Ever since the start of this month, the tales of Betsy Ross and our American "mythology" have been featured. It might have ended with my conversations with Rivka, but then I found the following blog article, "5 myths about the American flag" in my July 5th Inbox from AARP. The very first comment, even before the "5 myths", describes how we have schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the flag.
|See a video clip at YouTube|
Dear Betsy, her myth or reality, which started this series of articles, indeed is explored in the first myth of the article. I don't think she fared all that badly. My first week's story of the First Flag, however, right before showing how to cut a five-pointed star, lets the author, Elizabeth Dillingham, give the meaning of the colors as: red says be brave, white says be pure, the blue says be true. While the AARP article's second myth's paragraph claims "the colors do not have, nor have they ever had, any official imprimatur" and attributes them ultimately to the Union Jack, yet even there the article gives a contradiction by quoting Charles Thomson, the Continental Congress secretary, and once again bringing up the Great Seal of the United States which includes Francis Hopkins, which led to Rivka's initial comment here. Searching a bit further, I found Francis Hopkinson's role was more limited than Rivka's linked article might have made it seem.
Flag burning became an issue of the 1960s until the Supreme Court in 1989 declared it First Amendment Free (symbolic) Speech. Such symbolic speech, while not incendiary, certainly seemed to be everywhere over the Independence Day holiday, violating the 1923 Flag Code. As historian, journalist, and author of Flag: An American Biography, Marc Leepson concludes in the AARP article, "There is no Flag Police. You will not be arrested for wearing a flag-embossed T-shirt on Independence Day — or any other day of the year." That's good because 21st century patriots and commerce alike seem to feel happy to include it nowadays.
Since our American symbols and stories have varied from colonial times to the present, it's a story that depends on when it is discussed. Our ancestors may have been raised on myths, but it is still worth noting their values shaped our country. As Pledge creator Bellamy stated in the 1945 Congressional Record: "At the beginning of the nineties patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb. The patriotic ardor of the Civil War was an old story ... The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools."
Sometimes it reminds me of working with a woman from Hong Kong whose frequent comment was said in accented Chinese speech as "It's all so complicated."