Steyn: Old Glory Can Take the Heat
Mark Steyn presents an eloquent case against amending the Constitution to outlaw burning the American flag.
The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which Rep. Randy ”Duke” Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument: ”Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment.”
Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn’t presume to speak for those who died atop the World Trade Center. […] [M]aybe a few would feel as many of my correspondents did last week about the ridiculous complaints of ”desecration” of the Quran by U.S. guards at Guantanamo — that, in the words of one reader, ”it’s not possible to ‘torture’ an inanimate object.”
That alone is a perfectly good reason to object to a law forbidding the “desecration” of the flag. For my own part, I believe that, if someone wishes to burn a flag, he should be free to do so. In the same way, if Democrat senators want to make speeches comparing the U.S. military to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, they should be free to do so. It’s always useful to know what people really believe.
Banning flag desecration flatters the desecrators and suggests that the flag of this great republic is a wee delicate bloom that has to be protected. It’s not. It gets burned because it’s strong. I’m a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment, some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don’t ask me why — we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo’s boys. I’ve never been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling ”Death to the Little Satan!” But you can’t have everything.
That’s the point: A flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that’s not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can’t stand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business. It’s the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand that the battle of ideas is won out in the open.
Quite so. The impact on American patriotism of seeing some yahoo burn our flag is to increase it. Few things stir the flames of nationalism in the apathetic than the sight of one of our national symbols being treated in that fashion.
The fact that the burning flag makes people so angry proves that it is indeed speech, and forceful speech at that. Idiotic and contemptible speech, yes. But speech that offends the sensibilities of the overwhelming majority is precisely the kind that needs protecting.