- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Have you heard of any research done connecting Agent Orange with mental illness?

Thank you,

Kathy S.

Dear Kathy:

I am not aware of any research attempting to link mental illness to Agent Orange or other herbicides.

The following diseases, however, are on the Veterans Affairs Department’s presumptive list for veterans exposed to Agent Orange — chloracne, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple mycelia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, porphyries cutanea tarda, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea), soft-tissue sarcoma, acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, prostate cancer and adult-onset diabetes.

Also, two childhood diseases qualify the offspring of Vietnam veterans for health care and benefits — spina bifida and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

It’s kinda crazy times we’re living through at the moment. Some things are offensive enough to be called “hate speech” and prosecuted, yet some offensive acts (like flag burning) are supposedly protected by the First Amendment. There’s a lot of mixed messages out there. But just the fact that we have the luxury of being able to sit back and argue about these things shows we are truly blessed to be living in this great country.

My thinking on the flag-burning issue runs along two lines at the moment. The first line I call the Obi-Wan Kenobe argument. I remember being a young fella and watching “Star Wars” and being really ticked off that Darth Vader got to kill Obi-Wan at the end. My father tried to appease me by pointing out that Obi-Wan had said, “You can strike me down, but I will only come back stronger. You cannot win.” Or something like that.

I remember that line giving me very little peace when I was young. But I think about it now, and our flag is like Obi-Wan. When tasteless people burn it or desecrate it in public, they don’t realize that in that very act they are celebrating the freedom it represents. You can do all sorts of distasteful things to the flag, but you cannot truly desecrate it because the minute you start into that, you’re reaffirming the fact that you live in a country where you can get away with it without a bullet in your head. Striking it down only makes it a stronger symbol. So I generally just pity those people. We don’t really need a law to tell us what is low class.

My other line of thinking, and what really does tick me off, is when American news stations pick up images like that and multiply them millions of times over and spread them across the globe.

They artfully inflate a very tiny segment of people and their low-class acts and try to push that out to the American people as a symbol for what is going on in the world. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, not everyone in the world is happy with us at every moment of every day. And they have a right to perform classless, cowardly acts to our flag if they choose. But for us to voluntarily pick that image up and magnify it millions of times over really is a crime.

So maybe any law that is passed should leave people their First Amendment right to do what they want with the flag, but broadcasting that type of image over the public airwaves could be made illegal. Thanks for listening. I love America!

Kind regards,

Mike S.

Milwaukee

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Having served both on active duty and now in the Army National Guard for the past 20-plus years, I can tell you one thing: Many veterans who live in the San Francisco Bay area won’t tolerate anyone burning the flag in public.

Free speech or not, if you burn the flag out of some sort of “free-speech antiwar protest,” then you have no honor as far as I’m concerned and your life insurance had better be paid up as well.

Regards,

Staff Sgt. Brian P.

Northern California

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am English and have served in the British Army for almost 30 years. I live in Weymouth, England, and jog every day past the U.S. Army monument to the half-million U.S. servicemen that left Britain for France via Weymouth. These included the Rangers bound for Pont du Hoc. I would strike anyone I saw defacing a U.S. flag.

I hear what some say regarding freedom of expression in a democracy, but I believe that argument is facile and excuses many wrongs. Freedom of expression is important, but when such expressions anger and cause widespread hurt and pain (I cannot imagine how a mother of a child killed in Iraq or Afghanistan feels seeing this) they are not worthy of democratic rights. Would such freedoms extend to burning a symbol of the prophet Muhammad on top of a bonfire? In the interest of democratic freedom of course. No, absolutely not.

I know of no nation except perhaps the Australians that value their country and flag as much as the Yanks. God bless ‘em and “bad news” to any that would cause hurt to them by burning their great symbol of nationhood.

Lt. Col. Adrian

British Army, retired

England

Dear respondents:

Passage of Senate Joint Resolution 12 will return it to the states for debate. Ratification by 38 states would make it the 28th amendment that reads, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]

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