Jim Austin's Vermonter at Large
Jim Austin
Jim Austin
is a freelance writer from Putney, Vermont.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 07.26.05


Burning Issue

Didn't I tell you? Didn't I say, "Don't get me started on that flag burning issue?"

Recently, Daniel S. Wheeler, president of the Citizen's Flag Alliance, Inc., wrote a lengthy column in Vermont's Brattleboro Reformer on the subject. Therefore, he is the one to blame for this column, not me.

First, but definitely not foremost, I ask, "What's the big problem?"

Have you noticed a big rash of flag burnings throughout the country? Are the commies back with their little round bombs, burning flags and spitting on the graves at Arlington?

Mr. Wheeler's only example of an actual flag burning occurred in 1976 at a Dodger game. A young outfielder named Rick Monday tore the flag away from the deviant pyro and the crowd broke into a chorus of "God Bless America".

Now, if the crowd had started singing, "The Marseillaise" or "If My Nose Were Full of Nickels I'd Blow it All On You", then we might have a problem. The crowd seemed moved to patriotic fervor by this burning. They didn't start thinking that maybe a change to benevolent dictatorship or a monarchy would be a better system of government for us all.

Wheeler seems to be worried that we might start hating America if someone burns the flag. His example showed that the opposite of this happens. Plus, since there haven't been any flag burnings lately and there is no precedent at all for a general malaise vis a vis Old Glory, he really doesn't know, does he?

Congress is about to deal with this issue again. Some will vote in favor of criminalizing flag burning while those who understand liberty and the constitution will vote against it. In the past the Senate has had enough level heads among their august body to realize that if we ban flag burning as a method of free speech, then no speech is assured.

Maybe in the Orwellian future the government will pry into the books we buy or borrow from the library. Maybe they will be able to bug our phones without a warrant or imprison us incommunicado, without charges or legal defense for certain crimes.

Oh, wait a minute -- they are already doing that.

If all Mr. Wheeler is worried about is people not rising and spontaneously singing God Bless America he should redirect his energies on retrieving the rights that have been cynically ripped away from us by this government. Under the guise of fighting terrorists they strip away the rights of habeas corpus and pry into our personal affairs. Maybe Mr. Wheeler and his minions should enquire of our government why they are knocking around in Iraq when the terrorists are in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia?

This is an amendment generated by dubious politicians to draw the public's attention away from the corruption that is really ruining this country.

Wheeler sounds like a good- hearted guy who fought for this country but apparently doesn't know why. Mr. Wheeler, everyone that can, without fear, write a column like this one defending our right to free speech owes you and your fellow vets a debt. What we don't owe you is the timidity to comply with your wrongheaded demand to limit our liberty. Flag burners will naturally engender the enmity and derision they deserve from their acts. We don't need another law that ratchets back our freedom.

Incidentally, I presume you are aware of the procedure for disposing with old or tattered flags. The official protocol is to burn them. So I guess this flag burning amendment has more to do with your attitude at the time of the burning than the burning itself.