This works more in America. YOu folks are lucky enough
not to have to look at the stupid flag every day all day. Anyway, I
wrote it now you read it, all right?
Balls to the Flag by Phil Rose
So where do all these flags come from (and I don't mean
There seems to be, as with so many things, no simple single answer to
this. Those who have read Orwell's “1984” may recall the
“two minute hate” during which all party members would get
together in their canteens and yell, scream, cry and shout abuse at
a projection of the figure of hate, Goldstein. They shouted not because
they hated this scapegoat character but because they were afraid of
what others would think if they didn't shout.
I think this is how politicians work. Everyone has the stupid flag flapping
behind their stupid head in their stupid ads not because they love the
flag, not because they think people will think more of them for having
a flag but because they fear people will think less of them if they
don't. This is so all pervasive that not to display the flag is now
an act of extremism. Adbusters seems to be the only major outlet of
pretty much anything that dares to stand up to the bullying flag with
its “Brand America” and the realization that the flag is
now the plaything of corporations; a ubiquitous symbol used not to shift
units but to prevent the cessation of the shifting of units.
On cars, trucks and front lawns the American flag seems to mean something
different and rather more difficult to pin down. It seems to me to be
almost a nervous reaction. The “Environment". "Flag!
“Invading weaker nations for oil". "Flag!” “Globalization
and exploitation of foreign workers”. "Flag!” “Bloody
Friends on every TV set all round the world three times a day”.
"Shut up, not listening, flag!” It is as though the flag
alone will make up for the fact that the USA is a bully, the most aggressive,
selfish, messed up country in the world. The flag is a smokescreen,
a salve because of what people in this country think or want to think
it stands for.
Even the most liberal, aware, and intelligent of people will, in the
end stand by the flag. But the flag, just like patriotism is not merely
misused, it is not abused--it is, it really is, a bad thing in itself.
And suddenly I have hit on a revelation. The problem is entirely one
of perception: Americans see the flag as a symbol of self-reliance,
of standing up to big government, of defending the little guy, of rooting
But here's the rub. People in the rest of the world see in their flags
the ignominious history of their own countries. The poor have been shat
upon by the rich in their respective countries throughout history. Only
Americans have had it drummed into them from birth that their country
is based on rebellion, on insurrection, on standing up to the British.
Nation as anti-nation. Americans are taught that America was founded
not on slavery and the slaughter of the indigenous population for grab-while-the-grabbbing's-good
self-interest but on freedom and the desire for self-betterment. Bullshit,
of course, an inversion of the truth, but when all your formative years
were spent having this double bluff propaganda of “conformity
and belief in your country is rebellion and rejection of your country
is for lily-ass pussy conformists,” it is very hard to let go,
to really let go of the flag and to truly say “no” to the
This is all part of the big truck and confederate battle flag mentality
that says that tough, independent, kickin' guys stand behind the weasely,
pampered, rich-kid president. Bizarre but there it is.
The black population find it a lot easier to see the stars and stripes
for what it actually represents and to reject it because their history
is one of subjugation and abuse so extreme that it has been hard for
the powers that be to dress it up in a positive light. In some ways
they have managed to sidestep the propaganda sausage machine that has
turned out the flag wavers and defenders. This puts the black population
at an advantage in terms of clear vision.
Of course those of us not born in this country also have this advantage
of clarity about “Old Glory.” I was brought up to believe
my own set of propaganda in my own school but it was never quite so
blatant. In Britain, only the Fascists display the Union Jack. The British
tradition of which I am most truly proud is that of healthy skepticism.
No, that's wrong. I'm not proud of it. How can one be proud of something
one has had no part in forming? See, I've been here too long. I'm beginning
to fall for it myself. But the skepticism: If teachers had tried to
tell us that Britain is the greatest country in the world they would
have been greeted with a classroom full of cat calls, raspberries and
Our propaganda had to be more subtle and so we learned how wonderful
Churchill was and other than that it all seems to have been the propaganda
of omission. We didn't learn about the empire. We didn't learn about
the slavery, the mass murder, the serfs in our own country, the generalised
evil of the monarchy. The oppression of Ireland, Scotland, Wales; all
this was missing from history lessons, replaced with making models of
wattle and daub houses out of matchsticks.
This American flag love can be explained in one of two ways. The first
is the out-and-out love of country and never mind the bombs, pollution
and all the rest. The second path is that taken so often by the liberals
who still wave the flag and use the love of what is great about the
USA as their reasoning. Love of the natural beauty and the democratic
ideal, etc. etc. But all the positive attributes of the USA are also
available in other countries and usually to a greater degree, with the
possible exception of the vast stretches of open space—soon to
be filled with factories and unemployment lines, subdivisions, and the
To love and extol the virtues of ones own country even though one knows
that other countries have equal or more to offer makes no sense. The
negative aspects of the US far, far outweigh its positives—and,
believe it or not, those are not aberrations, they are the founding
aspects of this nation. But every time one sees an American flag and
a tiny, tiny subconscious part of the brain connects to the terms ‘majesty’,
‘grandeur’, ‘freedom’ and ‘self reliance’
the mists are drawn over the vision just a little more.
I have been to many countries and with the exception of Turkey this
is politically the least free of them all. People’s thoughts are
very controlled here. I haven’t been to Iran or Israel or Afghanistan
and I am aware that those places are a lot more restrictive or at least
a lot less subtle about the restrictions they impose. But every sighting
of the American flag and subconscious connection with “freedom”
that we’re supposed to have is a step back from seeing America
for the restrictive nation it is. And that’s right up there with
the big boys.
“When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American
flag.” So said the prescient Louisiana Governor Huey Long way
back in the 1930s. And have you noticed how restrictive regimes always
make much of their flags? Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Israel, Turkey
and Iraq. All big flag-lovers. Conversely, look at the truly, relatively
free nations such as Australia, New Zealand, France and Britain where
true dissent is allowed and not ignored. The flag is noticeable by its
The American flag is a smokescreen. Nationhood divides people in ways
that allows the rich, the powerful and the corrupt to maintain their
hold on the power. ‘You may be poor as a wood-louse and we may
be spending your tax dollars on bombs instead of health care. I may
be hugely wealthy and creaming off the tax breaks handed to me out of
your pockets by other hugely wealthy and corrupt people but at the end
of the day we’re all American and that’s what counts. It’s
“us against them,” Americans against the British/Russians/Terrorists.
Thinking that way, you’re prevented from thinking that actually,
perhaps it should be the poor and the powerless against the rich and
corrupt, and nationality is merely a question of which sticky out bit
of rock you happen to have been born on.
So here's the bottom line. The flag is a lie. It is an advertising tool
just as the Nike Swoosh is an advertising tool. “God Bless America”
and “Proud to be an American” mean no more than “Just
Do It.” Both companies, Nike and America (™) present a bad
product as a good product through simplification. It is not time the
liberals took back the flag. It is time the intelligent weaned themselves
of the desire for that symbol altogether--and time we told everyone
we meet that “country” should come a distant second to what
really counts: fighting for a better and fairer world.