As Margaret Atwood points out, Americans have as much to be ashamed of as to be proud of.
When Barbara Kingsolver claims "The values we fought for and won there are best understood, I think, by oil companies," she refers to the way the American flag has been distorted. The issues the flag symbolizes, such as freedom and liberty, are myths for many people. As Kingsolver points out, the American flag has been used to justify many evils including wars like Vietnam and Iraq. Instead of delivering true freedom, liberty, and democracy, the American flag really brought economic dependence. Instead of associating the American flag with negativity, death, and intimidation, Kingsolver suggests that Americans reclaim it. The red stripes do not need to symbolize war. They can also symbolize "blood donated to the Red Cross."
The American flag is a flexible symbol that is often used in ways that manipulate the public. The flag is therefore like a propaganda tool. It can mean whatever the American people believe it to mean. The American flag has been used in many unconventional ways. At Woodstock, a famous photograph shows a couple with the American flag wrapped around them like a blanket. The flag means love and peace in this case, as well as freedom. When people burn the American flag, they are making a powerful political statement too. Burning the flag usually means some kind of hatred for what the United States stands for. After President Bush invaded Iraq, many people in the Middle East burned the American flag in protest. The American flag is sometimes burned at political protests in the United States, too. Protesting against war is one of the non-traditional uses for the flag as a symbol.
The American flag is used in many commercial settings too. For example, some packaging has American flag images and the flag is often worn on sports jerseys. In those cases, the flag means patriotism and pride. The flag can be used to distinguish American athletes at the Olympics or at any other global competition. American flags might be used abroad to show what language...
Sometimes the American flag is meaningless, such as when it is used as decoration or in ways that are not political at all.
However, people who wear a flag on their clothing are usually making a statement that they are proud to be Americans. The flag is the ultimate sign of being patriotic. The American flag also symbolizes the rich history of the country from the time the colonies won the War of Independence until the expansion westward. That history is filled with myths about Manifest Destiny and the American Dream. The American flag symbolizes freedom from oppressive forms of government, which is one of the most important American ideals. Even if American citizens are discontent with their government, the government is still a democracy.
However, the American flag does suggest some of the cultural myths that guide American society. When children pledge allegiance to the flag in school, they are taught many myths about American history and culture. Children are taught that all citizens can achieve the American Dream. In fact, many Americans cannot achieve their financial or career goals. The flag represents the myth that all Americans are equal. In fact, not all Americans are equal. The American flag is most of all an ideal. The flag symbolizes the best of what American culture strives to be. Freedom, liberty, and justice for all are only myths until they become realities.
Atwood, Margaret. "A Letter to America." Published on Friday, April 4, 2003 by the International Herald Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2008 at http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0404-07.htm
Kingsolver, Barbara. "And Our Flag Was Still There." Published on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 29, 2008 from Common Dreams at http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0925-08.htm
Streufert, Duane. "Evolution of the United States Flag." Evolution of the United States Flag. Retrieved July 29, 2008 at http://www.usflag.org/history/flagevolution.html
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