A German friend once told me how surprised he was by the number of flags flown in France, and asked if there were as many in the United States. I laughed, and told him I was constantly surprised how one French city only flies a handful of flags. On Independence Day the American Flag decorates our front porch, my beach towel and sunglasses, but it’s normal for every school, business, stadium, and (here, anyway) neighborhood telephone pole to fly the stars and stripes every day of the year.
Last week’s Fourth of July firework celebration started off with a dusk singing of the Star-Spangled banner, which we sing often enough that Marylanders add an extra-loud “OH!” for the Baltimore Orioles “Os” baseball team. The next day I accidentally rode my bike through a Fourth parade where the street was lined with thousands robed in red, white and blue. Despite the horrors in American past–slavery, near-destruction of the native population, civil war, overreaching ourselves as a superpower–in general we are a nation that stands under that flag. It had never occurred to me before this year that anyone, anywhere, might find that strange.
Like every flag of every nation, all the parts mean something. The 50 stars on the field of blue stand for our 50 states, and the stripes represent the first 13 colonies to make up the union. Maryland was one.
Red supposedly symbolizes hardiness and valor, which Americans have been showing since Day 1; pioneering and working to build a seriously huge nation. White is for purity and innocence… which is hogwash, probably. But blue is vigilance, perseverance and justice.
In part, we’re just being silly. As a nation we like to celebrate, and go over the top a lot more than I’ve ever seen the average low-key Frenchman or woman even attempt. But we’re also full of pride when displaying an American flag tshirt or saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and I think that if it helps us remember from time to time what the country was built on and that we should aim to be…. then we’re doing it right.