While cleaning up in my pirate hideout the other day, I realized I lost three pirate flags. It’s not what you think. They weren’t the victim of a broadside. Or stolen by some stupid tourist who wanted a souvenir. It was Mother Nature who claimed them. They were so worn they literally fell apart.
A gaping hole was all that was left where the skull and cross bones once flew on one flag. Another was just a mass of tattered threads. That one looked like it had been shot to hell and back by the Royal British Navy. In fact, its battle scars made it look like the genuine article. I even told my wife about selling it on Craig’s List. Seems like you can find anything on Craig’s List from some really nice stuff to some pretty bad relationships. She didn’t think too much of the idea, and after 50 years of marriage, I know she’s right in these matters, so the remnants of pirate history were placed lovingly where they belonged. In the garbage can.
I’m telling you this because flags mean so much to folks. Many have cute little garden flags. Some with the sunshine on it. Others gnomes. Even flamingoes wearing straw hats though I imagine if you ever tried tying one onto a flamingo, it would get pretty annoyed. You have to be careful though when you display a flag if you live in a community governed by an HOA or Home Owner’s Association. Most of them are really nice people, but there are some who are downright nasty. One HOA forced a family to take down the American flag because they thought it was too big. We live in America for pity’s sake. No American flag can be too big. I suspect people who object to the American flag are really secret spies for Putin.
Of course, flags have been around for centuries. Countries all around the world have flown them. There were flags of the Crusaders who killed lots of people in the name of God. Of course, the so-called heathens killed back. Then there were the Swastika flags that Hitler flew everywhere he could. Even today, most decent folk rankle when they see a picture of one. Even the Pope has a flag though I’m not sure why. People talk about Soldiers of Christ, but that suggests killing. I don’t think Jesus would approve of that, just like I don’t think he’d approve of the Crusades.
Generally, flags are a good thing. They remind people of their identity whether it’s a state or a country. Lots of Irish fly the flag of Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, and they’re citizens of the U.S. The flag reminds them of their heritage, culture, and history. Flying a flag like that doesn’t mean you approve of everything that went on in your country’s past. Look at Japan, Germany, and even the United States. They all did some horrendous things. I still shudder when I see pictures of black men lynched in the South, their bodies hanging in the trees while white families, children included, stand around nonchalantly enjoying a picnic. Decent folks, generations later, are angry and disturbed over that part of our history, and so they should be.
Of course, there are some great flags. The state of South Carolina has one with the motto: “Dum spiro, spero.” That’s Latin for “While I breathe, I hope.” I bet the motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, would approve of that message. In fact, anyone who takes exception to it needs his head examined.
Then there’s the flag of the United States Coast Guard with its motto: “Semper Paratus.” That means “Always Prepared.” I’ve known quite a few members of the United States Coast Guard over the years especially my daughter who’s dedicated over half her life to her country, and I don’t mind telling you, they couldn’t have a better officer serving or a better motto.
Not all flags evoke such positive feelings, however. One of the more controversial ones is the confederate flag- the flag Southern states rallied around when they attempted to overthrow the United States government in an effort to keep black people enslaved. They claim it was for the right of states to allow individuals to own slaves. A number of people still cling to that flag. I guess if the South had won, black people would still have shackles on their hands. Whenever I see it, I can’t help but wonder does the person displaying it realize the South lost the war and the only appropriate flag to be flying is Old Glory with her fifty stars. I suspect the person flying that flag would secretly love to return to the good old days when whites subjugated black people. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that when I see the voting laws the new Republican party carefully crafted to make it as difficult as possible to keep black folks from voting.
But not all flags have a serious connotation. I’m thinking particularly of the flag of the Conch Republic adapted April 23, 1982 by the folks of the Florida Keys. In the early 80’s, the United States saw the Florida Keys as a hotbed of drug smuggling, so some federal agents in their profound wisdom decided to set up a roadblock and search the cars traveling from the Keys to the Mainland. As you can imagine, the traffic backups were horrendous. Evidently, someone in Washington thought it was a good idea to treat U.S, citizens like a third-world country.
The people who live in the Florida Keys are pretty openminded and friendly, but this was just too much for them. So they declared war on the United States, seceded from the Union and marched to Fort Zachary in downtown Key West where they threw stale loaves of Cuban bread at the fort’s wall then immediately surrendered, asking for foreign aid. The farce was picked up by the nightly news networks and suddenly the feds had egg all over their face. It didn’t take long for the blockades to come down, and the folks in the Florida Keys got back to living their life again which consists mainly of minding their own business, fishing, and for a few, drinking.
The Conch Republic flag is ubiquitous in the Florida Keys. Maybe you recognize it. On a background of deep, deep blue is a Queen Conch shell with its beautiful pink interior. It sits in the middle of the sun whose rays spread across the flag. Some of the flags even have a saying at the bottom. “We seceded where others failed.”
I’d like to talk to you more about all this, but frankly I don’t have time. I’ve got to dig into the bottom of my Pirate’s Treasure Chest and find replacements for my pirate flags. While I’m at it, I’m going to hang a new flag from my wife; it’s a flag of the Conch Republic and it’s going in my Key West Garden. Meanwhile, you think about what I said, and tell me what your favorite flag is. Next to Old Glory, of course. If you’re an American, it should always be number one whether you live in the Florida Keys or in a quaint fishing village in Maine. Happy Fourth of July. And remember that freedom is a precious thing, and bigots shouldn’t spell it “ just us”, but “justice for all.”