Chou: American flag represents our ideals, not our faults


Curtis Chou, Columnist

The field of supporters who find true value in the American flag thins every year. Though only history can give us the final verdict, it seems to some that we now stand at a key junction of the modern American timeline, when we must stare into the eyes of our young history — a history replete with the shadows of discrimination and other ills still holding back the potential of contemporary America. In the face of the desperate need for economic revitalization and renewed civic debates, what place does cloth and symbolism occupy?

Some are quick to criticize those impassioned by the imagery of the “stars, white in a blue field.” They have honest, if misguided, criticisms. Some see the American flag as a symbol of gross imperfection that is unrightfully celebrated, while others find it silly that people would show up in droves to support the flag while failing to join protests for greater causes.

On April 17, Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart was detained on the campus of Valdosta State University for taking an American flag from a group of students who had trampled on it, apparently in protest of “racism and white supremacy.” After being apprehended by officers, Manhart was effectively banned from campus, setting the groundwork for a counter-demonstration in support of the American flag that shut down the campus April 24.

Symbolism is a tricky business because symbols are avatars of ideas that can shift drastically and take on a variety of different connotations. For example, the swastika, usually stigmatized in Western countries due to its association with Nazi Germany, is considered a sacred symbol of auspiciousness in Hinduism and Buddhism. Using a flag as a symbol becomes even more complicated because of the historical context in which flags are used to legitimize identities, such as those identifying a group or a nation.

So it comes as no surprise that the American flag is equally controversial in this regard. Some people love it. And some people couldn’t care less for it.

I find myself in the former camp. I recognize the United States is far from perfect, and despite my deep filial love for the country in which I was born and raised, I also see need for changes in the civic structures that govern the home of the brave. But that is exactly why I take issue with those who defile and disrespect the stars and stripes. It is the very fact of our failings that makes the American flag so integral to both our past and our future. Our faults are rooted in the government policies, legal structure and public sentiment that have been the source of controversy and debate for a long time. The resulting violence and conflicts fought in both Congress and on battlefield soils may have dirtied the flag by association, but its ideas remain untainted. When I look up at the red, white and blue banner fluttering against a sky blue backdrop, it is a daily reminder of where and how far we need to go.

The American flag is not a representation of the White House or the Capitol Building. It is a capsule bearing the founding principles and ideas that governed the creation of the country. It represents what this country should aspire to be — a country built on foundations of liberty and true equality.

In the modern quest for equal opportunity, liberty and peaceful solidarity, Old Glory is both a rallying cry and an idol that reminds us where we started and where we strive to go. Those who co-opt its symbolism for discriminatory or invasive purposes are the ones at fault. So I plead to those who would trample or burn the American flag to stop and consider that they may not be trampling on a representation of injustice, but a representation of hope and a reminder of our ideals. The Star-Spangled Banner belongs not on the ground but in the sky, flying free as a symbol of the American dream, not a mirror of its nightmares.

Curtis Chou is a Communication senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].