Twenty-two years ago the United States was in the middle of a debate over flag burning. Congress had approved the Flag Protection Act of 1989. Literally the minute it took effect on October 28, 1989, opponents challenged it by publically burning flags.
People were arrested and charged, but ultimately charges were dropped because the law had been declared unconstitutional. In the ensuing years, more public acts of flag desecration were carried out. Organizations such as the American Legion protested some of these acts, including an art exhibit called What is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag? at the Phoenix Art Museum.
Some people reacted violently to these acts. A number of states even tried to pass laws making the penalty for assault negligible if the victim was in the act of flag desecration. These were referred to as “beat up a flag burner laws.”
At the same time this was happening, crews were cleaning up spilled petroleum in Prince William Sound. Countless animals had died as a result of the Exxon Valdez being introduced to Bligh Reef by its captain. Among them were at least 250 Bald Eagles, America’s other symbol of national pride.
Yet there was no patriotic outrage about this desecration. The people who showed the greatest concern for the deaths of these living symbols were not those screaming bloody murder about flag burners. Nobody introduced laws making assault of careless ship captains worry-free.
Maybe it’s because we all know we are guilty of causing the devastation in Prince William Sound. Our consumption of petroleum continues to be insatiable. Although there is new-found interest in alternative forms of energy, those entrenched in the oil business have motivation to keep it on top, and will doubtless do all they can to keep it that way.
I consider myself a patriot. As an Army brat and former Boy Scout, I learned about flag ettiquette and practice it to this day. We display our flag on national holidays, but not in the rain or at night. We don’t allow the flag to touch the ground. When our flag becomes too soiled and tattered to display, we will send it to an organization which will destroy the flag in a dignified manner.
I am also a lover of wildlife, particularly birds. The images of dead and dying wildlife, particularly Bald Eagles, in Prince William Sound brought tears to my eyes. I still cannot understand how this tragedy did not motivate patriots to do something big about our thirst for petroleum.
There’s no time like the present, Americans.