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A Symbol Defined -- Cagle

November 2001

I was against flag burning, again, out of deference to those in our military who had died in defense of the country. I valued my freedoms and still do, particularly the one that allows for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Even when (no, especially when) I'm coming off half-cocked. The flag held greater meaning for those people laying it all on the line for all of us. I could respect that, even if tears didn't well in my eyes during the playing of "God Bless America" against the backdrop of a waving red, white and blue cloth with stars and stripes. After all, it's only a symbol, right?

Yes, it is only a symbol.

Beginning September 11, 2001, that symbol began to mean a whole lot more to me.

Wait now, don't cue up that insipid country music song, "Proud to be an American." Sappy sentimentality is not my bag here. But I can honestly say, without a doubt, that following the sucker punch attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that I love the U.S. flag.

Once the United States was attacked, we reached for our shield, our badge of pride. It hangs from the front porch of virtually every home on my street, and it can be assumed that is par for the course around the country. Given the staggering amount of flags that have been snatched off the shelves of stores across the nation, it seems I am not the only schlub who needed to be reintroduced to Old Glory.

New Meaning
Is it sad that it took this act of war to make us reach for our flag? Is it unfortunate that it took images of massive death and destruction to trigger not only the emotional realization, but the intellectual conclusion that the flag represents all Americans, in good times and, particularly, bad? These questions are moot, for here we are, waving our U.S. flags, demanding that our freedoms not be compromised, and banding together to once again show why our patch of real estate is the most desirable in the world.

Good for us.

I offer no suggestions for military response. No political posturing, no social commentary, no "us versus them" battle cry. At this point, I don't even know what the response should be and probably never will. Many of us are blinded by pain and rage, all the while resisting the urge to take a swing in anger.

The only thing we do know is that we have each other, and we have this thing here. It's yours, you can keep it. The flag has always been ours. Until now, not all of us appreciated it. That has changed.

Sorry, I don't know what happened to the coconut head.

-- By Erik Cagle


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