From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Just Ask Permission

The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history.

Woodrow Wilson

Does the First Amendment give us the right to desecrate the American flag? Or is the flag a sacred symbol of our nation, deserving protection by law? Tough call?

I’ve got the solution.

For those who want to light Old Glory on fire, stomp all over it or spit on it to make some sort of “statement,” I say let them do it. But under one condition: They must get permission.

First, you need permission of a war veteran. Perhaps a marine who fought at Iwo Jima?

The American flag was raised over Mount Surabachi upon the bodies of thousands of dead buddies. Each night on Iwo meant half of everyone you knew would be dead tomorrow, a coin flip away from a bloody end upon a patch of sand your mother couldn’t find on a map.

Or maybe ask a Vietnam vet who spent tortured years in a small, filthy cell unfit for a dog. Or a Korean War soldier who rescued half a nation from communism, or a Desert Storm warrior who repulsed a bloody dictator from raping and pillaging an innocent country.

That flag represented your mother and father, your sister and brother, your friends, neighbors and everyone at home.

I wonder what they would say if someone asked their permission to burn the American flag?

Next, ask an immigrant. Their brothers and sisters may still languish in their native land, often under tyranny, poverty and misery. Maybe they died on the way here, never to touch our shores. Some have seen friends and family get tortured and murdered by their own government for daring to do things we take for granted.

For those who risked everything simply for the chance to become an American . . . what feelings do they have for the flag when they pledge allegiance the first time? Go to a naturalization ceremony and see for yourself the tears of pride, the thanks, the love and respect of this nation as they finally embrace the American flag as their own.

Ask one of them if it would be okay to tear up the flag.

Last, you should ask a mother. Not just any mother, but a mother who gave a son or daughter for America. It doesn’t even have to be in war. It could be a cop. A fireman. Maybe a Secret Service agent. Then again, it could be a common foot soldier. When that son or daughter is laid to rest, their family is given one gift by the American people: an American flag.

Go on. I dare you. Ask that mother to spit on her flag.

I wonder what the founding fathers thought of the American flag as they drafted the Declaration of Independence? They knew this act would drag young America into war with England, the greatest power on Earth. They also knew failure meant more than disappointment. It meant a noose snugly stretched around their necks. But they needed a symbol, something to inspire the new nation. Something to represent the serious purpose and conviction we held for our new idea of individual freedom. Something worth living for. Something worth dying for. I wonder how they’d feel if someone asked them permission to toss their flag in a mud puddle?

Away from family, away from the precious shores of home, in the face of overwhelming odds and often in the face of death, the American flag inspires those who believe in the American dream, the American promise, the American vision. . . .

Americans who don’t appreciate the flag don’t appreciate this nation. And those who appreciate this nation appreciate the American flag. Those who fought, fought for that flag. Those who died, died for that flag. And those who love America, love that flag. And defend it.

So if you want to desecrate the American flag, before you spit on it or before you burn it . . . I have a simple request. Just ask permission. Not from the Constitution. Not from some obscure law. Not from the politicians or the pundits. Instead, ask those who defended our nation so that we may be free today. Ask those who struggled to reach our shores so that they may join us in the American dream. And ask those who clutch a flag in place of their sacrificed sons and daughters, given to this nation so that others may be free. For we cannot ask permission from those who died wishing they could, just once . . . or once again . . . see, touch or kiss the flag that stands for our nation, the United States of America . . . the greatest nation on Earth.

Tom Adkins

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