Monday, November 6, 2006

What's in a Flag?

What’s in a Flag?

Is a flag just a flag, or does it have some intrinsic value and meaning?

What do you see when you look at the American flag? Some would reflexively answer red, white and blue. The red is in the alternating stripes. The white is also in the alternating stripes and in the stars. The blue is in the box that contains the stars. Another perfectly legitimate answer to the question would be the "stars and stripes".

As valid as these two answers are, they just don't seem to be enough. It overlooks the intrinsic meaning and value inherent in our particular flag. Other flags do have their own respective meanings (and some meanings overlap between flags), but that is not the focus of this article.

So what does the American flag really mean? In terms of its composition, offers the following: "The Continental Congress left no record to show why it chose the colors. However, in 1782, the Congress of the Confederation chose these same colors for the Great Seal of the United States and listed their meaning as follows: white to mean purity and innocence, red for valor and hardiness, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. According to legend, George Washington interpreted the elements of the flag this way: the stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified the secession from the home country. However, there is no official designation or meaning for the colors of the flag." (

Henry Ward Beecher, (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe), wrote: "A thoughtful mind when it sees a nation's flag, sees not the flag, but the nation itself. And whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag, the government, the principles, the truths, the history that belongs to the nation that sets it forth. The American flag has been a symbol of Liberty and men rejoiced in it."

To prove this notion, think about what you felt when you saw the three firemen raise the flag at Ground Zero. What went through your mind when you saw the flag being draped over the side of the Pentagon following the September 11th attacks? How about when you see footage of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, which happened over 60 years ago?

Conspicuously and purposely absent from all of the meanings is any particular person. The flag does not stand for anyone; it stands for ideals. It doesn't represent the Bush administration; it represents the freedom and democratic ideals that give us an elected leader.

Disrespecting the flag isn't an attack on the current president; it disrespects the country as a whole. People have fought and died for our country fighting under the banner of the American flag. They are insulted as much as every other citizen is when our flag is intentionally mishandled.

Ironically, disrespecting the flag while meant as an insult to the country actually shows just how undeserving of that disrespect it is. In some countries, disrespecting one of their national symbols is enough to make you disappear.

When I look at the flag, I don't see the face of a president, current or otherwise. I see a great symbol of a great country. I see more than two hundred years of fighting for freedom and over one million people who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

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