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Rallying 'round what flag? In Iraq, U.S. fighting men--for the first time in our nation's history--were forbidden to display our flag as they went into battle. (Cover Story: Iraq War).

Eleven U.S. Marines were killed near Nasiriyah after an Iraqi unit, feigning surrender, opened fire. Although those killed in action were from Florida, Indiana, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and California, the loss was keenly felt in Jacksonville, South Carolina, home of Camp Lejeune.

"A U.S. flag flew at half-staff... outside Camp Lejeune for the 11 Marines stationed at the base who had died," reported the Associated Press. "Some 17,500 of the 30,000 Marines assigned to Camp Lejeune are overseas and flags and signs in their support dot roadsides and businesses all over Jacksonville." Garry Fribley, whose 26-year-old son David was among those killed at Nasiriyah, captured the mood of most Americans when he said: "It's time to take the gloves off."

American fighting men should not be required to fight with "gloves" on. Nor should they be forbidden to carry our nation's flag into battle--yet our troops in Iraq were ordered not to display the Stars & Stripes.

In Korea, the sickly blue UN banner was displayed alongside the Stars & Stripes, and--in an act of unspeakable blasphemy--Americans were buried in coffins draped with the UN flag. In recent years, the remains of U.S. servicemen killed in Korea have been returned by Pyongyang in coffins that had been similarly desecrated. But "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is the first war in American history in which Americans have been ordered not to fight beneath the Stars & Stripes.

After winning a pitched battle with entrenched, well-armed Iraqi forces at the port of Umm Qasr, U.S. Marines briefly raised the American flag over the port to symbolize a hard-won victory. Traditionally, Marines are the "first in," and in many battles they have had the well earned honor of raising the U.S. flag over territory taken from the enemy--most famously at Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi. But according to a Reuters dispatch from Umm Qasr, shortly after raising our flag in triumph, "Marines returned and removed the Stars and Stripes. No reason was given for the decision, but Washington has consistently stressed that invading U.S. forces want to liberate Iraq, not occupy it."

According to the March 20th International Herald Tribune, U.S. troops poised at the Kuwait-Iraq border were forbidden to display "regimental, state or even the American flag.... Officials say the flag could give the citizens of Iraq the wrong idea about the convoys of artillery, ammunition and soldiers. They are not, these officials say, an army of conquest, intent on claiming Iraqi land or treasure for the United States, but a liberation force. They are concerned that streams of American flags would be seen as provocative."

How "streams of American flags" would be more provocative than, say, attacking Iraq's capital city with a cluster of cruise missiles, the article did not explain. Nor did the article explain why displaying the Stars & Stripes would detract from the image of American troops as liberators. Such concerns never prevented our flag from flying over American troops who liberated Nazi-occupied France during World War II.

This order understandably upset many of our front-line troops. But as professional soldiers, they dutifully carried it out. Judging from photos from the front, the mandate may have been reversed. In any case, Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, insisted that removing our national symbol from forward-deployed units is "'the right thing to do' as a way of underscoring the American commitment to regime change for security and human rights, and not to seizing the country," commented the Herald Tribune.

Vietnam veteran Ben Works of the Strategic Issues Research Institute told THE NEW AMERICAN that Marines at Umm Qasr "were instinctively enjoying the 'Iwo Jima moment' by raising the colors, and they had no orders to the contrary ... [and] no instructions as to what Iraqi flag to fly" because "the U.S. has not proclaimed an interim government, or 'council' for Free Iraq."

Obviously, men do not enlist in the U.S. Marines out of a desire to kill and die in order to raise the flag of any Iraqi government--or any other foreign power.

Raise the Flag!

Those who enlist in our military are volunteers who literally rally around our flag. Those who die in our nation's service (the case of Korea being the exception) are buried beneath a U.S. flag, which is reverently folded and then presented to the grieving next of kin by a military officer pronouncing the tragically familiar benediction: "With the thanks of a grateful nation."

Much is owed to the American fighting men presently on the front lines in the Persian Gulf. Deferring momentarily the question of the wisdom of the Bush administration's policy, our fighting men deserve to know that the American people are behind them. But in matters of war, only Congress--not the president--can speak on behalf of the American people. Congress cowardly avoided acting on that responsibility last October, choosing instead to enact a resolution of "support" for the president in any decision he would make to take our nation to war.

Our troops also deserve to fight under the Stars & Stripes. Yes, our troops have flown our flag to demoralize our enemies and to hearten our allies. But it is displayed primarily for the benefit of those who have shouldered the burden of fighting and winning our nation's wars.

In his famous 1821 Independence Day address, John Quincy Adams explained that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue ... which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom."

As brave Americans fight and die for an unspecified Iraqi flag in "Operation Iraqi Freedom," Adams' shamefully ignored admonition has become a tragic prophecy.
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Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 21, 2003
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