Waving the Flag -- Patriotism or a Guise for Commercialism?

A couple of years ago, as Independence Day was approaching, I looked out my window to discover an American flag attached to a 12-inch stake planted on my front lawn. On further investigation, I saw that someone had lined everyone's lawn on my street with identical plastic flags. Even though it was close to being the Fourth of July, the sight didn't stir any patriotism in me. Just like it hadn't stirred any patriotism in me when that American soldier climbed the statue of Saddam Hussein a number of years ago and draped the symbolic stars and stripes from the dictator's likeness. I recall shouting at my television: "Take that down!" I didn't need a commentator to tell me that the soldier's act was misguided and could easily be misconstrued by the Iraqis, as well as the entire world. For me, not only did I realize why it had been a hasty, careless act, but I could also explain why.

However, it took me a bit longer to figure out why I was rankled by the plastic American flag stuck in my front yard.

The flag stands for many things to many different people. There are even some who feel that it is an abomination to pledge allegiance to the piece of cloth, instead wanting to save that kind of fealty for their god. Therefore, to place the emblematic banner on people's properties without permission may be deemed as misplaced pride. So, before pouring my morning cup of coffee, I went outside with the intention of removing the flag from the front of my house. It was then on closer inspection that I discovered a business card taped to the stake -- not only a business card promoting an insurance company, but one with a photograph of a smiling agent promising he could meet my insurance needs. Without a second thought, I took the card and tore it up, tossing it in the garbage. On hindsight, it was a hasty thing to do. Instead, I should have called the number on the card and made a formal complaint.

I understand that the flag represents a variety of ideals: Wars fought, the right to vote, and freedom to worship. Or not. But sometimes the flag that is revered often represents arrogance, a belief that we as a country deserve to be lionized. However, just as I was ready to toss the stake with the attached plastic symbol, I noticed my elderly neighbor across the street carefully straightening his cloth flag positioned near his front door. His eyesight was so poor, I'm not sure he saw the small plastic version on his front lawn.

Every day, weather permitting, I saw this gentleman take his wife for a slow stroll around the block. With his hand firmly grasping hers, he took the lead, since she had little idea where she was going due to Alzheimer's. I don't know if he fought in any wars or lost any loved ones in a war, but the way he handled his flag, I thought it was a strong possibility; therefore, it was for him that I placed the pathetic plastic flag back into the ground instead of tossing it. My change of heart certainly wasn't for any insurance company using the symbol as a marketing tool. Had this company placed flags on lawns, minus the business card, it would have been a quiet symbol of subtle pride celebrating independence, especially for those like my neighbor.

Sometimes, though, besides commercialism, people elevate the red, white and blue above reason. One example of this is happening in Lodi, where a Sikh temple has a Sikh insignia banner flying, as was reported in Recordnet.com.

"And that irritates Dennis Regan, a 63-year-old Air Force veteran who lives less than a mile east of the new temple. If the Sikh worship hall is going to fly its religious emblem over the neighborhood, he said, it should hoist an American flag even higher."

I cannot help but wonder if it weren't a Sikh temple would Regan be so annoyed.

"The real problem here is ignorance," said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the New York-based Sikh Coalition. "Our articles of faith make us stand out."

The nonprofit Sikh Coalition was founded shortly after Sept. 11, in response to an incident in which an elderly Sikh and two teenagers were assaulted in Queens the night of the terrorist attacks. The organization promotes civil rights for Sikhs and provides legal assistance for victims of hate crimes, airport profiling and other causes.

Singh said the Sikh flag represents peace, truth and justice. "They're the values that you think anyone would want in their neighborhood," he said.

While all Sikh halls fly their religious flag, an American flag would be an odd addition, he said.

Regan doesn't respect such a notion, though, and I cannot help but agree with Jespal Singh Brar, a Lodi resident and temple member.

"America is all about freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness," he said. "It's almost ridiculous, because the ideals of the Sikh religion are intertwined with American values."

Meanwhile, here on Long Island, I hadn't heard one complaint about the plastic flags that were planted on the lawns throughout my community promoting an insurance company. I suppose we as a nation are more tolerant of waving the flag in support of commercialism than we are of the varied beliefs of our neighbors.

However, this Fourth of July, if I find a plastic flag on my front lawn, and if there's a business card attached to it, I will dial the number on it to make a formal complaint about such crass commercialism.

After all, it's my right.