Burning: flags vs books

I recently saw a question asking “Which is worse: flag burning or book burning?” My answer is definitely books, as in not even close for me.

My thoughts on the flag go back to some Army experiences — one in basic training where the guy who bunked next to me got nearly apoplectic when a faux Cuban officer was holding a lighter near a flag (that block of instruction, “Threat,” was absolutely the silliest thing I’d ever seen. But Cornelius’s eye nearly popped out of his head. The other thing that resonates for me is watching the Somalis drag the pilot’s body through the streets in 93 after the Black Hawk Down episode (another story on that too — have you seen the movie?). To me, I’d rather people burn flags than soldiers. I think of those guys as living breathing flags.

And yep, my answer was a little aggressive. I guess I think of it as a way to get people to think about the point of the flag — it’s a symbol. And to me, just like the reason we shouldn’t torture terrorists, we should be pushing our beliefs at the time when they’re the most tested. Milton wrote “I will not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue.” That line has stuck with me since college (Brit Lit. II, to be exact), and I find it has applied to dozens of situations over the years. I guess that’s why I think that flag burning has to be okay — it’s certainly more like speech than half the stuff we do protect under that umbrella.

Lines matter, both in the day to day (shouldn’t steal a pack of gum, shouldn’t spank your kids, shouldn’t lie to your boyfriend) and in the big picture (shouldn’t cheat on your wife, shouldn’t embezzle from the company, shouldn’t give up on your values). Respecting lines, throughout our lives, helps us. One of the most interesting cross-religious connections that I’ve made was when I was in the Middle East a few years ago during Ramadan, which  entails fasting from dawn to dusk over several weeks. A TV commentator described the importance of keeping the fast in almost the exact same terms I’d heard a year or two before that during a Lenten service in a Catholic church: keeping the fast gives us self-control against temptation from sin.

But this isn’t a class on religion, per se. It’s about how we decide to respect our own values, and how we help ourselves do that. It’s not always easy; if it were it probably wouldn’t matter all that much. But it becomes easier with practice and support until goals and values we’ve adopted really become part of us. And then we just know what is right and what is wrong.

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