Band Of Boomers

Against The Grain, RKF, 010208
Patriotism, as always, is in the eye of the beholder. In his latest Against the Grain commentary,'s Dick Meyer takes a look at some new flag-wavers.

A friend of ours, a prominent member of the "liberal media," wrote to the head of our kids' school last week suggesting that students spend more time with the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner. The principal agreed.

Our 10-year-old daughter asked her mother if we could put a flag on our car. My wife reluctantly agreed, but hasn't procured the flag yet.

A colleague who lives in Brooklyn told me about a change in his neighborhood. "Where I live, Park Slope, it's a neighborhood of liberals and lesbians with kids. And it's full of flags."

We all know that Wal-Mart sold out of flags within days of the terror attacks and that's great. The flag-waving has not been bellicose.

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Many of us have been frankly surprised by our impulse to show the flag and sing the anthem -- even outside of ballparks. And many of us share that exact same feeling of solidarity and homage to the lost, but are uncomfortable with some traditional symbols and words of patriotism – and are also uncomfortable with being uncomfortable about it. But there's no cause, I think, to feel apologetic for "uncool" patriotism or guilty for some discomfort over not being patriotic enough.

Many, I'm sure, will think this is just typical baby boomer narcissism. Could be. I do think it's true that boomers who grew up around the Vietnam War and the civil rights battles are particularly disoriented by their symptoms of patriotism. And their children's.

My wife essentially shares our daughter's feelings. But for her, the symbol of the flag was appropriated in her youth by counter-protesters who used it to deny the patriotism of the war's opponents. Flag-waving feels aggressive to her.

Katha Pollit, a columnist for the lefty magazine, the Nation, faced the same parental conundrum as my wife, but responded with a bit more militancy.

"My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I'm wrong--the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we're both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings…"

This passage, in turn, has been accused of being unpatriotic. It was quoted, distortedly, in a right wing, beat-up-the-liberal-media newsletter and headlined, "Despising the Stars and Stripes." Blow-hardness like that can give patriotism a bad name.

The Los Angeles Times published an elegant account of a rediscovery of patriotism called, "Old Glory Beckons a Berkeley Peacenik," by a writer named Merrill Collett.

"Maybe some will see the sudden emergence of American flags on cars, homes and lapels as jingoism, but I choose to call it community," he wrote.

"Seeing the flags at half-staff in front of Berkeley firehouses—where they were never challenged—I notice that when the flag is lowered, it comes more directly into the line of sight.

"It's not Old Glory anymore, run up on a pole for a snappy salute. Lowered toward Earth, the flag becomes more human and familiar—a shroud, a remembrance, maybe even a friend welcoming this peacenik back to his own country."

Up through 6th grade at North School, a different student led our class each day in the Pledge of Allegiance and was rewarded by getting to pick their favorite patriotic song. Invariably, we boys chose "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" or "The Marine Hymn." Invariably, the girls selected "This Land Is Your Land" or "America the Beautiful."

The two styles and traditions of patriotism got along just fine.

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