- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Column on flag amendment has readers seeing red

I have rarely seen a column so perfectly titled as that written by Maj. Gen. Pat Brady ("It's not the flag, stupid," Op-Ed, March 22). Ironically, Gen. Brady, in an attempt to lay out the argument against flag burning, unintentionally makes the case against an amendment prohibiting flag burning. Individuals such as Gen. Brady and the 80 percent of Americans who agree with him on this issue have not thought it through rationally.

Consider what Gen. Brady is trying so hard to protect. Undoubtedly he, like many others, will say: "It is the flag for which I fought and for which so many brave Americans gave their lives. Far too many caskets have been covered with that flag for it not to merit constitutional protection." Nonsense. If Gen. Brady is honest, he will admit that he fought for his men around him, his family and friends at home and for all for which the flag stands. He fought for freedom, liberty and the rights enshrined in the Constitution, not for a red, white and blue piece of cloth. When the flag drapes a casket, it tells the world: Here lies an American hero who died so that others might live free. How terribly sad would it be if the flag told us: Here lies a soldier who died for a flag.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is a symbol. It represents freedom. It is not freedom. It represents liberty. It is not liberty. The flag represents the United States of America. It is not our beloved nation. While my heart breaks and my blood boils as much as any American's when I see the flag burn, I realize that what the person who set fire to the flag has done is burn nothing but a symbol. He can never burn the ideals for which that symbol stands.

The thesis of Gen. Brady's piece is that the Constitution is what ought to matter. Indeed, he makes that point over and over. From the impassioned argument made by Gen. Brady, it seems that a more suitable amendment would be for protection of the Constitution and all copies thereof. After all, the Constitution actually is what the flag most clearly represents. Yet I think Gen. Brady will disagree with me and continue to push for an amendment that will protect the symbol instead of what the symbol represents.

DAN ESQUIVEL

Annandale

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The crusade to outlaw flag burning is misguided in more ways than one can shake the proverbial stick at. First, Gen. Brady is simply incorrect when he states that flag burning is not speech. True, it isn't performed by making sounds with one's mouth, but "speech" is not simply an oral concept. If one doubts this, consider Ameslan. Would anyone say that a deaf person using sign language is not "speaking?" Flag burning is "speech" in that it is a political statement and political statements, particularly those disliked by the majority, are specifically what the Founding Fathers intended to protect with the First Amendment. (Gen. Brady notes that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson both denounced flag burning, but there is a difference between denouncing something and saying that it should be forbidden.)

Note that the flag code says that when the flag is no longer suitable for public presentation, it should be "destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning." Any flag-desecration laws, therefore, would have to be aimed not at the destruction of a flag, but rather at the motives of the person performing the destruction. It would be similar to a "hate crimes" law in that violators would, in effect, be prosecuted for what they thought rather than what they did.

Even assuming that all constitutional issues could be resolved satisfactorily, we still would have to define "flag" and "desecration." Is it still a flag if it's missing a star or if the colors of the stripes are reversed? If not, flag burners could simply claim they were burning irregular flags and thus avoid prosecution.

Supporters of the flag amendment have a strange set of priorities. Few would disagree that our country is troubled, indeed, but flag burning is not a rampant problem. In fact, it almost never happens, and its only "victims" are those whose pride is wounded. Even if one were to agree that flag burning needs to be outlawed, don't we have a host of other problems that are far more pressing?

PARRISH S. KNIGHT

Silver Spring

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The Constitution was written for the express purpose of limiting the powers of the federal government. The Constitution allows citizens to be both free and governed. When the Constitution is followed, it works. Gen. Brady is interfering with the Constitution when he contemplates revising it for the sole purpose of limiting citizens' rights.

I am disappointed when any citizen feels the need to burn his nation's flag. I also am disappointed and a bit ashamed when another citizen feels the need to modify the Constitution to remove that right.

No limits are placed upon citizens anywhere in the Constitution, and we should not start adding them now. The Constitution is not about the citizens; the Constitution is about the federal government.

Let those who would burn the flag do so legally, constitutionally and out in the open, where I may observe their actions.

JOHN MOSES LAMONE

Clifton

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If flag burning is not speech, why does it upset Gen. Brady? If the act is meaningless, why does he care? If the act has a political meaning, it is speech. The very effort to outlaw flag burning belies the claim that it is not speech.

CRAIG PENNINGTON

Dumfries

The Times tardy in sweet-talking Sen. McCain

I was relieved to see your March 26 editorial "The return of John McCain." As a regular Washington Times reader and a McCain supporter, I was deeply worried about your hostile tone toward him before his defeat on Super Tuesday.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that you were by no means the only ones. Conservative publications in general opposed the McCain campaign in the same way you did. Now that he is no longer in the race, suddenly you are speaking the sweet talk of reconciliation out the other side of your mouths.

As with the puddles that come and go in the Potomac River's tidal mud flats, it's hard to know which way your flow goes. I used to think that applied only to liberals, but now Mr. McCain has done his country the service of exposing the naked truth. Both sides seem to follow this practice.

Of course, Mr. McCain even in defeat still commands a following among independents and Democrats and still energizes voters like no one else in recent memory. So this right-wing turnabout may be the result of blazing insight, namely that Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Republican candidates in both houses of Congress might end up needing McCain voters in November. If so, you are to be congratulated on your firm grasp of the obvious.

JOHN S. MASON JR.

Alexandria

Environmentalists rev up the rhetoric and leave road projects stalled

I read with interest your editorial on the "mixing bowl" accident ("The Springfield death trap," March 21), but I was dismayed that you didn't get the bigger picture of what is going on.

The reason the interchange is so dangerous is that it wasn't designed to handle the current traffic volume. Much-needed renovations have been delayed, and there are no alternate routes. The fault for this can be laid squarely at the feet of the environmentalists who continue to mount protest after protest every time a new road project is even mentioned.

In this vein, you should have referred back to your March 18 editorial "Gridlock, roadblock, etc.," in which you mentioned that Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his cronies in the Maryland General Assembly had refused Virginia's offer to create a joint commission to discuss the traffic problems in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Since the fatal mixing bowl accident, does Mr. Glendening still think we don't need to discuss the horrendous traffic problems we have in the Washington area, or is he just too beholden to the environmental special-interest groups that elected him?

If you think it's bad now, wait until the champion of Kyoto, the greenhouse gas guru, Vice President Al Gore, becomes president. You can be sure no new road projects will be started under his administration.

DOMINIC TONDO

Gaithersburg

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