Think twice before hanging the flag

SBy Anna Nussbaum

sOUTH BEND, Ind. (U-Wire) – I received an e-mail message this week. You probably received one like it. It began, “On Sept. 11 wear red, white, and blue.” The words on the screen then faded and for a full five minutes my computer flickered with those images of human suffering we saw everywhere last fall in the glossy pages of magazines and on the flash of TV screens.

I saw people running from buildings covered in debris, firemen searching in vain for human remains among smoldering rubble and buildings exploding in flame. The images were so potent and powerful the author of the e-mail thought they would persuade me to put out my flag and to wear our nation’s colors on Sept. 11. But patriotism, I think, is no antidote to hatred. I find no comfort in the American flag. Isn’t there a better way to honor our dead?

Across the nation on Sept. 11 there will be plenty of flag waving. We are a patriotic people in the midst of a war against terrorism overseas, and we are on the verge of a ground war in Iraq. But before you put out a flag ask yourself what it signifies. Where do your ultimate allegiances lie? Are you first an American? Or are you first a human?

Maybe you’re not an American at all. College is not just for U.S. students. At Notre Dame University we are an international community. In 2001 there were undergraduates attending Notre Dame from 64 countries outside the United Sates and graduate students from 87. Likewise, hundreds of non-Americans died beside us in the terrorist attacks on the United States last fall. Here at Notre Dame, we should understand nationalism is not the appropriate response to murder on the part of our government or on the part of any other government or group. Mourning is.

If you must hang a flag, hang an Earth flag, in the hope we might someday live as brother and sister with all people regardless of nationality. Or don’t hang any flag at all. Just sit quietly and reflect, or chill with a group of people and sing, or write “pray for peace” on your door or “we remember” in your window or attend a vigil or a lecture on the conflict in the Middle East.

Our nation’s war against terrorism is not a football game, and the American flag is not just another trendy fashion accessory. There are no winners here.

Those who died on Sept. 11 will never be brought back. War is not something to be celebrated, even if you think it is necessary or inevitable. Then it should be understood as a necessary tragedy, and the nation state a necessary but imperfect division among people.

Be hospitable to our international students, many of whom hail from countries we have at one time been at war with. Examine your allegiances and search your heart before you hang the flag.

Anna Nussbaum’s column first appeared in The Observer at Notre Dame University on Sept. 6, 2002. Send comments to [email protected].