On Saluting the Flag

by F.

The Fourth of July is a strange holiday, one I’ve never felt much connection to other than the fireworks. Like almost all young boys, I liked blowing things up, though the fun wore off quickly and I went back to drawing cartoons, building models and playing with my hamster.

I’m sympathetic to Bryan Caplan’s views on the fourth, which you can read a bit about here. Of course, this is not a popular thing to think or say, and I would expect Caplan’s post to draw the usual stupid comments like “Love it or leave it” or “Those people died for your freedom” and so on. Funny, I don’t remember being consulted by them when they decided to do me this favor; hence, no contract was formed; hence, no obligation that I can see. If there’s a good empirical reason for blind, irrational patriotism, I’ve not encountered it yet.

Fourth of July flag waving reminds me of my sophomore year in high school. I never saluted the flag, never got up to pledge allegiance to it, simply because I couldn’t see the point. I liked my country; but then again, like 99% of the kids and teachers in my school, I’d never lived in another, nor did I choose it. (My grandparents did, since they emigrated from semi-dismal Scotland and fully-dismal Wales.) Saluting the flag was too much like religion: we all get up and salute some strange talisman for no reason. I never enjoy that. Of course, most likely, the explanation for my views then is simpler: I was a highly reactive adolescent.

Most of my teachers didn’t care, but one (a Geology teacher) got really incensed about it. She took me aside one day and said she “understood why I didn’t salute and was familiar with my religion.” She assumed, incorrectly, that I was a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t disabuse her. There was really no point. What was funny, though, was that she was obviously just as disgusted by Jehovah’s Witnesses as non-flag-allegiance-pledging adolescents, which showed me the hair’s difference between patriots and intolerant jingoists. Such intolerance didn’t seem very “American” to me then and doesn’t now.