Patriotic symbols

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(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin has been thinking about patriotism and what it means to wave the flag on the 4th of July.

(MARTIN) The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I love the parades in Vermont’s small towns where the kids wave little flags as the fire trucks go by. I love those red, white and blue decorations the kids put on the spokes of their bikes. I love the hotdogs and horseshoes and swimming. I love the fireworks, and I especially love the fireflies.

On the Fourth of July, we’re surrounded by patriotic symbols, but sometimes we forget to think about what they represent. For example, I never thought too much about our national bird being the bald eagle until I found out the French one is a rooster. I was reminded of this one day recently when my mother-in-law, who is French, started crowing at the TV.

We were watching a soccer game, and when the French national team scored, she made rooster noises. She just went “Cocorico!” with no warning and I almost fell out of my chair. Aside from startling me, it also made me think some more about national symbols. I mean, when you’re accustomed to the imperious bald eagle with its white halo and formidable talons, the rooster as national bird takes some getting used to.

Well, it turns out there’s some good history behind it. When the Romans colonized what is now southern France about 2,000 years ago, they found the indigenous people to be very proud – even a little, well, cocky.

In Latin, “gallus” means rooster, so that’s what they started calling the locals. That’s also how the territory that would eventually be- come France got the name of Gaul and why we say “Gallic pride” to describe French patriotism. It’s also why the rooster is the French national bird. This is why the French say Cocorico! when we would say U-S-A! U-S-A!

Now I think patriotism is healthy – as long as it doesn’t turn into ugly nationalism, as long as you don’t make fun of the other guy’s national bird, so to speak. And you need to think about what your patriotic symbols stand for. After September 11th, a lot of us rallied around the American flag and started thinking about what it represented: Freedom…opportunity…equality….

Even though it might mean different things to each of us, as Americans we all share these common ideals. Of course the tricky part is to live up to them, but maybe that’s what the Fourth of July, the bald eagle and the Stars and Stripes are supposed to do. Maybe they’re supposed to remind us to try to live up to our patriotic ideals.

The American flag might remind you of Neil Armstrong on the moon, or the marines on Iwo Jima, or Jesse Owens winning at the Berlin Olympics. Or it might remind you of your neighbor in the Vermont National Guard. But whatever it reminds you of, have a wonderful Fourth of July. And when you wave your flag, don’t forget to think about what it means.

I’m Mike Martin of Burlington.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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