Flags in NJ & USA: It’s complicated

As historian Whitney Smith points out, Flags stream gallantly throughout history – on spears and masts, fluttering from towers and connected to poles. Flags have stood at the center of our ideas, achievements, aspirations, and hope. They appear beside heads of state, painted on bombers’ flanks, livening the UN Plaza, being burned by protesters, planted on the moon, and leading prideful parades. It is hard to imagine a world of human society without flags.

Nonetheless, flags can be complicated. In New Jersey and throughout the nation flags have often been controversial, even the American flag, certainly the Confederate flag, and not too long ago the LGBT rainbow flag. There are flags that I fly, one that I would like to fly but don’t, and one that would have been dangerous to fly in the past. They generally serve as a political or social message with which some may agree and others disagree. Politicians can use them to unify a nation or or divide it.

Having lived in three different countries I am more of a globalist than a nationalist. We have to respect all countries, all people – even if we disagree with their government. There is much to love about America but also much that is disheartening. One pet peeve: the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, originally designed to indoctrinate youth, seems out of date, unrealistic, introduces some vague God, and smacks of Orwellian mind control. How many politicians and others say it many times while engaging in harmful and even corrupt practices? Allegiance is won not through a pledge to a flag, but a respect for government and country. Nonetheless, and in spite of Trump who overglorifies our flag and demeans those who only kneel in front of it, I’m keeping it and looking forward to better days.

Having lived in New Jersey for 30 years but having also lived in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia and Delaware, I honor the NJ flag but could as easily fly one from another state. Getting too invested in one flag can often be a mistake. Students here daily pledge allegiance to the flag. However, the U.S,. Supreme Court ruled that requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments so exceptions are allowed. Nonetheless, this year the Senate passed a bill requiring public bodies under Open Public Meetings Act to display the U.S. flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of meeting, but the Assembly never voted on the matter. So the controversy continues. Gov. Christie used to wear a lapel pin in the shape of New Jersey emblazoned with the American flag which could be purchased by loyalists for a $25 monthly donation. The NJ Bar had copyrighted the pin, considered it apolitical and was not OK with his party using it to raise money. Our flag was originally designed by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1777 and was modified slightly in 1928. For information on the elements that appear in the flag go here. Some say NJ’s state flag is horrible. Let’s make a better one.

I fly the the Rainbow flag in support of my LGBT community. In the not so recent past flying that flag could have engendered nasty homophobic treatment to the flag, my house, and my person. Today it is far less likely to do so. NJ Garden State Equality  which successfully fought for Marriage Equality has a motto, “No Hate In Our State.” Unfortunately, in March its headquarters was attacked in “an act of hatred against the LGBT community.”  Other instances in NJ towns have been reported. Nonetheless the flag keeps popping up everywhere. More folks should fly it as a show of their support not only for LGBT but for tolerance in general.

I also proudly fly the flag of Argentina where I lived for ten years during a dictatorship. Here the Pledge of allegiance was to the country and to President Peron and his wife Evita. Just a few years before Argentina had made a lot of money selling wheat and meat to the Nazis and so was blacklisted by the U. S. Nonetheless individual Argentines liked America and soon overthrew the dictator. Residing in Argentina or another foreign country gives one a different and broader perspective on the US. You learn what people there like and dislike about America. it’s often a love-hate relationship including admiration for our wealth, freedoms and power mixed in with anger against our political interventions, resentment of often being ignored, fear of what we might do next and currently scorn for our President. Geo-politics and personal financial gain also play a role. Trump has demeaned Mexico and Central America, but has warm relations with Argentina where he has urged its President to approve plans to build a massive Trump office building.

Having lived in Virginia I also own the Confederate Battle Flag. I totally disapprove of slavery and the continuing discrimination against African-Americans. Without that flag, however, and the southerners behind it, we would not have gained our independence. I do pleasantly recall nine years of my youth being enriched by many of the state’s customs and ways of life. As much I might like to fly it out of my love for the South, it has become relic – a symbol of oppression, greed and cruelty. Also white supremacists, supported by Trump and other hate groups have commandeered the flag,  Flying it is a non-starter.

This is a two-part series. The second part includes two flags for which Trump holds little esteem, one flag I would never fly, and several I don’t fly but probably should. The classic book on this subject with lots of pictures is Flags through the ages and across the world (1976) now out of print but available through libraries and used on Amazon. 

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