Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Patriotic Post

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Flag Etiquette

During the 4th of July weekend, small American flags showed up unannounced in the front yards of all the homes in my neighborhood. Attached to each pole was an adverisement for some real estate company. At first, I was annoyed. Not only had we not asked for a flag, but they had placed it on our property (i.e., trespassing), ignoring the "No Soliciting" sign placed at the entrance to the neighborhood. Also galling was the blatantly commercial use of the flag by this company.

Yet, I had no objections to the flag, per se. I pushed it more firmly in the soil when it looked like the flag was getting close to touching the ground. I kept my eye on it to make sure the flag was treated respectfully. I didn't give a second thought about it. It seemed like basic flag etiquette to me.

On the morning of July 5, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stumbled downstairs. Passing the front door on my way to the kitchen, I saw the dew on the grass glistening in the sun, a robin savoring an earthworm, the garbage at the curb... and, to my shock and dismay, on top of the garbage bags, rested the flag.

I brought the flag inside and confronted my folks. Their excuse was that they hadn't asked for the flag, and thus, they felt free to throw it away.

"But don't tell me you don't know how to properly dispose of a flag?" I asked. "You don't throw a flag away in the trash. You give it to someone who wants it, or if it's in bad shape, you dispose of it properly, by burning it! If you don't know how to do it properly (I'm not 100% positive on all the steps in the process myself), you can take it to a VFW lodge or other civic organization and they will dispose of it for you!"

They just stared at me, bemused. "But," my mother reiterated, "we didn't want the flag in the first place."

Aaargh! Like talking to a brick wall. To me, how the flag comes into your possession is irrelevant; how it leaves your possession is. Perhaps it's because my father served in the military, or because I have been involved with several civic organizations over the years, including the Boy Scouts and DeMolay, that I see the flag as being worthy of respect, regardless of whatever opinions I may have of our leaders or their actions.

Which leads naturally into my next fun-filled topic: flag-burning! The disrespectful kind, that is. In this time of trial and turmoil, both foreign and domestic, it's nice to know that our leaders in Congress are addressing the most pressing issue of our times, by..... introducing a constitutional amendment to ban burning the American flag?!

This proposal is akin a bad flu that recurs every couple of years. It seems to be the GOP-led Congress' way of saying, "It's time to adjourn for the year, since we would obviously have taken care of the rest of the nation's business before even remotely entertaining such an asinine notion."

From a Constitutional standpoint, it is counterintuitive. The trend with constitutional amendments has been to increase the power of the individual versus the state. Like Prohibition, this amendment would decrease the power of the individual by criminalizing an act of free speech that does not harm any living creature. While I would never burn a flag in protest, and have little but contempt for those that do, how is it not protected by the First Amendment? Does the right to free speech only protect popular forms of self-expression? Or wasn't the whole purpose of the First Amendment to protect unpopular forms of free speech? Here's hoping this motion gets shot down by the Senate like the last half-dozen constitutional amendments to ban flag-burning have.

America en Espanol?

One of the things I noticed on my European travels was how language was treated. In Britain, people spoke English. In France, they spoke French. While I did not know much French, most French did know at least a little bit of English. That makes sense. Throughout history, there has always one predominant international language of commerce, diplomacy, and science. In various eras, that language was Latin, French or German, based on the main world political and economic power of the day. So, it makes perfect sense that today most people around the world would have at least a passing familiarity with English. However, I never assumed the people I talked to overseas knew English. I first tried to use a phrase or two from their language as a gesture of respect which they almost universally reciprocated. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Brussels gave me another lesson in the importance of language to national unity. Historically, the existence of Belgium in its present form makes perfect sense, the differences between the Catholic Belgians and the Protestant Dutch dating back to the sixteenth century. Linguistically however, it’s a whole different story. Belgium is an amalgam of cultures and languages: The northern half of the country is known as Flanders, the south known as Wallonia. Natives of Flanders speak Dutch (they call both themselves and their language “Flemish”) while natives of Wallonia speak French. There are a number of cultural differences as well that exacerbate the linguistic divisions. Cultural identity has been so strong that it has led to various uprisings and rebellions throughout history. Tensions run so high on this matter that in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, which lies inside the Flemish-speaking zone, all street and subway signs, every billboard, every advertisement must be in both French and Dutch, by order of the law.

It is a law of history that almost invariably holds true: when a region tries to win independence from its mother country it is due to feeling that there are longstanding cultural and/or linguistic differences with the rest of the nation. While Belgium is not likely to erupt in civil war anytime soon, the language divide is a reminder of how important having a common language is to national unity.

When I got back to the States, I felt like I was back on the streets of Brussels again. Every advertisement and product label was bilingual, in English and Spanish. It is understandable why businesses would do this: there is a large market of customers who speak English as a second language, if indeed they speak English at all. But it seems to me that Americans are bending over backwards to make the newly-arrived immigrants feel at home.

Some examples: California voters not too many years ago passed a referendum that banned the practice of teaching, in Spanish, students who spoke only Spanish. Before the referendum was passed, students who spoke no English, instead of being taught English first so that they could then learn the other stuff in English, were being taught all their subjects in Spanish. To force these students to learn the language of their country of residence was deemed to be unfair to Hispanics by the politically-correct powers that be.

It doesn't end there. Federal law already mandates that localities provide ballots in whatever language voters need, an expensive task for a cash-strapped town. As naturalized citizens are already supposed to have learned English before gaining citizenship, this makes little sense.

English is as central to the American identity as it is to the British. For hundreds of years, immigrants from every nation have come here to the United States, bringing their own cultural traditions with them, and adapting to certain cultural facts of life here, namely the predominance of English as America's de facto national language. Why change that now? After all these generations of having English as a unifying force in this country, why should America now become bilingual?

The matter of excessive "tolerance" extends well beyond the language barrier. The Minuteman Project mobilizes citizens along the U.S.-Mexican border to patrol the border and report anyone coming across to Border Patrol. As Border Patrol is too understaffed to man the whole border, these citizens are doing the nation a favor, right? Not according to many on the left who insist that doing this discriminates against Hispanics.

In North Carolina, until last year illegal immigrants were allowed to get driver's licenses. Up until that point, the DMV accepted as valid ID: foreign passports, foreign birth certificates, and a Mexican ID card. Hmm.... As there is no guarantee that an illegal immigrant knows English, how they are expected to read the street signs is anyone's guess. But, the barons of cultural sensitivity scolded us, to refuse to allow those in our country illegally to get a driver's license violated their civil rights.

Then there is the flap over allowing illegal immigrants who attend North Carolina high schools to be allowed to receive in-state tuition. Though the N.C. House bill was rejected, like the anti-flag burning amendment, I'm sure we haven't seen the end of this scheme. Sure, they might be here in violation of the law, but why should that stop us from giving them a really good deal on college tuition? Not like it would be incentive for illegals to flock to North Carolina, now would it?

Businesses are reluctant to look too closely at the immigration status of many of their workers and all too often businesses knowningly hire illegal immigrants to avoid burdensome government regulations like minimum wage, overtime pay, and worker's safety laws. Of course, these illegals wouldn't be coming here if they didn't know they could find a better paying job here than in Mexico. In the long run, these illegal immigrants will stop trying to sneak into the U.S. only when Mexico has a standard of living on a par with America's. That will not be the case for a long while to come. But that is no excuse for being soft on immigration fraud.

There is a thin line between voicing objections to law-breaking and standing up for cultural traditions on the one hand and indulging in nativism and xenophobia on the other. Fear of crossing that line has kept many silent for far too long. It is not “anti-Hispanic” to say to a prospective immigrant, “If you want to live in our nation, you must abide by our rules and enter legally.” It is not racist to expect all immigrants to learn the common language all Americans share and have shared for centuries. When in Rome, speak Latin (or Italian). When in America, speak English!


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