Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I burned a flag

Never Done: I burned a flag

It wasn't a political act. It was actually a very mundane act. I was cleaning up the house. I made a pile of all the old newspapers we didn't need anymore, and I culled out the shells that people had collected over the season that don't need to sit on a shelf over winter. Once I got going, I cleaned out the other shelves as well, because they are cluttered up with lots of other stuff I wish wasn't there. Stuff like old pieces of paper with Scrabble scores, empty Bubbles bottles, and little paper American flags on sticks.

I burn all my paper waste here, and compost all my vegetable matter, and try to create as little garbage for the landfill as possible, so when it came to dispose of the toy American flags, the natural thing for me to do would be to burn them. I am truly not very sacred about the flag, but this did give me pause. Throwing them into a landfill would be as much a desecration as burning them, so the only patriotic options would be to keep them or give them away. But the more I looked at them, the more they became absurd -- the way, if you look hard enough at a word, say the word bulldozer, it reduces to a pile of letters with questionable meaning. Paper on sticks. Paper on sticks. All I could see was paper on sticks. Maybe, I thought, the ban on flag burning doesn't even apply to paper on sticks, but only to full-sized cloth flags. Maybe it only applies to a public act. Maybe it only applies to an act with political intent to desecrate.

So I looked it up. Yes, it's a flag. It's a flag if it's on T-shirt, it's a flag if it's on boxer shorts, and it's a flag if it's on a tie. If it looks like a flag, it's a flag. And you can not burn it, or desecrate it in other ways. (It can not be used as a handkerchief, it cannot be printed on toilet paper, it's can't be torn up to use as a rag.) Which raises the question: if your flag T-shirt has gotten so old that it's time to retire it, how do you do that? To answer that question, the article I was reading on, directed me to "My flag is old and ready to be retired. What should I do?" 

You're never gonna believe this. Section 8k of the Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

And so we have it. You cannot burn a flag in displayable condition, but you should burn a flag that is ready to be retired. All that's left is the gray zone in which we get to use our own judgement to determine the condition of the flag.  I placed mine in the fire.

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