The offense of an upside-down flag

I am profoundly disappointed that no one has come forward to condemn the actions of Katherine Lo ’05, the victim of an alleged hate crime on March 27. Before going any further, I emphasize that no one should support the perpetration of such an act of hate; if all reports thus far have been accurate, the incident was both criminal and immoral. That fact, however, should not exempt Lo from criticism.

America is a country of freedom. All Americans are guaranteed the freedom of religion, enterprise, and speech, amongst many others. There is even freedom to disagree with and criticize American policy. Included in that freedom of expression, I believe, is the right for someone to hang a flag upside-down in protest. The right to do something, however, does not make it right.

Lo, I am certain, used the flag because it is symbolic of what she deems an unjust military operation in Iraq. She should, therefore, realize that it also represents much more of our nation and its history. Any sort of defamation of our flag is an unconscionably disrespectful to the many Americans who have fought for this nation in its wars, starting with the Revolutionary War. To dishonor those men and women is inexcusable.

The knee-jerk rhetoric that those soldiers died so that people, like Lo, have the right to denigrate our flag does not address the point. It’s fairly obvious that Lo was able to exercise that right — so long as ignoramuses don’t break the laws of our nation — without police arresting her or demanding that the flag be removed. But the same right that gives Lo the ability to enact her inappropriate protest would have given someone the right to hang a banner after Sept. 11 that said, for example, “Allah = The Devil.” I think such an expression would be almost universally condemned by rational people, including Yale students, as being ignorant and disrespectful to the many, many Muslims not connected with that attack. Such a banner would, no doubt, be prompted by a massive generalization of an entire religion based on a small faction’s misdeeds. Similarly, Lo’s protest was a dismissal of the many other things, besides the present conflict, that are represented by the American flag.

Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, and despite the fact that the United States has made many mistakes, the history of this nation has been — overwhelmingly — of people fighting and dying for liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Men and women, the likes of which are enumerated on the walls of Commons, have given the greatest sacrifice in the name of this country, and they continue to do so today. The flag represents all that the United States stands for as recorded in the Constitution and as remembered by the lives that its heroes have given in the name of those ideals. To hang the “Stars and Stripes” upside down is not only an act of protest against a war in Iraq that you may see as unjust, it is a repudiation of the very tenets of this nation. It is an irresponsible act against the United States, all that it has ever stood for, all those who have died for it, and the young soldiers who no doubt do so as you read these words.

Those of you who have hung flags upside-down outside of your windows, I urge you to reconsider the gravity and extent of the symbol that you are slandering. Rather than ask you to remove those flags, I hope that you will continue to fly them, in their proper position, in support of the fundamental ideals upon which this nation is based and for which a large number of great men and women have died. If you choose to exercise your right to protest the decision to go to war, I encourage you to accompany the U.S. flag with a banner bearing the peace sign.

Ms. Lo, you are owed an apology by those who attempted to enter your bedroom, but you too owe an apology to the Americans, particularly those who have served, who you have insulted by your disgrace of the flag: a symbol of all that we — as Americans — are, have fought for, and believe in.



Alex Hetherington is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. He is a staff reporter for the Yale Daily News.

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