Sometime between now and the 2006 elections in November, the U.S. Senate will debate one of the most pressing questions facing the American people. No, they will not debate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and possible U.S. withdrawal. They will not take up the Bush regime's preparations for war, possibly even nuclear war, against Iran. They will not seriously talk about global warming, the degradation of the environment, preparations for the coming hurricane season, or the Bush regime's massive spying on the American people, or any other pressing issues. Instead they will debate whether or not to amend the constitution to allow Congress to ban the burning of the American flag.
Those in favor of the amendment intend to divert the attention of the rest of us from the real questions of the day. They also hope to drum up support among their political base for more of the same reactionary policies which have been coming out of Washington since the election of Bush.
In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas vs. Johnson ruled that flag-burning is constitutionally protected free speech. Since then there have been numerous attempts to amend the constitution by Congress to outlaw flag-burning. Last year the House of Representatives passed a flag-burning amendment sponsored by "U.S. war hero" California Republican Representative Randy Cunningham, who is now serving time for taking $2.4 million in bribes while serving in the House of Representatives. The current measure before the Senate has 57 co-sponsors. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 6-3 vote. It needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass out of the Senate and then needs to be ratified by 38 states within seven years to take effect.
Proponents of the amendment say that the flag must be protected because it "symbolizes America and what the country stands for." But they fail to understand that is exactly why the flag is burned around the world and here at home. The flag does symbolize and represent U.S. actions around the world. By burning the flag, people are protesting and offering resistance to those various actions.
Just what does the American flag represent to billions of people? It is an imperial flag that represents more than 200 years of oppression to people in the U.S. and throughout the world. The U.S. flag flew over the ships that uprooted millions of Africans and carried them to enslavement. It was carried by troops that invaded Mexico and forcibly stole a large section of the country. It was carried by the soldiers who committed genocide of the aboriginal people of America. In 1898, the flag was raised in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines when the U.S. "freed" those nations from Spain, only to bring them under U.S. domination with the use of cannon, rifles, and bayonets.
The U.S. troops who repeatedly invaded the countries of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America in the 20th century proudly bore this flag. Of course the U.S. made these countries free for exploitation by American companies such as United Fruit, ITT, Kennecott Copper and the energy industry.
When the U.S. became the first and only country to use nuclear weapons, the planes that dropped the bombs on Japan had the flag prominently displayed. The B-52 air fleet that carpet bombed, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the sixties and seventies also had the flag painted on its planes. The soldiers who massacred the My Lai villagers in Vietnam wore the flag on their uniforms as do the current U.S. occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines who murdered 25 or more innocent Iraqis in Haditha had the American flag on their vehicles as they went house to house shooting people.
The defenders of the flag say we are a nation of laws and that is one of the ideas that the flag symbolizes. Let us examine some of these laws. When the U.S. Constitution was drafted and legalized the notion that slaves were worth 3/5 of a person and that slavery could continue, a U.S. flag flew over the meeting hall. When the Supreme Court decided the Dred Scott decision upholding the rights of slaveholders over their "property" and Plessey vs. Ferguson legitimizing Jim Crow laws, the flag flew over the court building. When year after year, the U.S. Congress refused to pass anti-lynching legislation it flew over the steps of Congress. When the Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and other racist anti-immigration legislation, including this year, the flag continued to fly. When President Roosevelt signed an executive order to imprison 120,000 Japanese Americans the American flag flew over the barbed wire at the concentration camps.
Today, the flag flies at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and many other prisons run by U.S. forces where prisoners are denied fundamental legal rights and are tortured and killed. I do not know if it flies at the secret prisons where the CIA practices "intense interrogation" techniques such as water boarding that our President and Attorney General claim are not torture.
Under the Bush regime U.S. government rhetoric has risen to new heights of hypocrisy. Under the banner of the stars and stripes, the U.S. government claims to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan by invading them and bringing death and destruction to their people. In Iraq, the only freedom that exists is freedom from life brought to more than 100,000 people. In both countries, puppet governments are propped up with U.S. troops. U.S. supported drug lords rule the countryside in Afghanistan. Using the cover of preventing Iran from obtaining "the bomb", the U.S. is now planning a "preemptive war" against that country.
Fortunately, most people easily see through the hypocrisy of the U.S. government propaganda. Actions speak much louder than words.
That is why to the vast majority of the world's people, the American flag represents an imperialist country that militarily and economically dominates the world without regard to the human and environmental costs. It is this representation which will cause people to burn it regardless of what action Congress takes. No laws or propaganda can change reality. Where there is oppression there will always be resistance.
Kenneth J. Theisen writes about national and international issues.