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You’re a big old flag

You’re a big old flag

 You’re a big old flag

It’s the 4th of July and it’s time to be patriotic, even if it’s just for one day. It’s time to celebrate being an American and be proud of our country, warts and all.

Independence Day marks the beginning of history: the day when, in 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. It marks the beginning of freedom with all its benefits and responsibilities, the start of a great journey.

And it’s a day with important symbols, things like the Pledge of Allegiance, the American flag and the National Anthem.

Last week, I attended a meeting that began, as always, with the Pledge of Allegiance: “…to the flag…and to the republic for which it stands…” We tend to just say the words, it’s almost a reflex. Something that is done at the beginning of meetings so as not to get in the way.

The symbol of the flag, the national anthem, is more substantial. It is celebrated with statues (the flag planted on Iwo Jima) and paintings (Betsy Ross sewing the flag). Although the history is uncertain, we do know that a flag design similar to the one used today was approved by the Continental Congress in 1777.

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Today, the flag is everywhere. It flies on homes, lawns, and public and private buildings. And it is apolitical. Both parties support it. Jasper Johns made a living painting different versions of it. Today, the flag can be found on coins, stamps, T-shirts, and even tattoos.

Then there’s the National Anthem. It’s everywhere, too. It’s sung before openings of conventions and sporting events, and played when athletes win gold medals. I always look forward to seeing a flyover right after “…and the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Unlike the flag, the anthem leaves room for interpretation. My wife always winces when a vocalist cheers her on.

The oath, the flag, the anthem… They are symbols and they are important. But patriotism implies much more than that.

Do the progressive masses on the left care less about their country than the traditionalists on the right? I doubt it. Is the football team that disdains the National Anthem any less patriotic than us old-timers who revere the music? Not really. They just have a different view of the country. Are political leftists who want bigger government and more spending any less patriotic than those on the right who want smaller government and less debt? Not at all. They just view patriotism in a different way. They pay their taxes and supply soldiers to fight like the rest of us.

As economists say, patriotism is fungible.

If you want to hear the old version, you should go back to the early 20th century, when music made Americans proud of their heritage. George M. Cohan, the first “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was one of the first to practice it. Few remember the names of his wonderful Broadway shows, but many older people remember his music: “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Over There,” “Harrigan,” “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

Memories fade. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast today, but I’ll never forget the first time I heard Cohan’s lyrics.

“You’re a big old flag,
“You are a flag that flies high
“And may you always greet in peace.

“You are the emblem of
“The land I love,
“The home of the free and the brave.

“Every heart beats with sincerity
“under the red, white and blue,
“Where there is never any boasting or bragging.

“If the old acquaintance were forgotten,
“Keep an eye on the Big Old Flag.”

Happy Fourth of July!

Dave Trecker is a chemist and retired Pfizer executive living in Florida.