly  help bury, again and again, the crying and
compelling need for social justice -- a very full measure of social
justice -- for everyone, everywhere in this world.  They help bury it deep.
But it does not stay buried and it never will.

Our little flag fell over yesterday, into some grass and weeds.  It still
lies there, fallen.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org


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