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The Republic, the American Flag & the Left

The American Republic belongs to the people! I believe that antiwar activists, like Ron Kovic, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, are the real patriots in the battle against the Iraqi War. Yet, Neocons, such as that repulsive William Kristol regularly wrap themselves in the American flag. He has no right to claim the flag as a symbol for his dubious cause. Isn't it time the Antiwar Movement seized the patriotic initiative away from Kristol and his ilk?
The Republic, the American Flag & the Left

"Oh, look how small he is," a young woman standing in front of me at a pro-war rally on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., said. It was April 12, 2003. She was speaking of one of the leading war hawks, a notorious Neocon and repulsive windbag - William Kristol. This was only weeks after the illegal and immoral conflict in Iraq had been launched by the Bush-Cheney Gang. Its action, we now know, was based on a pack of deliberate and dirty lies.

Kristol was one of the principal speakers that day. From my vantage point, it was difficult to get a good look at him, not only because of his Woody Allen-type profile, but because the platform he was standing on was swamped by American flags and patriotic-sounding placards and banners. Kristol, when he did make it up to the podium, insisted that the purpose of the war was "to liberate the peoples of Iraq," I wanted to scream out at him, "You're full of it, Kristol!" But then, discretion got the better of me.

What struck me about the rally, attended only by a few hundred war hawks, was how the slick Kristol, a big fan of Ariel Sharon, had cleverly wrapped himself in the American flag. If anybody had no right to claim the flag for the symbol of his dubious cause, it was the creepy Kristol. In fact, there were more American flags there that day, than people! Later that same afternoon, I covered a much larger demonstration in D.C. It was an antiwar rally. It went on for blocks, but, unfortunately, there wasn't an American flag in sight. Why? Why does the Left allow warmongers, like Kristol, to seize the patriotic high ground? Is it justified? Is it a good strategy for the Movement? Who are the really true patriots on this issue - the Neocons? - the Bush-Cheney Gang? Or, is it antiwar icons, such as Ron Kovic, an ex-Vietnam War veteran? Kovac is also the author of riveting book on his wartime experiences, "Born on the Fourth of July," which was later made into a movie.

First, let's take a look at the origins of the American Republic. It was initially made possible by the victory of the gallant Continental Army over the British imperialists, in a long, difficult eight and one half year struggle, under the leadership of Gen. George Washington. It was then shaped into words, by men like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin, which gave birth to the U.S. Constitution in the City of Philadelphia, in 1787.

Secondly, John Marshall, one of our country's legendary Supreme Court Chief Justices defined what the Republic is in a famous 1819 case by writing: "The government proceeds directly from 'the people,' is ordained and established in the name 'of the people.' The government of the Union is emphatically and truly a government 'of the people.' In form and substance, it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit..." (1) Marshall, who had also distinguished himself as a Revolutionary War soldier at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, was speaking a profound Constitutional truth. It is beyond question that the American Republic is the property of the people. The ancient Romans put it this way: "Res Publica Est Res Populi."

What does all of that mean in plain English? It means that federal governments, like this present disgusting regime, will come and go. But, what will always remain is the "Republic," which is sourced "by the people." The Bush-Cheney Gang is not the Republic! The America flag doesn't symbolize the current administration. The Bush-Cheney Gang just happens to be the present rotten clique in control of the federal government in 2005. THE FLAG STANDS FOR THE PEOPLE! The Pledge of Allegiance has it right, when in explaining the important symbolism about the flag states, "And for the 'Republic' for which it stands..." The American flag, drawing on the deeper truths found in the Constitution represents YOU, as both an individual citizen, and also as part of a wider collective of 296 million living Americans. The populist ringing "We the People," found in the Preamble of the Constitution, in other key parts of that document, and in the Bill of Rights, is all about "the underlying theory of popular sovereignty." (2)

So then, based on all of the above, when is the Left going to stop giving away the patriotic high ground? Why does it choose to act like "an outsider" in this battle for the minds and opinions of our fellow Americans on the questions concerning the Iraqi War? Kristol is the "outsider" on those questions! He wants to send your children off to die in Iraq, while he and his fellow Neocons, like Perle, make the rounds of the Talk Radio and TV shows. Meanwhile, the horrors of Iraq continue and the "Fat Cats" get fatter.

I believe that Kovic, and the Antiwar Movement, are the true patriots in this dispute. If one of the purposes of demonstrating against the war is to raise the consciousness of the people and to bring them over to our side - the antiwar side - then why not come down on the side of the Republic? Isn't it time to start displaying the American flag at demonstrations? Don't give that position away! It's yours by historical and Constitutional right. It has, more importantly, been paid for in the blood of patriots since 1776.

When a demonstrator burns an American flag at a rally, (fortunately, it rarely happens these days), not only is he or she committing a stupid, self-defeating act, but that party is also showing his ignorance about its deep emotional significance to the American people. It only hurts the cause. If you need to burn something at a rally, (and, I'm not recommending that you burn anything), then burn an effigy of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice or Kristol; or, better yet - an effigy of the loathsome Richard Perle!

Finally, it is long past the time for the Antiwar Movement to take the initiative on this matter. I am convinced that it is the true spiritual heir of the "Sons of Liberty." (3) Put those patriotic costumes on Antiwar Movement and display those patriotic banners that harken back to our country's heroic past at your future rallies. And also, get those American flags out of the closet. Let Kristol know who the genuine patriots are. It certainly isn't him and those other bloodthirsty Neocons that have contributed to the deaths of 1586 of our finest sons and daughters. They schemed, with others, to push this unjust war on our country. If they belong anywhere, it is on the garbage heap of history and not wrapped in an American flag. (4) Antiwar Movement: Seize the high ground, now!


1. Supreme Court Case of "McCulloch v. Maryland" (1819).
2. "The Bill of Rights, by Professor of Law, Akhil Reed Amar.
3. "Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda," by John G. Miller.
4.  http://www.robincmiller.com/iraq-rg.htm

William Hughes 2005

William Hughes is the author of "Saying 'No' to the War Party" (IUniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at  liamhughes@comcast.net.

homepage: homepage: http://authorwilliamhughes.com/index.html

why burn the flag? 02.May.2005 12:17

relevent repost from another perspective

Because flags representing government are the trademark of nationalism. Nationalism, while not a new concept, was popularized by the Nationalist Socialist(Nazi) movement in Germany. It was an easy way to control the population by convincing the country that they are one community seperate from the rest of the world. Then given trinkets and flags to help visually connect them to this concept in their everyday lives and reenforced by daily rituals such as pledges of allegience. From there it isn't a far cry to jump to outright feeling of superiority.
This concept, already fairly prevelent in the u.s. but not quite perfected, caught like wildfire. A pledge of allegience was written and promoted(by nationalist socialists in this country), a hand salute, flags in every classroom, and every home. Americans were finding it more and more difficult to be immigrants, particularly from countries that the u.s. was at war with.
It is a game played with our hearts and minds. If our working class comrades are always "they" from another "country" then we might never achieve true solidarity. This manifests itself quite frequently even in today's most radical elements of the movement. Even though working people all over the world fight a common foe it is always framed as "their" experience and "our own" experience. Our comrades far and wide risk their lives against gunfire, tanks, assasination, torture, etc. But comrades within u.s. borders commonly fear a bit of pepper spray, rubber bullets, arrest, and brief jail time. What is it that makes us think we are so superior to our comrades that we may get away with sacrificing less? Nationalism. Like it or not it is still framed as an "us" and "them" struggle. We must decolonize our hearts and minds brothers and sisters! We are not the united states government. We are not this country. We are all humans. We have a common foe. It is those very forces that work to keep us seperate and oppressed.
Government flags are a symbol of our seperation and inequality. The u.s. flag in particular is a symbol of domination and much of the world's suffering. As an alternative, the black flag is used to counter nationalism. It is a symbol of unity. No nations, no borders, no colors. Only freedom and justice for all. Friends, reject nationalism, burn the stars and bars! Sincerely now, one struggle one fight!

U.S. flag 02.May.2005 12:36


I understand where your feelings around "reclaiming" the flag are coming from. But unfortunately the flag has never sincerely stood for what is claimed. Even from the very beginning starting with the sons of liberty. My friend, please dig deeper into united states history. There is a very dark and endlessly terrible past buried there. Talk to your elders. You can also get a good start by reading Howard Zinn's A People's History Of The United States. It is history written from the perspective of the common american. It is a little challenging to read, as it is a text book, but you can also get it on cd in case you have trouble making it all the way through it. It can be a little overwhelming and emotional to read but it is important to know the information. We were all lied to in school. But with tremendous efforts such as these publications/compilations of facts the truth is finding the light of day. But don't stop there. That book only scims over surface of everything to make it fit into a book. Find books on the subjects that interest you.
May all the tortured souls of this country's history find peace as the future avenges the injustice served to them.

Re: why burn the flag? 02.May.2005 18:17


I agree with you on flags and nationalism.

Unfortunately, many folks we're trying to reach don't, at least not now. And, like it or not, the message of a burning flag is mostly lost on them -- instead of making them question nationalism it makes them react with revulsion to anything the flag-burners want to say.

In an ideal world, people wouldn't have silly attachments to bits of colored cloth and the hierarchical power structures they represent. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. I don't think flag burning is an effective way to get an anti-nationalist, anti-state message out. If you want to reach an audience with a message, you have to frame that message in a way that doesn't lead the audience to reject it outright.

"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."


hearts and minds 02.May.2005 22:52


burn the flag they fly in their hearts
you'll never win their minds

burning the flag a few times, long ago
was a powerful symbol
now it merely says
fuck you, middle america

it is a bad habit
kept alive by government agents

flag burning 02.May.2005 23:24

Working Class Mama

There are more ways to burn a flag than with fire.

My point in writing the article(located elsewhere on the newswire) was not specifically to encourage burning flags at all protests. I was in one way speaking to the onlookers with an explaination of why someone might burn a flag and in another way speaking to the burners to look deeper into their act and to encourage them to truely uphold the values that they symbolicly express.