[Marxism] American flags

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 24 08:57:35 MST 2004

Last night as I watched coverage of the Bipartisan Commission on 
terrorism chaired by Bob Kerrey, the war criminal ex-Senator who 
currently runs the New School University with an iron fist, I was bowled 
over by the garish, rhinestone-studded American flag on Madeleine 
Albright's jacket. This was not a postage-stamp sized pin, but something 
about the size of a bar of soap.

Meanwhile, John Kerry cannot be spotted without the obligatory flag on 
his lapel. After September 11, liberal newsman Dan Rather began wearing 
an American flag pin in his lapel. So does sportscaster Werner Wolf.

The flag is ubiquitous in NYC storefront windows in my neighborhood. The 
Chinese restaurant, the CVS pharmacy, the Russian barber shop, where I 
get my buzzcuts, all have them.

People in my building wear them, either on their lapel or as a pin on a 
pocketbook. There is an American flag on the doorman's desk as there is 
at nearly all the security guard stations at Columbia University.

All of these flags are sported for one and one reason only--to tell the 
onlooker that they support the war against terrorism and that they 
support the president.

The use of the flag to intimidate dissent began with Richard Nixon who 
wore the pin himself, as did all of his top aides. Ever since then, 
there have been repeated attempts to use the flag as an ideological weapon.

On September 25, 1988 The Boston Globe reported on how the first George 
Bush waved the flag against his opponent from Massachussetts Governor 
Michael Dukakis, a contest whose themes will likely be played out this 
year between his son and John Kerry:

 >>There are numerous parallels between the Bush and Nixon presidential 
campaigns, as well as Nixon and Agnew's "law and order" assault on 
Democratic congressional candidates in 1970.

Joe McGinniss, the author of "The Selling of the President," an account 
of Nixon's media campaign in 1968, recalled that "the flag was a 
consistent motif" in Nixon commercials that year. Bush's carefully 
staged events, which protect him from reporters' questions, are also 
similar to Republican activities in 1968, when Nixon's handlers shielded 
him from the press, McGinniss said.

Republican candidates proudly wore American flag lapel pins like war 
decorations that year.

After Agnew was criticized for his approach, he worked a new line into 
his speeches. He said he did not question anyone's "patriotism," only 
the "judgment of the radical liberals."

Bush uses the same language this year. When he assails Dukakis on the 
Pledge of Allegiance, Bush adds, "I don't question his patriotism, I 
question his judgment."<<

So Kerry's campaign, in seeking to avoid Dukakis's mistake, is playing 
up both the flag and his patriotism, as demonstrated by his military 
record. Whatever value this has in electing Kerry is secondary to the 
effect it has in reinforcing the "patriotic" mood that has gripped the 

After September 11th, the insufferable Todd Gitlin put a positive spin 
on the proliferation of American flags:

 >>The attack stirs, in other words, patriotism – love of one’s people 
and desire to keep them from being hurt anymore. And then, too, the 
wound is inverted, transformed into a badge of honor. It is translated 
into protestation (“we didn’t deserve this”), and pride (“they can’t do 
this to us”). Pride can go toward the quest for justice, the rage for 
punishment, the pleasures of smugness. The dangers are obvious. But it 
should not be hard to understand that the American flag sprouted first, 
for many of us, as a badge of belonging, not a call to shed innocent 

full: http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-2-47-105.jsp

I would challenge this interpretation on two grounds. First, we do not 
need a "badge of belonging". The iconography of the flag is not meant to 
draw people together. It is to *exclude* people who are not members of 
the homeland. The post-September 11th period has been marked by a 
growing xenophobia directed against the French, the Germans and any 
nation that refuses to toe the line on the US wars of expansion. Also, 
it certainly is a call to shed innocent blood. 10,000 Iraqis have been 
killed since the war began. Until the American people can begin to 
understand their suffering in the same terms as the WTC tragedy, no 
progress will be made toward peace and reconciliation. To begin that 
process, it will be necessary to reduce the role of the flag to what it 
once was, an official symbol that belongs on Post Offices and other 
federal buildings.


The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list