It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

what so proudly we hailed

I DON'T KNOW HOW LONG they had been there, but I only noticed them after September 11. Perhaps they'd been placed shortly afterwards in our nation's solidarity and patriotic fervor. Perhaps I only noticed them due to our patriotic fervor. Could be. All I know is that one day I was at the Porter Square T stop, riding the escalator up from the Turnstile Forest to the Land Aboveground, and I said to myself "Hey. They've hung an American flag on the wall there. That's nice."

And it was nice, in that period of bipartisan unity, that moment of nous sommes tous l'Americains. American flags appeared in other T stations, and it still was nice. The flag -- and by flag, I do mean the actual cloth flag and its actual design, not any haphazard stars-n-stripes red-white-n-blue motif applied to any other surface or object -- the flag in part represents resilience. Our national anthem illustrates and reinforces this resilience with amazing clarity.

As every American of my generation knows (I can't speak for Kids Today anymore) Francis Scott Key wrote a poem entitled "The Defense of Fort McHenry" during the British Navy's failed attempt to invade Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812. Key witnessed the coastal fort survive a night of heavy bombardment, he watched the British warships fail and fall back, but most importantly, he saw the American flag, tattered but no worse for the wear, still flying high over the fort when the sun rose the next day. Set to a popular British drinking tune, the song, now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner", eventually became our national anthem and is regularly mangled with great grandstanding and furious melisma before sporting events and other public gatherings.

Enough history. What we have here, see, is something that was desperately needed in the fall and winter of 2001. An attitude that said "Okay, see, we just got blindsided, we got hamstrung, we got a kidney punch with brass knuckles when we weren't looking, but we're strong. We're resilient. We'll get back up, dust ourselves off, band together and stand united -- hey, isn't 'united' in our country's name? -- and we're gonna get the jerks who did this to us in the first place."

Five years later, that attitude is but a memory. A nice memory, one that still gives me warm feelings of optimism, but one that unfortunately rings hollow when I realize just what has been done since. Some of the jerks involved have been dealt with accordingly, yes, but their ringleader is still at large. Meanwhile, our own ringleaders are preoccupied with a country that wasn't even responsible for our initial hamstringing, we've divided ourselves again back into two camps, one named Us and the other Them, and we're scared.

We're scared of shoe bombs. We're scared of dirty bombs. We're scared of liquids. We're scared of brown people in public places speaking languages we don't understand because they could be up to no good (or they could just be discussing last night's episode of House.) We've even got a handy little scale that tells us just how scared we should be. We don't fly proudly and defiantly. We fly suspiciously, constantly glancing over our shoulders at the slightest movement.

There's still a flag hanging in the Porter Square station. It's in the same place, high up and out of reach, but it's safely secured behind glass in a giant steel frame that probably cost more than the flag itself. It is protected, but what from?


The ignominy of falling to the ground should the hooks holding it in place fail? (Well, considering the MBTA farms out jobs to the lowest bidder, that possibility could be very likely.)

Davis Square has a similarly protected flag, and I believe there are more along the MBTA routes. They may be trying to put a flag in each station, which is a nice gesture but honestly I can think of better ways for the T to be spending its money right now. I'd rather have working escalators and on-time service than a flag boxed up and displayed in front of me like a museum piece, especially when the flag no longer exemplifies what it symbolized but five scant years ago.

The flag is no longer a symbol of resilience and defiance when it's sealed up tight in a protective cocoon with a view. It's a prisoner of its own caretakers. It does not deserve this mollycoddling. It should be allowed to stand up on its own to the ravages of dust or gravity or kidney punches or whatever. I can only hope that the new crop of caretakers, both the ones on their way now and the ones who will be picked later on, will have the courage and the strength to let the flag, and the country, out of its protective cocoon to once again fly free and without fear.

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