When they see our flag, most Americans — perhaps most people around the world (like the estimated 6,000-10,000 immigrants in the caravan now marching through Mexico toward our border) — think of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
But during this year’s observance of Flag Day on Tuesday you might wonder because:
Recent headlines report that a California man, intending to kill Brett Kavanaugh, was arrested in the middle of the night near the home of the justice of the Supreme Court despite a Department of Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin warning of a “heightened threat environment” because of the upcoming Supreme Court decision on abortion.
Or that a young man with an AR-15 and a handgun walked into a Texas school house, as he had said he would, and massacred 19 third and fourth-graders and their teachers.
Or that the Prison Policy Initiative released a study indicating that, in this country’s more than 6,300 prisons, jails, mental hospitals or other places of confinement, almost 2 million men and women and young people are being held — nearly half a million of them still awaiting trial to determine if they are guilty of anything and many others whose sentences are questioned by the Initiative.
And what about the soldiers and sailors, or doctors and nurses, or teachers who have been told, “you can’t serve unless you have a Covid-19 vaccination?”
Remember what happened to many flags during the destructive riots of last summer?
Nevertheless, “A thoughtful mind, when it sees a nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the nation itself; …he reads chiefly in the flag the government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the nation that sets it forth,” said Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist clergyman during the stressful times ending in the Civil War.
But the American flag has been controversial from the beginning 245 years ago. Historians can’t even agree on who made the first flag, although most modern scholars say it was not whom grandma and grandpa were taught in middle school — Betsy Ross.
We do know that the Continental Congress did not authorize a flag until June 14, 1777. That act specified the red and white stripes and the white stars in a blue field, but not in any particular formation.
As the nation added states, the flag changed and it was not until President William Howard Taft signed an executive order in 1912 that even the proportions of the flag were established.
Then an executive order by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Aug. 21, 1959, fixed the present arrangement of the stars in nine rows staggered horizontally and eleven rows staggered vertically.
It was with a simple, ”Just call me Flag,” that the late comic, Robin Williams, introduced himself in his hilarious — yet reverent — routine in which he presented himself as “Old Glory,” the “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
It was Adrien Cronauer, the Air Force sargent on whose life the character played by Williams in the movie,”Good morning, Vietnam!” was based, who said, “The American flag represents all of us and all the values we hold sacred.”
At about the same time, Henry Miller, the well known author/playwright famous a half-century ago for pushing the morality envelope to its extreme, contended that “We have two American flags always: one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich fly it, it means things are under control; when the poor fly it, it means danger, revolution, anarchy.”
In his memorable portrayal of our flag, Williams noted that our flag has been all over the world and to the moon; through many wars; times of famine; periods when it was spit upon, trampled, and burned; times when displaying it was not chic.
“But at the dawn’s early light, I’m still here!” he reminded us. Williams concluded:
“When you salute me, you are saluting yourselves. I’m a symbol. I represent the people. Long may you wave!”