Long Beach, N.Y.
It must have been the only city manager's memorandum in history to address the war in Iraq, Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears in three very short paragraphs.
But for a few days, at least, it made Edwin L. Eaton a minor folk hero--one small voice trying to remind the nation what matters and what doesn't in the million-channel blab fest that is American life.
Mr. Eaton's May 16 memo took notice of the attention given those three pillars of pop culture, cited a need to "in some small way place things in perspective," and then went on: "While our society and media outlets appear to be consumed by the activities of the 'glitterati,' we tend to forget that each day Americans are anonymously dying in Iraq. I think it only fair that they be remembered and honored. To achieve that end, we hereby diredct that American flags throughout the city be flown at half-mast."
AS is so often the case around here, we begin on a tangent. Fly the flag properly, or not at all. The President and the governors of the States are the only people who can order flags flown at half-staff. Not the county auditor, not the Director of Fish & Game, not (as has happened around here in recent years) the mayor or the principal of the elementary school down the street.
It's not simply that anyone choosing to fly the flag should meet the minimum conditions of respect. And yes, I'm old enough to have lived "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," and the co-opting of Old Glory as a right-wing political banner which, I suggest, has been greatly facilitated by the willingness to violate decorum. The Vietnam-era decal was clearly intended as a Support the War sticker in faux-patriotic guise, but within a few months it became a disgrace to everyone. The white stripes would flake off first, leaving the Red Transparent and Blue waving proudly on the back window of someone's woodgrain-panelled Ford Town & Country. You could still run into their ghosts a decade later. Mummified imperialism, like Lady Liberty in Planet of the Apes.
Correct observance would certainly address that
So y'know, Mr. Eaton, I certainly feel your pain, but I can't condone the response. We do not fly the flag at half-staff for fallen soldiers. That in itself is part of the soldier's sacrifice. We do not empower every local manager with 50.8% of the vote to make that decision. That power resides with that man in the Oval Office who won't attend military funerals, whose Pentagon wouldn't permit pictures of returning flag-draped coffins, whose former Secretary of Defense signed letters of condolence with an Auto Pen™. It's time to reclaim the power of standing mute. And it's long past time to return the flag to its rightful place. It's been cheapened long enough; that someone could suggest it be flown as a symbol that there are more important things than Paris Hilton is a measure of the sort of hole we got into long before she was born.