Haneisen: Flag display defines patriotism

Rob Haneisen

One thing that's great about being an American and loving your country is the ability and freedom to express your outrage and disagreement with those who don't love her properly.

It's one of the qualities of Americans that make us unique. While the endless bickering can get tiresome, if not entertaining, it does act as a reminder of who we are why we should care.

The brouhaha about the peace flag flying outside the Plymouth Church off the Framingham town centre - it was put on display by Rev. Peter Cook - has been a stalemate of ideals. Those who find his peace flag fashioned from the same color scheme as Old Glory offensive have supported a flag protest of small American flags planted in the ground across the street from the church parsonage.

The expected arguments of politics invading the church are laughable. When has politics not entered the blessed doors of any house of worship? Religion is politics with a supposed mandate from God - if you believe that kind of thing.

What's also laughable but at least a better argument is the tiff about whether the peace flag is unpatriotic because it mutates the form of our national flag. It could be said that flying a peace flag is one thing, but flying a distorted American Flag is another. I might agree with this if I somehow could disregard the notion that one needs a treasonous motive to be unpatriotic. Disagreeing with the direction of our war in Iraq or our bumbling administration is not unpatriotic - it's called dissent. Anyone who knows anything about U.S. history, particularly the American Revolution, knows that dissent is one of our founding principles and remains an important part of freedoms today.

If anything, flying a flag meant to show dissent from the country's leadership is patriotism in one very important form.

I guess the one segment of this controversy which disturbs me is the narrow view that the flag is an insult to soldiers who served under the flag or are currently deployed.

I served in the Army Reserves and Mass. National Guard from 1990 to 1996 including a stint on active duty during the first Gulf War. My infantry unit was placed on alert but we never deployed because that war - thankfully - ended so swiftly. As a trained medic I didn't look forward to the prospect of dealing with nerve gas patients or wounds filled with shrapnel but I knew this was possible when I enlisted shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

My reasons for enlisting were not simple but practical. I needed to find a way to help pay for college; my father was a military veteran; I was currently a pre-med major in college and wanted some practical medical training; and lastly, I believed a part-time military service would be a good challenge for me. Love of country and desire to defend it with force was not the expressed reason for my military service. When you are 19, you don't really understand what it means to be an American other than what you see in movies or what's lectured at you from your grandparents - both sources most 19-year-olds should regard with suspicion.

The fact that someone puts up a flag as a disagreement with war is the least concern to me as a former soldier. My service to this country was in part to protect the rights of people to do just that.

What is insulting to me as a former soldier is when an administration lies to the American public and deceives its populace and fighting force to gain some unknown result. It is insulting that men and women are sent off to war only to be neglected by the very government they served when they return home injured and disabled. The vast numbers of soldiers returning home with debilitating physical and mental injuries from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fact that many of these brave men and women are not getting the treatment they need and deserve is the real insult - not a petty argument about a colored piece of cloth.

When we have emergencies of this magnitude we need to set aside the symbolic and address the practical.

Rob Haneisen is a metro editor for the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News. He can be reached at rhaneis@cnc.com or 508-626-3882.