My Turn: There is nothing sacred about U.S. flags, coffins

Posted: Monday, November 28, 2005

When I first read Lisa Viteri's guest column (My Turn, Oct. 30) regarding the propriety of using coffins and flags as symbols in anti-war demonstrations, I found several things which I considered wrong. Did she not say, in essence, that the anti-Vietnam War protests were politically insignificant? They were not. And wasn't her main point, like George Haralovich's was (letters to the editor, Nov. 16), that the use of coffins and flags for this purpose is really wrong? That it is insensitive to the horrible loss and lifelong grief of now thousands of American families? That it is disrespectful, unpatriotic, and now, according to Haralovich, even sacrilegious?

There is nothing sacred about coffins - cloth, wood, a little metal - they all come to nothing in a century, maybe less. Coffins are an expensive luxury. We use them mostly to obscure the real sensation of death. What about bloody sheets as coffins and coffins made of carpet or cardboard? Or no coffin at all - how sacred is it to be bulldozed into the desert?

There is nothing sacred about flags either, but if you are a dead American soldier we will give your family one. After you are killed we will put what remains of you in an aluminum casket and fly you back to the states. There are cheaper ways, but because we are so irrationally concerned about respect and patriotism and ceremony we will bring you home in a military jet. We, your brothers and sisters, will drape your casket with a clean, pressed flag and unload you, silently, with the strict precision of a military honor guard. You deserve it. You can even have a military funeral if you want - Taps and a gun salute and a carefully orchestrated folding of the flag. I wonder, if we gave your suffering family a flag soaked with blood - your blood, symbolic of all your hopes and plans and of the perhaps long remainder of the life that you will not live - would that flag be extra-sacred then?

You will be just as dead for all of our attempts to honor you. As will be the nearly 10,000 Iraqis estimated killed on the very first day of the coalition's march toward Baghdad. How long ago was that? And why is it that when we roll your flag-draped coffin out of that huge military jet you look so small. Why are we not supposed to take pictures? Two thousand American dead. That averages only two flag-draped coffins a day since the beginning of the war, more or less. Surely the American public can stomach that image. We should be made to.

Heroes are never made with bombs and rifles, as if you could make a hero of anyone by simply shooting them or blowing them up. Heroes are made of established character and strength, often unknown to themselves, and circumstance, and defiance. Of those things both which we do and refuse to do.

Mr. Haralovich cites Rosa Parks as an example of a hero. I agree; she was one. But not because someone killed her. She wasn't a fallen cop or fireman or soldier. It doesn't make any difference what she did for a living. She was a little old lady who died recently of old age. But long ago, by some complexity of circumstance, she became the one woman whom we now think of as having been first - first to refuse, to defy, to knowingly risk some unknowable fraction of her life for the cause she considered just.

Haralovich recommends that John Dunker of Veterans for Peace not "bring this style of protest to Fairbanks." What are they going to do? Beat him up? Shoot him, maybe? Character and strength and defiance: These come from the inside. What you must do in one circumstance because of who you are, you will attempt anywhere. On the Mall. Kent State. Berkeley. The anti-war demonstrators of the '70s helped shorten the Vietnam War. John Dunker and his "fringe group" are trying to do the same thing. They are trying to change the horribly mistaken war-making course on which this great country finds itself. They should be honored for it.

• Jay Hubbard is a resident of Douglas, the father of two sons and a self-employed cabinetmaker.

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