After the elections and Donald Trump’s win, when half the country was mourning and the other half was celebrating, I did not participate in any of the heated arguments on social media. It seemed that everyone was talking in circles — people who once shrugged off Hillary Clinton’s email scandal as an unimportant detail were now mired in the minutiae of Trump’s legal battles, and people who said Trump should not accept the election results now said that Clinton should — and, frankly, I scrolled past the majority of it for more cat videos.
Then, on the second day post-election, I was drawn in. A friend posted that she wants to “take back” the American flag. According to her, it has been taken over by the extreme right and bigots. They fly it from their trucks and display it on bumper stickers, she said. But now, it is time to “take it back.”
More than any other post-election sentiment, this struck me the most, and I could not shake it. I stepped into the dark vortex of rebuttal. (Luckily, she is one of the most delightful people with which to have an argument.)
That same week, students at Hampshire College, a liberal-arts school in Massachusetts, lowered the school’s American flag to half-mast in response to the elections. According to the school’s website, the college let the flag remain at half-mast in order to “to honor the students’ expression and to facilitate a campus dialogue.” Then, the night before Veteran’s Day, Hampshire College’s flag was burned.
A new flag was returned to half-mast, but on Nov. 18, the school’s president decided to remove the flag altogether. Supposedly this was to encourage debate. Instead, it brought protests, threats and criticism.
I missed much of this news because I was visiting family in Virginia. Ironically, during the height of the Hampshire College flag scandal, I was onboard an American aircraft carrier with my dad and husband, both Navy pilots, my brother and my three sons. Our tour guide was a young sailor who is probably no older than the students at Hampshire. He had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner — food from a convenience store — in his barracks the night before and returned to the ship early the next morning to report for duty.
On Nov. 10, while Hampshire students were burning the flag and administrators were appeasing students’ feelings by keeping the flag at half-mast, this sailor was still going to work to defend it.
There on the carrier, with a perfectly ironed uniform and freshly-shaven face, he amazed my children with facts about the carrier’s catapult, the nuclear reactors and life aboard the ship.
The sailor wanted to know if the boys had any questions.
One son raised his hand.
“Where do you put the flag [currently on the stern] when you are on deployment?” he asked.
The answer: The flag is always flying onboard the ship, either from the tower while they are underway or from the stern while they are in port. The flag “flies” from the aircraft, too, as it is painted on the wings.
Later, Dad told the boys about being on the ship when it pulls into port, where it is usually greeted as one of the most amazing displays of American power and freedom.
This is why my friend’s post caught me by surprise and why a Hampshire representative’s comment that the flag is a “powerful symbol of fear” made no sense to me. I have never looked at the American flag and thought of anything else except:
— Soldiers liberating concentration camps during WWII.
— Iwo Jima.
— The patches on my husband’s uniform.
— Our friends’ coffins.
— The firemen at the World Trade Center.
— Fighter jets.
— Aircraft carriers.
— Navy helicopters rescuing people during Hurricane Katrina.
— Elementary school classrooms.
— Baseball games.
I clicked reply and told my friend:
“If you see someone with a flag on their car or on their sweatshirt, instead of assuming they are a bigot or Trump supporter, consider that they might just be patriotic. They might have someone serving overseas. They might have lost someone to war. Maybe they fought to come here for the freedom. Or maybe they just love America for a million other reasons.
“So by all means, bring back the flag. All of you who feel it has left you or that it was ‘taken’ by the ‘other side,’ bring it back. Wear it. Fly it. Post it. But there is no need to ‘take it.’ It was always yours to begin with. Millions of people — young boys like our tour guide on the aircraft carrier — have served and died to make sure of that.”