Every American should burn a flag

Matthew Wallace | Staff Writer

What do the American flag, incense and Uggs all have in common? No, they aren’t things that you’ll find in every basic college girl’s freshman dorm. They are things you should burn. Now before you go and get all “America is the greatest country in the world, and if you don’t like it, you should just get out” on me, I want you to A) realize that burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment, B) burning is the proper way to retire a flag that has been deemed not fit to fly and C) it’s a stupid flag that has changed numerous times throughout the years. Your defense of a symbol over the values it represents make you decidedly anti-American.

I hesitate to call anyone anti- or un-American, as the experience is so varied and complex that there is no way to define the “right” way to be American. There is, however, definitely a wrong way to be American. Losing all collective sense, reason and empathy for others over a piece of cloth or crappy war song is very much so the wrong way. America does not reside in a flag, it resides in its people and in all those around the world who exemplify the ideals and spirit that allowed this country to be a symbol of hope for the world. In order to combat nationalistic attitudes, I believe every American should burn a flag in order to actually live the American dream instead of simply pretending.

Funerals are something that every human population to ever exist has to experience. Highly-publicized rituals such as the Egyptian mummification process and the Viking tradition of lighting a body on fire with an arrow as it sails out on a body of water come to mind quickest. Cool, right? Well, the American flag should have a similar procedure to properly send it off into Valhalla by letting it go up in flames. It could also be cut to officially make it not a flag or given to various organizations (Boy/Girl Scouts, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion) who have procedures in place to handle a flag that is ready to be disposed. Given that there are so many ways to get rid of a flag, kneeling in front of one shouldn’t cause so many people to start quoting the four sentences of the Constitution that they know to anyone who unlucky enough to be caught in the gravity of their American righteousness. You aren’t the protector of America, and no one cares that you hate your life so much that you need to make someone’s day unpleasant. Everything has a lifespan, including America; so, accept the fact that nothing is impervious to the end.

America was built on many things: the genocide of the Native American tribes that schools make out as savages and the European immigrants out to be heroic, the subjugation of minorities, twisting facts and information to control your population, barbeque, companies that hide money overseas to not pay their taxes (Apple and Goldman Sachs to name a few) and many other horrific things that are conveniently glossed over in history class in favor of learning about how the colonies rose against the tyranny of British overlords for the 15th time. If you believe that this country has no faults, that its mistakes are only in the past or that your opinion is the one that needs to be heard on every issue, you are extremely up your own a–. Given enough time, space and people, any country will have some things that they regret. Being able to recognize that your country can be great and horrible at the same time is key to not letting your patriotism devolve into nationalism.

Nationalism is dangerous. It seeps into conversations about immigration, war and wealth not being concentrated in your small town like it was in the good ol’ days. Falling for the “America First” trap is exactly how you end up in a world where many see America as the harbinger of death. Many mistake nationalistic tendencies for patriotism. The best way to distinguish between the two is to think of patriotism like being in a healthy, long-term relationship and nationalism as being obsessed with one aspect of a person despite their many flaws. You can love something and be critical of it. That’s how anything gets better. Seeing America through rose-colored glasses is why we are still dealing with the effects of slavery, imperialism, isolationism and obviously our hate towards women.

I understand how seeing those 13 stripes and 50 stars can lead you to overwhelming emotions, but it is not contained in that design. The flag changes whenever a new state is added and only serves to distinguish the United States as a whole to the world instead of the 50 different state flags and hundreds of city flags. To me, America is great, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who wants every American to succeed immensely more than myself. However, there are serious problems with the country over 300 million of us call home. Being able to criticize ourselves is how we can improve as a country, and it begins by recognizing the mortality and flaws within home. Burning a flag won’t cause you to be completely open, but it is a damn good start.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.