Letter the Tenth
In comparison to Britannia, where (apart from the occasional church spire, jubilee street-party, or Olympics) flags are a rarity, it seems like in America they are EVERYWHERE. The proliferation of star-spangled banners is so rampant that at times you begin to wonder whether the locals genuinely need reminding which country they are in.
But the reality is that our countries have very different relationships with our flags. In Britain, the Union Jack (or Butcher's Apron, depending on your sensibilities) is synonymous with cringeworthy jingoism or racism-disguised-as-nationalism.
In America, children pledge allegiance to the flag before they are old enough to know what allegiance means, the national anthem - a song to the Flag - is sung before all sporting events, and the reverence is such that woe betide you if you let one touch the ground.
It's a contrast, for sure.
All this flag-waving bombasticity is a natural outworking of culture. America is a strongly nationalistic country, but with a nationalism not based on ethnic or cultural or religious grounds (unless you count 'Americanism' as a religion).
The United States is a mongrel nation, founded at just the same time that ethnic nationalism was gaining in popularity in the Old World. America side-stepped racial and religious issues by building itself on the Constitution, and on 'all men are created equal...', and in so doing became a refuge for disadvantaged or persecuted minorities, from Huguenots to Jews to Irish Catholics.
To millions of these, America has genuinely been The Promised Land, while to multitudes of others, whose families took a risk, motivated by opportunity and aspiration, it has flowed with milk and honey. The flag is seen to encapsulate and symbolize all of that.
So that's why seemingly normal humans will wave, sing to, and pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth.
The big asterisk or footnote or elephant in the room, however, is the blatant fact that not all Americans have a family heritage filled with such positive 'coming to America' stories. The descendents of slaves, the decimated American Indians, the Inuit, the Aleuts, the Hawaiians etc. Should they join the flag-waving throng?
It's a sad irony that a country founded on liberty and democracy was also built on a foundation of slavery and disenfranchisement. But that's America.
None of us is perfect.
And that's the mixed message I see when I look at the Stars & Stripes.