Mark Steyn on flag-burning (from 2005)
I am firmly against the flag-burning amendment, and I did not want to lose track of Mark Steyn's argument against it as well:
A flag has to be worth burning
June 26th 2005
The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument:
Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment.
Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn’t presume to speak for hose who died atop the World Trade Center. For one thing, citizens of more than 50 foreign countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, were killed on 9/11. Of the remainder, maybe some would be in favor of a flag-burning amendment; and maybe some would think that criminalizing disrespect for national symbols is unworthy of a free society. And maybe others would roll their eyes and say that, granted it’s been clear since about October 2001 that the Federal legislature has nothing useful to contribute to the war on terror and its hacks and poseurs prefer to busy themselves with a lot of irrelevant grandstanding with a side order of fries, they could at least quit dragging us into it.
And maybe a few would feel as many of my correspondents did last week about the ridiculous complaints of “desecration” of the Koran by US guards at Guantanamo – that, in the words of one reader, “it’s not possible to ‘torture’ an inanimate object”.
That alone is a perfectly good reason to object to a law forbidding the “desecration” of the flag. For my own part, I believe that, if someone wishes to burn a flag, he should be free to do so. In the same way, if Democrat Senators want to make speeches comparing the US military to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, they should be free to do so. It’s always useful to know what people really believe.
For example, two years ago, a young American lady, Rachel Corrie, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. Her death immediately made her a martyr for the Palestinian cause, and her family and friends worked assiduously to promote the image of her as a youthful idealist passionately moved by despair and injustice. My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a play about her, was a huge hit in London. Well, okay, it wasn’t so much a play as a piece of sentimental agitprop so in thrall to its subject’s golden innocence that the picture of Rachel on the cover of the Playbill shows her playing in the back yard, aged seven or so, wind in her hair, in a cute pink T-shirt.
There’s another photograph of Rachel Corrie – at a Palestinian protest, headscarved, her face contorted with hate and rage, torching a homemade Stars & Stripes. Which is the real Rachel Corrie? The “schoolgirl idealist” caught up in the cycle of violence? Or the grown woman burning the flag of her own country? Well, that’s your call. But, because that second photograph exists, we at least have a choice.
Have you seen that Rachel Corrie flag-burning photo? If you follow Charles Johnson’s invaluable Little Green Footballs website and a few other Internet outposts, you will have. But you’ll look for it in vain in the innumerable cooing profiles of the “passionate activist” that have appeared in the world’s newspapers.
One of the big lessons of these last four years is that many, many beneficiaries of western civilization loathe that civilization - and the media are generally inclined to blur the extent of that loathing. At last year’s Democratic Convention, when the Oscar-winning crockumentarian Michael Moore was given the seat of honor in the Presidential box next to Jimmy Carter, I wonder how many TV viewers knew that the terrorist “insurgents” – the guys who kidnap and murder aid workers, hack the heads off foreigners, load Down’s syndrome youths up with explosives and send them off to detonate in shopping markets – are regarded by Moore as Iraq’s Minutemen. I wonder how many viewers knew that on September 11th itself Moore’s only gripe was that the terrorists had targeted New York and Washington instead of Texas or Mississippi: “They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C. and the plane’s destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!”
In the Second World War, governments warned that “careless talk costs lives.” But in this one, averting our gaze from the careless talk is likely to prove even more costly. In other words, if the objection to flag desecration is that it’s offensive, tough. Like those apocryphal Victorian matrons who discreetly covered the curved legs of their pianos, the culture already goes to astonishing lengths to veil the excesses of those who are admirably straightforward in their hostility.
If people feel that way, why protect them with a law that will make it harder for the rest of us to see them as they are? One thing I’ve learned in the last four years is that it’s very difficult to talk honestly about the issues that confront us. A brave and outspoken journalist, Oriana Fallaci, is currently being prosecuted for “vilification of religion”, which is a crime in Italy; a Christian pastor has been ordered by an Australian court to apologize for his comments on Islam. In the European Union, “xenophobia” is against the law. A flag-burning amendment is the American equivalent of the rest of the west’s ever more coercive constraints on free expression. The problem is not that some people burn flags; the problem is that the worldview of which flag-burning is a mere ritual is so entrenched at the highest levels of western culture.
Banning flag desecration flatters the desecrators and suggests that the flag of this great republic is a wee delicate bloom that has to be protected. It’s not. It gets burned because it’s powerful. I’m a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don’t ask me why – we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo’s boys. I haven’t been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling “Death to the Little Satan!”, but you can’t have everything.
That’s the point: a flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that’s not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can’t stand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business. It’s the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand that the battle of ideas is won out in the open.
It certainly is useful to know how important it is to the modern conservative to be able to maintain his enemies list.
Your comment is pure snark. It does nothing to reply substantively to Steyn.
Steyn's essay is meant as a reply to the feeling, common among many conservatives and certainly among older Americans regardless of political persuasion, that the flag stands for something so worthwhile that it ought not to be allowed to be trampled: America is worth defending, ergo the flag that stands for America is worth defending. The thought here is not to crush all dissent, but rather that there is a difference in kind between political policy protest - which has been a staple of American national life since its beginning - and statements to the effect that America itself is without positive value.
Steyn affirms the feeling these people have that the symbol is significant because what it stands for is significant - America is worth defending. He affirms, too, that there is a difference in kind between rejecting the policy of the present American government and rejecting America itself as having positive value. If you are an American and back present government policy, those who do the first are your political opponents, but even if you are an American who does not back the present government's policy, those who do the second are, at minimum, the enemies of something you hold to be of real value. Steyn's claim is simply that we should allow flag burning because it is useful to be able to distinguish the one from the other. The later sort are not his enemies as a conservative: they are his enemies as someone who believes in the value of America.
So let me ask you a few questions. Do you believe that America has positive value - that America is, ultimately, regardless of its imperfections, worth defending?
If so, then you have a fundamental disagreement in value judgment with many of the sort that burn American flags.
If, therefore, some of these individuals turn their idealogical conviction into positive action and join or aid those who seek to do harm to America, are not such persons your enemies as an American?
If you answer "yes" to both of those questions, then what, exactly, is your argument with Steyn?
well I really think that sometimes the The House of Representatives does somethings out of pride and just to pretend to be firm with some decisions, they should take their job more seriously
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