Waving My American Flag Again
By Rita Arens on October 17, 2013
I'm not a big flag-waver. Sometimes I think it's because the flag of the United States of America has been waved from a bully pulpit so many times I've grown weary of it. Sometimes I think it's because it's so often pictured next to oh, say, a gun or a tea bag or someone shouting 'MERICA! while disagreeing with something political that I believe in, as though having an opposing opinion made me less 'MERICAN! than he or she were.
Late last week, I skimmed an article in The Atlantic that nailed my ambivalence pretty well, and I flagged it (you know I had to go there) for further pondering:
It is one thing to believe that America's history and founding principles are exceptional, and another thing — deluded and profoundly unconservative — to believe that the U.S. is inoculated against acting badly, or is justified in doing things that Americans would condemn if anyone else did them.
That's it, precisely. I love my country. I was born here, I grew up in its breadbasket and I was raised quite unironically. I believe in a voluntary military, in the three branches of our executive government and even in the checks and balances that have our government temporarily shut down. I believe in the need for freedom of speech even when that freedom gives a voice to someone I deem an idiot. But man. The last few presidential election cycles have been so ugly. The attack ads get worse every time. I didn't agree with the last few military maneuvers. I'm still mad about Guantanamo Bay. The older I get, the more I realize how incredibly ambivalent I am about my country. I love it, but I question its people all the time. I'm very grateful for the right to vote and freedom of speech and really all of my freedoms, and I think the framers of the Constitution were really brilliant in ways they probably didn't even realize.
There just haven't been very many times since we invaded Iraq that I felt like waving a flag. I felt like linking arms with my neighbors. I felt like praying for the health and safe return of our soldiers. I was excited when the guy I voted for got elected, but that's the guy I voted for, not the country itself. There is a difference between one man or one party or even one idea and an entire country, which is where the flag-waving confusion sets in for me.
Still, deep inside my thirty-nine-year-old self is the six-year-old who believed that America was perfect. That little girl loved the state of Iowa and didn't realize it was considered a fly-over state by some. She earnestly waved her flag for her country and her pom poms for her town's high school and didn't realize how complex the world is. I miss her sometimes. Last Friday, I got to be her again for a few hours because of soccer.
For my husband's 40th birthday, I got us tickets to the U.S. vs. Jamaica soccer game at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. I have nothing against Jamaica and neither did anyone there. There just weren't very many Jamaican fans in the stadium, so everyone in the crowd was kind of on the same team, just cheering and happy and ... earnestly and unironically flag-waving.
And I loved every minute of it. It turns out the soccer was awesome (2-0, US) but the flag-waving was worth the wait.
Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.