Symbols of freedom

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is concerned that, in an effort to protect the symbol of our freedom, we may lose the freedom itself.

(LANGE) Most of this commentary aired in 1996, the last time the “flag-desecration amendment” moved briefly to the front burner. Now, like Halley’s comet, it’s back; and as I fired my annual early morning salute to Independence Day and took down my own flag that evening, I couldn’t help but pray it’ll go away again: that cooler heads will resist the beating of the patriots’ drums.

Lost in the controversy over the Iraq intervention has been a Con- gressional debate on a measure to prohibit flag desecration. If it should pass, the question of a Constitutional amendment will be presented to the states for ratification. The ensuing debate in legislatures, on talk radio and in barrooms will evoke more balder- dash, provoke more bloody noses and slashed tires and inspire more religio-patriotic hogwash than any other issue in living mem- ory. It will be awful; and not one mind will be changed by any of it. Instead, folks who have lived peacefully side by side will be divided – by the symbol of our union.

Symbols are an essential part of our lives. The cars we drive and the clothes we wear; the Cross and the Star of David; the swasti- ka; lapel pins; pickup truck gun racks – all have meanings beyond the obvious.

It’s vital in this age when more people receive information visually, through television, than by reading or listening that we not confuse the symbols themselves with the ideas they represent. It’s just as important to remember that the interpretation of symbols is an entirely individual matter. One person’s symbol of freedom may be another’s symbol of oppression. But in a free society, the essen- tial element is not its symbol, but the freedom itself.

Is it desecration, for example, when a gang of yahoos burns a cross in a field? When Madonna dangles crosses from her ears while suggesting disobedience to most of the Ten Command- ments? When a bunch of cops with the flag stitched to their shoulders beat the daylights out of a traffic violator? When a novelty store displays star-spangled condoms?

I’ll tell you: If an amendment making it a crime to desecrate the flag is actually ratified, the resulting chaos will absolutely redefine the meaning of the phrase, “can of worms.”

Fewer of us every day remember the sacrifice of what Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation”, who followed that flag through four years of horror and death. But it wasn’t the colors that they were fighting for.

It was the freedom of which they were a symbol. And that freedom includes the right – even the obligation – to disagree with each other in the pursuit of wisdom. Some of the expressions of that disagreement are tasteless and offensive. But to proscribe them only because they offend, while posing no threat to our own liber- ties – now, that would be a desecration!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, independent as a hog on ice!

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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