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You Will Fly the Flag, and You Will Like It

Patriotism is to be found in the heart, not the hand that takes away liberty.

September 13, 2002|AIMEE LIU | Aimee Liu, author of the forthcoming novel "Flash House," is president of PEN USA.

Returning from an early walk Wednesday--our day of national mourning--I found a flag stuck in the geranium plant at the end of our driveway. A foot-long laminated flag on a 2-foot spike. The attached tag read, "Compliments of your neighborhood Realtor [followed by name and phone number]. Proudly wave your flag on these days:" And then it listed all the national secular holidays from New Year's to Veteran's Day. Sept. 11 was missing from the list, but I presume that will last only until the stock of these blue and white notices is exhausted and the Realtors reprint.

I looked up and down the block. Every driveway had its flag. The Japanese American household across the street. The Italians. The Persians. The Lithuanians. Even the houses under construction where no one was living had American flags. And, of course, the houses that were up for sale. Clearly a case of massive involuntary flag-waving. Imposed flag-waving. Worse, commercial flag-waving.

For let's face it, the real motivational message is this: May the spirit of patriotism inspired by this flag move you so profoundly that you'll call me at the following number, let me sell your house and advance my sales ranking to the Platinum Circle.

I plucked the flag from the pot, removed the notice and placed the flag in another spot, unseen from the street.

Let me be clear. My argument is not against the flag. It is the presumption, the imposition of the sentiment and worse, the corruption of patriotism that makes me irate.

Let me be clearer. I had spent the hour before this listening to the names of the dead being read at the World Trade Center. I noted the Arab names, the Korean and Indian, Scandinavian and African names as well as the many Kellys and Smiths. I was moved all over again and profoundly sad for the victims and their survivors.

I thought of the numerous survivors who have joined forces as Families for Peace to visit the civilian victims of the bombing in Afghanistan and to speak out against the proposed war against Iraq. To my mind, these brave individuals represent the best of America and the transformative good that can rise from ashes sown by evil. They represent the independent thought, courage and free will that lie at the heart of our national identity. They do not represent mandatory flag-waving.

Nor do they represent the many ways this administration has seized the excuse of terrorism to curb the freedoms that I have always believed form the core truth behind our flag. Thanks to President Bush, John Ashcroft and the so-called USA Patriot Act, our government is authorized to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens even when there is no probable cause.

"Roving wiretap" authority allows the government to intercept conversations on cell phones and to monitor multiple telephones and computers used by an individual, regardless of how many other people use the same instruments (such as pay phones or Internet cafe computers). Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to subpoena records from anybody it wants and prosecute those subpoenaed if they tell anyone about it. Federal investigators may now search and seize our belongings without probable cause as long as they claim the search is "related to terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." They may monitor our religious and political institutions using the same "standard."

Noncitizens may be deported with little or no judicial review, and Americans accused of activities that relate to terrorism may be jailed indefinitely without trial and without being charged or allowed to confront the witnesses against them.

So much for the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

All this in the name of the "patriotism" that laminated commercial giveaway flags have come to symbolize.

The sorry truth is that our national promise of "liberty and justice for all" is under attack not just by terrorists from afar but by those who warn us to hoist the Stars and Stripes--or else.

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