On the way to my mailbox today, I drove through the Friday vigils in Sebastopol. For some time now, there has been one group in support of war on one corner, their opponents on the other. It was hard to tell the difference between them today as both were waving large numbers of United States flags.
While a few progressives argue that we should reclaim the U.S. flag–it is “our” flag too, they say. Similar sentiments can be seen in bumper stickers that connect dissent with patriotism. But for me, the U.S. flag was a pin on Richard Nixon’s lapel while he prolonged and intensified the war in Southeast Asia.
U.S. history is far more about war than it is about peace. I have previously calculated that of all the calendar years in that history, a mere sixteen did not see U.S. military forces engaged somewhere, somehow. In 2008, the U.S. accounted for 48 percent of the entire world’s military spending. All of the stars on the U.S. flag represent territories seized from subjugated peoples.
Noam Chomsky sees all this killing as an exercise in self interest. It is certainly possible to view Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan as related to the proposed Trans-Afghanistan oil pipeline. Slate attempts to refute this, but in pointing to a contradiction (which may not actually be a contradiction) between pre-9/11 and post-9/11 evidence, conflates al Qaeda with the Taliban and assembles a mass of evidence supporting a sustained U.S. interest in the region. To dismiss this as a factor is to ignore relationships between corporate, military, and political elites that C. Wright Mills described in 1958.
But high unemployment also drives recruiting; Army promises to put recruits through college appeal to a specific demographic that sees no other opportunity in an economy that treats unskilled workers like dirt. To me, this obsession with killing brown-skinned people (and supplying them as cannon fodder) feels like an addiction.
The U.S. flag is a patriotic–and hence patriarchal–symbol. Feminists, and while there are others, I’m thinking specifically of Riane Eisler and of Lorraine Code, have connected the social definition of masculinity with making war and with the subjugation of women. A history in which, in an example documented by Antonia Castañeda, Spanish conquistadors raped Indian women in what eventually became the southwest United States, stigmatizing the women and introducing hierarchy into hitherto egalitarian societies reinforces this impression. Rape is a too terribly well-documented weapon of war; it remains a concern on Okinawa, where residents are adamant that the U.S. military bases should be removed following a series of well-publicized rapes. Indeed, when Japan surrendered to the U.S. at the end of World War II, the country hastened to make “comfort women” available to U.S. soldiers as they recognized and the U.S. military hierarchy has also recognized that prostitution is a necessary service on military bases.
This connection between patriotism, war, and the repression of women is too compelling and too revolting. So I would prefer not to reclaim the U.S. flag. It is not my flag and I reject it.