Saturday, July 09, 2005

Flag Burning: A Quick... Rant?

Excuse me while I pull out my Pocket Constitution (tm) and my attitude and pound some of these arguments into dust. Actually, the people posting in the thread have done a good job of it already, but I'd like to say this in my own way.

First off, for those too lazy to click the above link, the debate is on flag burning. A randomly amusing side note: my Government class held a similar debate and I and my friend were the only two who argued for being allowed to burn flags.

Okay. First quote: "woa woa woa.... the 'right to protest' isnt a right... its a spinoff if freedom of speech, assembly, and press... so burning a flag is not a political or social 'right', it is an inflammatory expression that can do no good for a cause.. only lead to violence".
Number one, this poster isn't too well educated, or is just plain too lazy to capitalize and spell correctly. Either situation would normally cause me to ignore the argument, but this one bothered me so I went to look it up. It's true, there is no specific wording in the Constitution that allows flag burning, but neither is there something denying it. The rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the Government for redress of grievances are mentioned and as far as I know, protesting falls among those categories. So as long as I'm not protesting with a gun in one hand and a dartboard of Bush in the other, my right to protest is still protected indirectly. It's a political right because the foundational laws of my country allow it, and it's a social right because everyone has the same rights I do and we're all entitled to protection of those rights. Also, as far as I knew, you're the one who controls what you see and how you see it, and it's up to you to decide how to react. If you really want to pick a fight with someone who's burning a flag, feel free... I'm sure it'll be Civil War Version 2 in no time. However, you have the right and the ability (I hope) to peacefully and sensibly protest the burning of a flag in your neighborhood, in a public park where your children play, or during any sensitive times like national holidays and September 11. It's a lot better to walk up to someone and ask them why they're burning a flag and whether they can move the protest elsewhere than to run screaming and swearing down the street and cause more trouble than the protester(s) would have in the first place.

Number two: "[Quote: Nowt wrong with flag burning. If a democratic country that endorses free speech arrests a person for burning a flag, are they democratic? No.]
That is complete bullshit. A democratic country can easily pass a law banning flag burning. People vote to pass the law, therefore it is democratic.
Besides, calling "setting something on fire" the same as "speech" is inane."

You are completely full of bs, sir. Where do you actually draw the line between "speech" and an unprotected action? How does writing sound to you? What about sign language? Not everyone uses their voice or their keyboard to communicate, and if you'd like I'll pull out half a dozen articles on body language for you just to prove that point. I'm sure everyone has heard the cliche saying "Actions speak louder than words." Well, it's true. The way you walk down the street and what you wear tell people more about you than a simple description in words. If I choose to set something on fire as a way of communicating, it can be called speech. If my motive in setting a fire is simply to cook food or for heat, there's no communication involved and you're right, it's outside the label. Still, be careful of generalizing. There are situations in which someone will speak without saying a word, and if you're ignoring actions as a form of communication you're going to be in trouble.

Three: "if it was my personal belief that i want everyone with black hair murdered by next sunday, would you protect and respect my personal beliefs...
you see, personal beliefs dont make an action right or wrong, moral or immoral, its the national and state laws and doctrines that decide whats right or not."

...oooh... You're in over your head. Can you present me with a logical, well thought out and well supported argument that states that personal beliefs have no effect on legality? Can you tell me that what I think about murder, rape and incest does not affect my set of morals and values, or what I teach my students and my children? Can you explain how this absolute right and wrong works, and how the "national and state laws and doctrines" were put into place if they were never written down by people whose morality informed their judgements? There are few moral absolutes, and among them are: "Murder is wrong" and "Rape is wrong". I have never in my discussions of philosophy heard anyone say that "Flag burning as a form of protest is wrong" is a moral absolute. If it was your belief that everyone with black hair should be murdered, most people with a well developed sense of morality would turn you in to the nearest mental hospital or police station. I advise not using obviously morally wrong beliefs when arguing against something that has less to do with morality than with political and social ideals and the use of symbolism.

The American flag is a symbol of our nation. It does not stand for each individual seperately, but as a whole. It stands for our government and our foreign and domestic policy and our way of life; it does not stand alone as a freedom or a right or even as a protector of those freedoms or rights. Yes, we should respect the symbol of our nation and our ideals, but if we disagree with the ideas or policies that the flag is being used to represent, I see nothing wrong with protesting by burning the representation - the flag. Our flag has always represented the founding principles of this country and I realize that it is upsetting to many people to see a material representation of their intangible freedoms being destroyed by a seemingly hostile protester. What we need to remember is that the flag is not only there to stand for our constitutional rights, and a protester is usually taking action against some other representation such as the "War on Terror"; these representations are changeable and protesting them is not taking shots at the constitution. It's simply another way of saying "Hey, guys, someone in the Capitol is doing something I don't like, and I'm telling you/them about it loud and clear."

Besides, if the flag and its symbolism are really that dear to us, why do we allow it to be plastered all over bandannas, clothing, cheap toys and other things, most of which aren't even made in the USA?

I'd have said more, and used better arguements, but it's late and I'm tired. Thanks for reading this far, please feel free to continue the discussion via comments or email.


  1. True true. There was a whole clamour over whether or not one could allow the flag (I think it was in the U.S) to be printed on underwear. =P

    Interesting post. In Japan, the flag question is a waaaaay more touchier issue. The Japanese would never allow anyone to burn a flag, and firstly people aren't that keen to display their own flag. There's always a controversy of whether or not one should allow a flag to stand in a school's courtyard, whether people should be allowed to sing the national anthem and all.. its pretty sickening to think that our "right" is always somehow mired in red tape, and its this hesitance that the Japanese display that prevents them from showing the flag...

    anyhow, I think you make a valid point on the right to burn a flag, but I think I'd be, personally, pretty offended if I should see someone callously burning a flag just because they disagree with an element of the society it represents. After all, a flag can "stand for our government and our foreign and domestic policy and our way of life" but I don't think anyone could disagree with everything about a certain government enough to be allowed to burn the flag. If the flag represnts the whole, then burning the flag should mean disagreeing with the whole, and I find it very doubtful that anyone in their right mind could completely disagree with a whole system of bureaucracy or with a whole group of people...

  2. Excuse me for not providing a better argument at the moment as well, but I must get ready for my horrible job I am afraid.

    A flag is a piece of cloth. There are 945765496 of them, and 78654743 more can be made. If someone wants to burn a flag, it is not as if they are trying to burn a person or an animal. It is a multicolored-dyed rag, in my opinion. I went all through high school pledging shallow and meaningless pledges on it simply because anyone who did not would be ridiculed and looked down upon. It felt like another thing meant to turn us into mindslaves to me. I've always been one to think for myself, and I guess this has something to do with it. Even though I may have mouthed the words to this pledge in an empty fashion, I always left out 'under God'. That's another debate for another time, though.

    People can argue about 'what it represents', but I think that what this flag represents is sorely injured. Until my feelings on that change, I will have no qualms with flag burning. I have never burnt a flag, oh no. However, I do have one tacked upside-down in my bedroom - a sign of distress. It is only out of love that I do this. I do not want this country to decline into something terrible, and I am concerned for it.

    I think there are few ways to express extreme distress and disagreement that are better than flag burning. If flag burning is banned, I must say that I would be one of the first ones out there burning a flag. I don't support a protest that would harm others, which is why I would not support flag burning if it injured someone. However, causing people to become irritated or offended is NOT injuring them. It's an effective way of getting noticed, however. You can walk down the street all you want, but people can just close their doors and ignore you. With a method like this, it's a lot harder to do that.

    I want more freedoms for our country, not less.

    Side note: I support our troops, so let's bring them home already. I truly believe Iraq is something we should probably not have gotten into, and now we need to remove ourselves.

    Back in the times of the World Wars,
    soldiers would see the flag and be proud. They would see the flag and have the will to fight on. Today, I think that is cheapened. Pride in country has been confused with blind nationalism and perhaps even fascism in some cases. Back in the World Wars, did they fight 'for the flag'? If they did, I feel they were misguided. Fighting should be done for the freedoms that the flag represents, not the flag itself. If freedoms (including ones involving the flag) are taken away, it seems to me as if we are denying one of the flag's supposed primary meanings. The flag is a symbol, but what that symbol means depends on who is viewing it. It is also a mass-produced piece of cloth. It is not a person, it is not a government, and it is not a country. In some cases, it divides more than it unites. I cannot see myself finding a problem with flag burning anytime in the near future. Would I have a problem with people setting other people on fire? Of course. Would I have a problem with people setting other peoples' possessions on fire? Yes. As long as you own the flag, though, and you can burn it in a manner that is not going to cause threat to someone else's life or property, I find nothing wrong with it. If observers cannot control themselves and resort to violence simply because they are offended, they need a reality check and should be punished accordingly. This country is not perfect, and offending someone is not grounds for being beaten up by them. As far as I am concerned, taking away this right is just one more step to taking away more until we are no longer allowed to protest in any form.

    'You can live in staunch denial and mark me as your enemy, but I'm just a voice among the throng that wants a brighter destiny." - Bad Religion, "The New America".

    The Descendents
    'We flipped our finger to the king of england
    Stole our country from the indians
    With god on our side and guns in our hands
    We took it for our own
    A nation dedicated to liberty
    Justice and equality
    Does it look that way to you?
    It doesn't look that way to me
    The sickest joke I know

    Listen up man, I'll tell you who I am
    Just another stupid american
    You don't wanna listen
    You don't wanna understand
    So finish up your drink and go home

    I come from the land of Ben Franklin
    Twain and Poe and Walt Whitman
    Otis Redding, Ellington,
    The country that I love
    But it's a land of the slaves and the ku klux klan
    Haymarket riot and the great depression
    Joe McCarthy, Vietnam
    The sickest joke I know


    I'm proud and ashamed
    Every fourth of july
    You got to know the truth
    Before you say that you got pride

    Now the cops got tanks 'cause the kids got guns
    Shrinks pushin' pills on everyone
    Cancer from the ocean, cancer from the sun
    Straight to Hell we go

    [Chorus 2x]'

    Maybe I will write more later, but for now, I guess this expresses my feelings well enough.

    - Alli, your friendly neighborhood punker.