Last week local columnist Mr. Murray J. Martin threw down the flag-gauntlet on local politicians through an op-ed piece in the Whitehorse Star. After first going into great detail concerning his construction plans for a new flag pole on his front lawn, Mr. Martin challenged local politicians to also fly a Canadian flag on their own homes. His stated rationale for flying the flag, beyond normal patriotism, was to pay tribute to veterans. Mr. Martin then promised to publish a list of politicians who matched his now well-noted patriotism by flying a Canadian flag over their own home.
I take no issue with Mr. Murray flying a flag in tribute to veterans. Nor do I take issue with Mr. Martin’s patriotism. In fact I applaud both. I do, however, take issue with Mr. Murray’s implication that his neighbouring politicians are somehow less patriotic than he, or less supportive of veterans, if they do not match Mr. Murray’s flag. And I further take issue with Mr. Martin’s promise to publicly admonish anybody who does not adhere to his newly set standard of patriotism in the Yukon Territory.
By publishing names of those who follow his lead, Mr. Murray is also publishing, by omission, those politicians who do not fly a flag. In essence, Mr. Murray has declared himself the standard bearer of patriotism and veteran support in the territory, and he will enforce public displays of patriotism through published lists of names in the Star.
This type of enforced personal displays of patriotism recently played itself out in the congress of the United States. Congressmen were singled out for not wearing American flag pins on their lapels. Those congressmen found (foolishly) wandering the halls of congress without a flag on their lapel were loudly branded by certain colleagues as unpatriotic. Enough waves were made and enough shame was heaped that every member eventually wore a pin on their lapel.
This enforced patriotism kept snowballing until, eventually, the very “French fries” in the cafeteria were renamed “Freedom fries,” as a good American citizen of any worth could certainly not bring him or herself to speak the name of a country that had failed to join the Iraq War. The issue, of course, is that nobody in this equation became any more patriotic, or any more in support of the troops. It was simply a race to see who could state their devotion to country the loudest and the most prominently. It was an exercise in bluster, no substance.
Our situation reminds me of Dr. Suess’s story of the Star-Bellied Sneetches, wherein a “fix-it-up chappie” named Sylvester McMonkey McBean came to Sneetchtown with a machine to give Sneetches stars on their bellies. Pre-machine, some Sneetches had no stars, while others were possessed of stars on their bellies. As one can imagine, the machine caused quite a stir, and eventually every Sneetch had at least one star.And then the good Sneetches all raced for a second star, and then a third. The story was, and continues to be, a scathing commentary, in rhyming form, on discrimination.
Once we all had one flag proudly flying, how would we be able to tell who amongst us was the most patriotic? The providence of one’s patriotism could only then be displayed, of course, by a second flag. Or a larger flag pole. Or some such contrivance to give the world notice of the occupant’s love of country over their neighbours. Whatever the standard of patriotism, it would be set by those who felt that only they could dictate the bar, and then that standard would be rigorously enforced by same.
To be clear, this is not an article critical of those who choose to express their patriotism or their respect of our troops, this is an article critical of those who try to set a bar for the rest of us based on their own subjective impression of what patriotism looks like.
The long and the short of it is that we are all free to express our patriotism in our own way. One man’s flag waving may be another man’s donation to the Legion. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being Canadian or honouring our veterans. I would encourage local politicians, and all citizens of the Yukon, to pursue their displays of respect in their own way, and to please pay no mind to the flag-police. The end result of that road is each of us having to buy a minimum of six flags for our houses, with a seventh in reserve. And I simply don’t have the room in my garage for all those flags.
Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.