op-ed
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Protecting the Flag
by Robert Gillis
15 July 2006

Last week, by a single vote, the Senate failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecrating the American flag.

Many Americans would agree that the issue was far more political than patriotic. CNN reported that, “The measure was the latest in a series of controversial election-year votes engineered by the chamber’s GOP leaders in an effort to entice the party’s conservative base to the polls in November.”

Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), who approved the flag-burning prohibition, went further, comparing flag desecration to libel and child pornography.

This is election-year nonsense; this is distraction. This is a tactic to scare conservatives and get them to the polls in November. Beware! The flag is under attack!

The United States flag is absolutely beautiful. One hangs in front of my house. I get chills when I hear the national anthem played. I love the flag and what it stands for. I love this country. I have never served, but have great respect for all who have and who do now. I always make it a point to thank them for their service.

I am not defending flag burning — I am personally offended by it. But the action of burning a flag IS protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Constitution should not be changed because certain expressions of the first amendment are unpopular.

Is there an outbreak of rampant flag burning of which I am unaware? I don’t see any. But I do see dozens of homeless veterans outside the shelter near Government Center in Boston every day. And I often read stories about returning veterans receiving inadequate benefits or care, or no care at all.

Take the case of Herold Noel, a 26-year old army private, returning home after a tour of duty in Iraq. He is homeless. (Associated Press, 7/5/2006)

According to the Associated Press article describing Noel’s situation, over 200,000 veterans are homeless.

THAT is desecration.

THAT is pornographic.

THAT should be the subject of heated discussion in the US Capitol.

While the larger percentage of our service people come home and go back to civilian life (or make the service a career), far too many come home to find themselves homeless, or sick, or fighting a different enemy here.

These men and women answered their country’s call. They put themselves in harm’s way. They were separated from loved ones and friends, endured hardships we can only imagine, and fought for our freedom. Some were shot at or experienced horrific combat conditions. Some saw things that they cannot forget. Some suffer various mental and physical aliments and many others cannot readjust to civilian life.

And our leaders waste time in a heated debate that is more about distracting the people with an engineered crisis of patriotism — rather than discussing real action on real issues.

That is wrong.

200,000 veterans homeless? Where is the outrage? 200,000 cries for help are being ignored while our leaders debate other, more charged issues, like gay marriage and flag burning.

Our veterans have served, fought and died, not for a flag, but for the nation that flag represents. For the ideals that flag represents. For the people that flag represents.

If the House and Senate wish to debate a constitutional amendment to prevent the desecration of a sacred American icon, look no further than the American soldier. They are sacred. We must honor them.

How about an amendment that no member of the United States Armed Forces shall ever be neglected, homeless or forgotten. Add a proviso that upon honorable discharge, every person who has served this nation’s armed forces will have all their medical, housing, and educational needs, and basic life necessities provided for the rest of their lives. Mandate that every homeless veteran — every one of them — will be located and taken care of properly.

During the month when we celebrate our independence and honor our great nation, and while so many of our best and brightest fight the war on many fronts, let’s do more than listen to political rhetoric. Write or call your elected leaders and encourage them to look into better ways to assist our homeless, disabled and ill veterans.

Our American flag is a beautiful symbol. Let us honor it by enacting legislation that protects and nurtures all those good men and women who have served that flag so well for two centuries.

Those people in uniform — past and present — are the reason you are free.

And finally, to every man and woman who serves or has ever served in the United States Armed Forces: Thank you.

Contact Robert Gillis or visit his website robertgillis.com.

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