Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
-- From Boswell, Life of Johnson
Two hundred eighty six members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 67 U.S. senators would have loudly applauded the decision by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals.
In 1999 Ng Kung-Siu and Lee King-Yung, regular protestors at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, were convicted of flag desecration. Their offense consisted of marching in demonstrations bearing torn Chinese flags on which were inscribed the words “shame." When Hong Kong was a democracy (like the United States was before George Bush became president), it had no law against flag desecration because its former rulers did not think that important. When Hong Kong became part of China, however, it became subject to the laws of China and flag desecration was considered a crime.
The Hong Kong magistrate, who tried and convicted the two men for the crime of flag desecration, deferred their jail sentences contingent upon their staying out of trouble. The two men appealed and Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal, following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, which had reached the same conclusion in 1989, ruled that the ban on flag desecration unconstitutionally violated the men’s free speech rights.
The state appealed to the Court of Final Appeal and it, being more in tune with the rulers in China (and 67 members of the U.S. Senate and 286 members of the House of Representatives) sided with the government (and 67 members of the U.S. senate and 286 members of the U.S. House of Representatives). It said that Hong Kong (like the U.S. under the George W. Bush regime) “is at the early stage of the new order following resumption of the exercise of sovereignty by the People’s Republic of China. . . . Protection of the national flag and the regional flag from desecration . . . will play an important part in the attainment of these goals. In these circumstances, there are strong grounds for concluding that the criminalization of flag desecration is a justifiable restriction on the guaranteed right to the freedom of expression.”
Those words from a communist controlled court could have been spoken by Utah’s own Senator Orrin Hatch. Responding to questions from the media as to whether flag burning was the most important issue confronting the U.S. right now given the fact that thus far in the United States in 2006 there have been but four instances of flag burning, Mr. Hatch responded: “You’re darn right it is.” Speaking on the senate floor Mr. Hatch said: “They say that flag burning is a rare occurrence; it is not that rare.” For the record that Mr. Hatch apparently can’t be bothered with else he’d not have made such a statement, in 2003 there were 6 flag burnings, in 2004 there were three, three in 2005 and, as observed, in 2006 there have already been four. If the United States Supreme Court were as enlightened as the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, all this would be unnecessary since it would have said flag burning was not protected speech.
The flag was in the news for another reason. At the same time as Congress was distressed over the occasional burning, the right wing was concerned over how the flag was being flown. In some states governors have begun flying the flag at half-staff to honor their sons and daughters who have died in the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld war.
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Zaslow, 16 states have begun this practice. Some people see honoring the dead as a disguised attempt to criticize the war. Bruce Butgereit is one of those. He is the national patriotic instructor of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He objects to the Michigan governor’s call to lower the flag saying it violates the Flag Code that was adopted in 1942. Not without compassion, he acknowledges that the governor “feels some sense of loss” when one of Michigan’s own dies, but having unique insights into her motives adds that “her motivation to order the flag lowered was purely political.”
Republican County Executive Brooks Patterson in suburban Detroit at first refused to follow the governor’s order that the flag be lowered. His spokesman said Mr. Patterson believed lowering the flag “would be a constant reminder of the high cost of war, and would undermine the war on terror.” According to the report in the Journal, “he didn’t want the governor using this as a political thing, holding a tearjerker news conference every time a soldier was killed.” Someone should tell Mr. Patterson that the death of someone killed in the service of his country and a citizen of one’s state is a genuinely sad event that evokes tears. It does not take a “tearjerker” news conference to make family, friend, and even strangers, shed tears for the lost life.
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