Constable: Anyone can wave a flag, but true patriotism demands more

  • Suspended for one game in 1996 after sitting in protest during the national anthem, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf reached a compromise with the NBA. In his first game back against the Chicago Bulls, Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand but bowed his head in prayer.

    Suspended for one game in 1996 after sitting in protest during the national anthem, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf reached a compromise with the NBA. In his first game back against the Chicago Bulls, Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand but bowed his head in prayer. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Even at Tuesday's White House event held as a rebuttal to NFL players who knelt in protest during the national anthem, this man, who refused to talk with reporters, was one of two who took a knee after the president proclaimed, "We love our country, we respect our flag and we always proudly stand for the national anthem."

    Even at Tuesday's White House event held as a rebuttal to NFL players who knelt in protest during the national anthem, this man, who refused to talk with reporters, was one of two who took a knee after the president proclaimed, "We love our country, we respect our flag and we always proudly stand for the national anthem." Courtesy of Jesper Zølck, TV 2 Denmark

  • Not the first American to stage a peaceful protest during our national anthem, San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the song before a 2016 NFL game in Seattle.

    Not the first American to stage a peaceful protest during our national anthem, San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the song before a 2016 NFL game in Seattle. Associated Press

 
 

People celebrating the holidays of Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day often found ways to irk the patriotic spirit in my old columnist friend Jack Mabley. Enlisting in the Navy on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jack served as an officer in Guam during World War II and was a patriot in every sense of the word. And, yes, the freedoms and liberties represented by the flag and our national anthem were important to Jack.

Often at this time of the year, I'd arrive at my desk in the newsroom on a Monday morning to find the latest affronts that Jack (or more likely his wife, Fran) had found among the Sunday newspaper advertisements -- red-white-and-blue napkins that looked like our flag, toothpicks with tiny stars and stripes affixed to them, and an assortment of garish beach towels, shorts, umbrellas, bikinis and even toilet seats that looked as if they had been fashioned out of Old Glory.

A stickler for the flag code, the late legendary Daily Herald columnist Jack Mabley often took issue with people who mistook red, white and blue flag shorts as a symbol of patriotism. Mabley, who died in 2006 at 90, was a World War II veteran whose idea of patriotism included fighting injustice and being an informed voter and public servant.
  A stickler for the flag code, the late legendary Daily Herald columnist Jack Mabley often took issue with people who mistook red, white and blue flag shorts as a symbol of patriotism. Mabley, who died in 2006 at 90, was a World War II veteran whose idea of patriotism included fighting injustice and being an informed voter and public servant. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Jack, who died in 2006 at age 90, noted that even my jersey for the T-ball team I was coaching at the time violated the Flag Code (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(j)), which reads, "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform."

While guilty of bad taste in most cases, no one ever gets charged with violating the flag code. And our Supreme Court protects people who use the flag in exercising their First Amendment rights. Jack appreciated the irony of radical Yippie Abbie Hoffman being arrested in 1968 for wearing a shirt that resembled a U.S. flag, and Gen. Richard Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wearing an almost identical shirt to a 2005 Memorial Day tribute to our veterans. Timing is everything. In 1897, Illinois passed one of the nation's first flag-desecration laws -- not to stop flag-burners, artists or protesters, but to stop merchants and politicians from using the flag as a gimmick to sell a candidate or a beer.

There are no laws to protect "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's always bothered me that our nation, home of the Blues, jazz, country and hip-hop, saw fit to steal a British melody for our national anthem. Based on a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, the lyrics express the author's bewilderment that our forces hadn't surrendered to the Brits bombarding Fort McHenry. Should the song that sums up our nation really end with a question about whether we are still around?

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Coping with the fallout from the Civil War, which answered that question about whether the United States still existed, the U.S. military started using the song to accompany the raising and lowering of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order declaring the song "the national anthem of the United States," and Congress did likewise 15 years later. The song made the leap from military bases to sporting events in 1918 in Chicago, during the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, as the Allies were moving toward victory in World War I.

Politicians and protesters have used the anthem, too.

This protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City proved such a powerful moment in U.S. history that it has been immortalized with a statue in The Smithsonian. After Tommie Smith, center, won the gold and U.S. teammate John Carlos won the bronze in the 200-meter sprint, the men orchestrated this protest as our national anthem played and our flag was raised. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left.
This protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City proved such a powerful moment in U.S. history that it has been immortalized with a statue in The Smithsonian. After Tommie Smith, center, won the gold and U.S. teammate John Carlos won the bronze in the 200-meter sprint, the men orchestrated this protest as our national anthem played and our flag was raised. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. - Associated Press

In 1968, U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith, who won gold in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, winner of the bronze, used the anthem and flag to make a statement so powerful that statues of them doing so are on display in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Receiving their medals, they took off their shoes to protest poverty, wore a scarf and beads around their necks to protest lynchings, bowed their heads and raised their fists in a Black Power salute, accompanied by the raising of the flag and the playing of the anthem.

Some singers use the anthem as a stunt to see how long they can hold a note. Roseanne Barr once infamously screeched the song and ended by grabbing her crotch and spitting. It's a big country and the flag and the anthem don't have to spur the same reaction in every American.

But if you want to be really patriotic, follow Jack Mabley's lead. He voted, campaigned for worthy candidates, worked for his local park district, served a 4-year term as mayor of Glenview, started the "Forgotten Children's Fund," exposed injustice, fought to make America better for everybody and is best described in this quote by his dear friend Studs Terkel: "Anybody can wave a flag, that's easy, but to understand what the country is, and fight to make it just and equitable when it is not, that's Americanism."

0 Comments
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.