I was asked why are Americans so sensitive about the desecration of their flag?

A flag is a potent symbol. Symbolic anthropologist, Victor Turner said “symbols are realer than real.” By which he meant that the emotional impact of a symbol is greater than that of non-symbolic items.

Take for example the swastika. The swastika is an ancient Indian symbol. The word comes from Sanskrit and means, “that which is associated with well-being,” It is used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It denotes auspiciousness.

In the hands of the Nazis, it became associated with such pure evil that it has been outlawed in some countries.

In the late ’80’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group of kids calling themselves Zhar Zhay were tagging walls and mail boxes with a vertical Z that crossed the middle of a horizontal Z in such a way it looked sort of like a swastika. The Jewish community was understandably concerned that a hate group or crazed individual was behind the graffiti. Suffice it to say, the swastika cannot be used in the West to mean auspiciousness anymore.

Words are symbols too. Just as the swastika was used for hate, so have certain words. Think of the feelings these words engender.

Now imagine a sense of patriotism that is as intensely positive as the swastika is negative. Imagine having this feeling every time you saw your nation’s flag. Now imagine that flag being desecrated. If you have a vivid imagination, you may begin to understand.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

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