Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It's amazing how Old Glory survives

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

My years as a high school band percussionist left me with goose bumps when hearing robust arrangements of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the eloquent climax of brass horns, drums, cymbals and timpani.

To this day, the most stirring rendition of the national anthem to my ears is Whitney Houston's 1991 Super Bowl XXV halftime performance when Americans were hyped about the ouster of Iraqis from Kuwait during Gulf War I.

(Hear it on the Internet at The performance leaves me thoroughly choked.

If that leaves me overcome with pride, I'm just as overcome with fury when I see Old Glory being trampled or burned by one of our own citizens. Stupid and childish.

However, I'm left with a profound sense of rage when congressmen use the flag for their own trifling self-interests by trying to change the U.S. Constitution to "protect" the flag against inane protesters.

In the current scramble of faux patriotism, Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, cites 119 documented incidents of flag burning by protesters, to him a crime wave sufficient to unleash the full force of the Constitution to criminalize a handful of kooks.

Ironically, frayed old American flags are routinely, ceremoniously burned by the American Legion. Therefore, only mindset—reverent burning versus angry burning—separates patriots from protesters.

These periodic anti-desecration efforts have a societal precedence in the pre-Civil War Deep South, when gallant men of Dixie suffocated their belles with genteel seclusion from the evils of the world.

Sensenbrenner and others are little more than poseurs hoping to reap cheap adulation as gallant patriots.

In fact, Old Glory stands so grandly for what it is in our national spirit and psyche precisely because it has needed no protection to survive far worse than mistreatment by political rabble-rousers.

Politicians so hell-bent to shield the flag should read "The Star Spangled Banner's" lyrics, Francis Scott Key's musical tribute to the durability and implacability of Old Glory, come what may.

"And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

The only threat to Old Glory is from politicians who consider it a helpless piece of cloth whose abuse by protesters is tantamount to a fatal blow to the spirit of survival celebrated in "The Star Spangled Banner."

The flag, happily, is far hardier than insufferable opportunists who believe it needs "protection."

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