Is there a difference between the two?
The United Sates of America is the only democracy where the national flag is routinely displayed on private businesses and homes. It wasn’t always so.
After the horrible events of 9-11, a wave of disbelief, then anger & then reaction, swept this country, and in response to this horrific attack, Americans responded quickly: emergency responders from all over this country made their way to the World Trade Center site to help, many young people responded by enlisting in the armed forces, many old soldiers volunteered for service (and a few were accepted) and American flags appeared everywhere: on cars and trucks, attached to the windows, larger flags mounted on large trucks (even now, many of our fire department rigs continue to fly the flag), and on private homes.
Today, seven years later, the number of flags displayed has greatly diminished, except for the auto dealers (who seem to think the more American flags they fly, the better the business—go figure!), a few “good ol’ boys” who incorrectly display a back-window appliqué depicting the waving flag with a bald eagle superimposed on it (a clear violation of the US Flag Code), and a decreasing number of private homes (until very recently, including mine), among others. Does this mean we are less patriotic?
Before I answer that, let’s look back to other times in our history, at least as remembered. Obviously as a “Boomer,” meaning I was born after WWII, I have no recollection of that period—so I asked my mother & father-in-law, both in their teens during the war, for their recollections, beginning with my mother-in-law:
“About flags in St. Paul during WWII: Very few people could afford flags during the Depression. Those who had flags displayed them from their homes on Armistice Day, July 4, etc. I don’t recall many people displaying flags on houses, at least not in our neighborhood, other than on holidays. A few businesses may have displayed flags, but this was done mostly by places that had flagpoles—schools and government buildings.”
“My father had a flag which he attached to the front of the house on the Fourth of July and on Armistice Day, but not at any other time.”
“As a general rule, I would say that public display of a flag in the city was confined mostly to government buildings and schools, not homes.” [B. Fisher]
“Farmers were not big on flags but the Army always was.” [A.E. Fisher]
I was in grade school in the fifties, during the height of the “Red Scare” years of Joe McCarthy and the Korean Conflict—and pretty much the only places one would see the American flag displayed was on government & public buildings—post offices, schools, libraries and the like.
Even into the sixties, It was not until the anti-war movement went from a whisper to a roar, that flags really started sprouting on homes as the intensity of the dissent increased.
Soon many minds were changed about our involvement in Vietnam, and the American Flag became symbolic of the extremes on both sides, with the anti-war protestors burning the flag, and the pro-war “America! Love it or Leave it” folks making its display nearly their sole province. During this time I was a member of the armed forces (1967-1974), and although very much in favor of out withdrawal from Vietnam, did not consider myself of either faction, but rather took to heart the words of famed 19th Century U.S. naval hero, Stephen Decatur as an after-dinner toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” A quotation more often than not misquoted as “My Country, right or wrong.”
And there, I believe, lies an accurate definition of both the words “Nationalism” (“America! Love it or Leave it!”) and “Patriotism,” (“My Country, right or wrong.”). In foreign affairs, particularly military operations, a Nationalist loves the United States, and believes that that because we are America, we have the right to do as we please if it is deemed in our best interests by our leaders and any dissent is tantamount to treason; a Patriot also loves the United States, but doesn’t believe we have special rights not possessed by other counties, just because we are America.
The title of this post asked a question: “Flying the Flag, Nationalism or Patriotism?” The answer is easy: YES. To display the flag or not to display the flag is not (necessarily) a political statement, nor should it be so construed.
It should be considered a personal choice as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment, and not limited to the “love it or leave it” types, (many of whom do not display the flag), nor should those who choose not to display it be viewed as less than patriotic.
Whether one chooses not to display the flag, or to display it 24 hours a day, every day, to raise it at dawn and lower it at dusk, or to display it only on traditional holidays doesn’t matter. What really matters is that we as Americans, have that choice.
For my part, I have chosen to display my flag only on traditional holidays from dawn to dusk. I have so chosen because it is my opinion that limiting its display increases its impact, and a constant display becomes just part of the background of daily life for many people.
If you choose to display the flag, consult the US Flag code (it’s not law, enforceable by fine or imprisonment), and respect the tradition. Keep it clean and in good repair, and when it is no longer suitable for display, retire it, and dispose of it properly.
Just my opinion.
Questions about the US Flag Code? See Independence Hall Association (a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942): Betsy Ross Flag Rules and Regulations, this site is very informative.