Of all the ways the Republicans (and Democrats too intimidated not to go along with it) try to distract Americans from the terrifying failures of right wing governance, the anti-Flag burning amendment, offered up every election year, is perhaps the most ludicrous. Flag desecration is rare. As a national problem, it is of ZERO importance. This whole charade is merely an absurd Punch 'n' Judy show, giving people an excuse to whack those whose views they hate. It's about as far removed from real sacrifice and real, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is patriotism as possible. It's the kind of thing designed to make people feel good, kind of like putting a yellow ribbon on your SUV.
I despise flag burners, but I despise the American Nazis, the Klan, and Stalinists, as well. But you know something? The assholes have a right to express themselves, too. So I was encouraged to see this:
The most decorated war veteran in the Senate, Hawaii Democrat Dan Inouye opposed the amendment. "This objectionable expression is obscene, it is painful, it is unpatriotic," Inouye said of flag burning. "But, the winner of the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II, told the Senate, "I believe Americans gave their lives in many wars to make certain all Americans have a right to express themselves, even those who harbor hateful thoughts."
Inouye was hardly alone in that sentiment.
"The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous," explained former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, in his classic statement of opposition to attempts to craft a "flag-burning" amendment. "I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will be flying proudly long after they have slunk away."
Former U.S. Senator John Glenn, a World War II Marine Corps veteran and space-program hero, shares the view that it is not necessary to alter the Constitution. "Those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, who died following that banner, did not give up their lives for a red, white and blue piece of cloth," said Glenn. "They died because they went into harm's way, representing this country and because of their allegiance to the values, the rights and principles represented by that flag and to the Republic for which it stands.
Lawrence J. Korb, a Vietnam veteran and top aide in Ronald Reagan's Department of Defense, said, "(During) my years of military and civilian service during the cold war, I believed I was working to uphold democracy against the totalitarianism of Soviet Communism expansionism. I did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that I was defending just a piece of geography, but a way of life. If this amendment becomes a part of our Constitution, this way of life will be diminished. America will be less free and more like the former Soviet Union and present-day China.
James Warner, a former prisoner of war and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan, argued against the proposed amendment, saying, "People are born free. It says that in the Declaration of Independence. They have a right to express their opinions, even if I don't like the opinions they express or the means by which they express it. They have a right to say it, even if those opinions are incoherent."
Luckily, before they voted, a good many senators considered the words of these veterans, and of Gary May, the chairman the national group Veterans Defending the Bill of Rights, who said. "I lost both of my legs in combat while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam. I challenge anyone to find someone who loves this country, its people and what it stands for more than I. It offends me when I see the flag burned or treated disrespectfully. But, as offensive and painful as this is, I still believe that those dissenting voices need to be heard."
Yes, this is one of those issues that separates the Americans who really understand what America is about from the ones who don't. I'm proud to be an American--and I'm proud to oppose this nonsensical pseudo-patriotic measure.