All Flags Must Come Down

Guest Post by George Payne of Gandhi Earth Keepers.

Please do not misinterpret what I am about to say. I believe that the Confederate flag is disgraceful. It represents a corrupted heritage that is fundamentally rooted in chauvinism, bigotry, segregation, and militarism. I believe that it should be torn down from every monument, hallway, rooftop, and courthouse in our nation. The sooner the better.

But why not take down the United States flag as well? After-all, the two atomic bombs that eviscerated Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not dropped in the name of the Confederate flag. Nor were the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Afghanistan, and Iraq fought to preserve the national security of the “Stars and Bars.”

Over the past decade, hundreds of presidentially authorized drone strikes have illegally and immorally murdered innocent civilians in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. These hellfire missiles are delivered with the seal of our nation’s most revered and reproduced logo.

In my opinion, all flags are dishonorable. They instigate some of the most destructive passions known to the human condition, including tribalism, religious intolerance, crude forms of patriotism, jingoism, xenophobia, and even genocide. Nearly every week there is a mosque, schoolhouse, public building, or some other inviolable space that is pulverized by remote control missiles. On a regular basis American civilians, politicians, commanders and soldiers order, sanction, condone and commit indiscriminate killing of innocent women and children. These, too, are brown and black people who had their lives cut short. Yet these Charleston’s will not be reported on CNN.

Let me clear. It is not my intention to be disrespectful of veterans and current soldiers. I honor and love them as human beings. Military service runs deep through the bloodline of my immediate and extended family. More importantly, I perceive and accept them as unique children of God with certain inalienable rights. I have no authority to judge them.

But there is a difference between judgment and respect. Just because I can honor every soldier as an inheritor of God’s grace, freedom and purpose, I do not respect soldiers because they simply pledged an oath, don a uniform, or brandish a licensed firearm. If a solider blindly follows orders because they are afraid to speak out, I have no respect for that; and when soldiers act as if they have my permission to needlessly waste the lives of innocent civilians, I have absolutely no respect for that either.

That being said, I am not calling for a universal human flag to replace the flags in existence today. I do not wish to see the United Nations emblem on every municipal building and public uniform from Chicago to Cairo. What we need to move towards as a global community of citizens is a flagless world. No more oaths! No more pledges of allegiance! To paraphrase Gandhi, “the only tyrant in this world that we should obey is the still small voice within.”

Furthermore, I do not think that demonizing a single obnoxious flag is what we want to focus our moral attention on right now. In some ways, this storyline is a manufactured diversion engineered by opportunist legislators, greedy advertisers and media executives. Notice how this story has captured the nation’s attention more than the family members forgiving Roof on live television. If we really care about stopping these massacres in the future, we should be seeking ways to take responsibility for the violence that we all participate in and perpetuate through our devotion to nationalism, endless warfare, cultural and racial superiority, and specism. This process of honest introspection and proactive response is far less comfortable than passively watching pundits debate on television, but it will make all of us more aware of our power and accountability to change the world for the better.

On a more profound level than racial vengeance, it was the prospect of a “purer” nationhood- fought for and defended through extreme violence- that motivated Roof to carry out his evil mission. He was willing to kill and die for his concept of a new Rhodesia. How many readers are willing to kill (or let someone else kill) for their concept of America? I suspect quite a few.

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