If Only Americans Cared About War Victims Like They Care About This Fucking Piece Of Cloth

Today, because of a few obnoxious remarks by America’s WWE president, the entirety of US political discourse is consumed in chatter about a stripy piece of cloth. We should all stand before our flag! No, it should be okay to take a knee in protest of our nation’s policies! You’re disrespecting our troops! You’re a Nazi! Blah, blah, blah.

I love this job, and I’m really grateful to my patrons for making it possible, but sometimes offering a quality daily opinion about what’s going on in American politics feels like trying to compose a beautiful symphony using only the recorded screams of psychiatric patients.

No offense.

I can understand why Americans don’t like to travel abroad much. If I lived in such a geologically, meteorologically and culturally diverse nation as the United States I doubt I would have traveled as much as I have either. Why go through all the hassle of passports, visas, currency exchanges and language barriers when you live in a vast nation with such dramatically different places to visit as New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco, and the Florida Keys? Why travel to Brazil when you still haven’t been to Alaska or Hawaii? To Yellowstone or Yosemite? Add in the fact that American workers only get an average of seven vacation days a year and many of them are struggling financially as it is, and it makes perfect sense that they tend to stay within their borders.

The disadvantage to not travelling abroad, though, is that it builds the illusion that the things people do in your country are perfectly normal. I’ve spent time in dozens of countries all over Europe and South America, and I have never seen anywhere remotely close to the bizarre level of fetishistic flag worship as when I’ve been to visit the States. Google this subject and you’ll find people all over the world in all sorts of forums puzzling about this strange American flag obsession. Other countries mostly fly their colors at government buildings and soccer games; Americans fly theirs at fucking McDonald’s. Standing for the national anthem at standard mid-season football games is weird. Having schoolchildren say a pledge of allegiance to a flag is weird.

Interestingly, this disparate reverence for the flag is mirrored in the reverence for military service personnel. Here in Australia if you tell someone you were in the RAAF, you don’t get a big “thank you for your service” song and dance like you often will in the States, you get an “Oh nice, I drive a flatbed myself.” It’s treated as a job, more or less like any other.

Is it a coincidence that there is a unique reverence for patriotic pieces of fabric in the same nation that there is a unique reverence for military personnel? And is it a further coincidence that this unique reverence for flags and soldiers is occurring in the nation that has many times more military bases outside its borders than any other nation?

Of course not. The only way to manufacture the consent of the governed for the encircling and dominating of the planet with the most powerful military force in history is to constantly reinforce the notion that your country is exceptional. If America is a uniquely great, wonderful protector of freedom and democracy, then it makes perfect sense that it should be in eternal conflict with the forces of evil around the globe. It makes perfect sense for the annual US military budget to be inching toward a trillion dollars while the American people are denied the basic social safety nets accorded to everyone else in every other major country on earth. It makes perfect sense for the most fabtastically awesome country that ever existed to use its military and economic might to bully and manipulate the entire world as it sees fit.

As we’ve discussed previously, NFL players only started appearing on the field for the national anthem after the US Department of Defense and National Guard started pouring millions of dollars into the NFL just a few years ago. Had his career happened prior to 2009 Colin Kaepernick would have been chilling in the locker room with the other players during the whole patriotic ritual, but because of the US war propaganda machine we’re all babbling about flags today.

Whenever I criticize America’s kinky flag fetish I get a bunch of people rushing in to inform me that it’s not about the stripy piece of cloth itself, but what it symbolizes. When I ask what exactly is being symbolized I get a bunch of different answers, all premised upon positive perspectives of the United States and none which anybody who’s well-informed about actual US behavior would agree with. Regardless, this is an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy to be spending on a symbol when real, non-symbolic people are being killed every single day by America’s horrible policies both at home and abroad. My most sincere wish for the world is that Americans one day come to care half as much about the victims of police brutality, poverty, sanctions and war as they care about that stupid fucking stripy piece of cloth.

I would burn a million flags — American, Australian or otherwise — if I thought there was a chance that it could save even one victim of US military aggression. Any decent human being would, and if you wouldn’t you are not a decent human being. As George Carlin said, “I don’t get all choked up about yellow ribbons and American flags. I see them as symbols, and I leave them to the symbol-minded.”

Here’s to a future where people place more value on one another than on symbols.

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