Our Flag

There is one business just now1 that is doing better than it ever did, and that is the flag business. The other day, after their latest I-Alone-Am-An-American Day, I saw in the subway a construction worker with four American flags decalled on his hard hat in such a blaze of assertive, aggressive, self-righteous patriotism that you knew if you accidentally bumped into him—this was the subway—you could get those flags tattooed on your skull. There were also two mild-looking pretty girls on their way home from the rally, each carrying several flags in each fist.

The fire engines fly enormous flags as if they were going into battle with the Red Army; the garbage trucks proudly fly the flag; the buses have flags pasted on the windshields. The cops had to extract permission to wear little American flag pins on their uniforms, but now all sorts of serious, grim, suspicious citizens wear them. They come jeweled for ladies, in tie pins and clasps for gents, and you can get a flag looking furled, unfurled, in diamond shape, with diamonds, or just rhinestones.

When Allen Ginsberg got himself up as Uncle Sam for a poster, it was, after all, as Uncle Sam—like Allen and Abbie Hoffman, Uncle Sam has only one thing to wear. But the lady at the drug counter was not enjoying life à la Ginsberg when she said, “Lissen, punk, the way I feel about my flag, I’ll even wear a dress made of nothin’, nothin’ but the Flag.” There is nothing traditional, reverential, respectful in this sudden widespread use of the flag as clothing, as jewelry, as poster, as armband, on garbage trucks where Old Glory is often allowed to trail in the city’s muck. The American flag is not supposed to fly after sunset.

According to the joint resolution of Congress, June 22, 1942, to codify civilian use of the flag, the flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously and should never be allowed to touch the ground or the floor. When hung over the center of a street it should have the union to the north in an east-west street and to the east in a north-south street. When the flag is displayed horizontally or vertically against a wall, the stars should be at the observer’s left. It should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free. The flag should never be used as drapery of any sort, never festooned, drawn back, or up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.

Yet despite this, it is a fact that on great new office buildings now going up all over New York, workers leave our flag flying all night from the girders, from the roofs, from the cranes. They even paste simulations of the flag all over the job, attach political slogans to the flag. USA all the way.

The matter is serious. Our flag is being desecrated. A good American properly does not wear a flag, does not become…

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