Congrats to Cadet William Albert , United States Air Force Academy, for Winning the 2006 WantsCheck.Com Cadet Essay Contest! The topic: "As officers, you will take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Given your unique position as an individual who must both defend the Constitution and honor the flag, do you think that flag burning should be protected or prohibited, and why?"
Our True Colors
“It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag.”
- Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC
Of all things in all the world, as American soldiers we love one above all else: our Flag. When we see its bright colored canvas flying high above our heads, it reminds us of who we are, where we come from, and what we fight for. The red, white, and blue inspire in our hearts and minds the pride of our special heritage, and the memory of those who have died to give it to us. It is a symbol of freedom, justice, and the land we call home. In its stripes and stars we see all that we love and cherish in this world. Yet, among our brothers and sisters there are those that would burn our flag in hate and protest, spitting on the fabric the brave have died for. As men and women of arms, can we in good conscience allow such disrespect for our most beloved symbol? I believe we can, and we must. Even our flag means little without the liberty it represents. It is for that liberty that I have pledged my service, and for that liberty that I am prepared to give my life to defend.
As Americans, it is imperative to truly understand the meaning of our flag in order to decide whether to protect it. The flag itself is only a colored piece of rectangular canvas, like any other flag. Its power to inspire is solely derived from what it represents. Indeed, it is a symbol of true freedom, the unique ideals of the United States, and the very land we call home. It represents to us the greatest country on Earth, of which we are privileged to be a part. However, the chill the flag sends down our spines results from the knowledge of those who have died heroically to secure our freedom. Noble patriots have paid the ultimate price to give us a better life, and in our flag we see their faces. It waves over us as a testament to their courage to die for something bigger than themselves, and in saluting our flag we acknowledge our own willingness to do the same. Thus, the American flag is one of our greatest symbols, representing the foundation of our way of life and the freedoms we possess. How can we let it burn?
As members of the armed forces of our country, we have a unique feeling towards our flag which makes it even harder to sympathize with those who would burn it. Each one of us has made great sacrifices to have the privilege of protecting our country and our way of life. We firmly believe in the righteousness of the Constitution and the greatness of our nation, and are committed to ensuring that our countrymen will enjoy our way of life for many years to come. Thus, we wholeheartedly believe in all that our flag represents, and as a result give it our greatest respect. Never do I stand taller or salute more crisply than towards the star spangled banner as it comes down at the end of the day. It is evidently right, then, that we as warriors honor and revere such an icon which represents so much. How can we let it burn?
We have established the flag as our greatest American symbol, and one which we as soldiers of our country deeply respect. Why then should we tolerate the grave disrespect shown by those who burn it in protest? The answer is simple: we must protect and honor the flag, but we must protect and honor liberty first. The flag of the United States stands for freedom above all, and among those freedoms is the freedom of speech. It is a principle right of the American people to voice opinions contrary to those of the government or military without fear of reprisal. In burning the flag, they may be saying they have no respect for their government, freedom, or for those who provide it, but nevertheless it is their right to do so. While we may disagree with them bitterly and see their actions as a disgrace to our most precious symbol, without that very freedom our flag’s meaning would be destroyed. For, it is truly the liberty the flag represents which is ultimately important, not the cloth and dye that give it physical form. As Father Dennis Edward O’Brien put so eloquently, it is the soldier, who in selfless heroism, secures the freedom for protestors to burn the very flag he or she loves. It is thus our duty as defenders of the Constitution to protect the rights of others first, even when that means watching the flag we love burning at the hands of the ungrateful.
Throughout history, many have been oppressed or killed for protesting their government. From the students of Tiananmen Square to Stalin’s greatest generals, brave people have died standing up for what they believed in. It is our special privilege as Americans that we don’t have to. In our country we have the right to disagree without fear, and it is that right which makes us great. Therefore, even when it is nearly unbearable to do so, we must tolerate the freedom to nonviolent speech or else forsake all that we claim to stand for.
While doing the right thing is often difficult, each soldier of the United States must always remember the principles we are fighting for. Upon commissioning, I will fight to keep my home safe, protect the ideals of liberty and justice, and preserve the American way of life. In the flag, I see all those things. No object commands in me more respect or more loyalty. Yet, when I see it burned I will stay my hand, because it is that very right that I fight for. We must live our lives as best we can to inspire in others the same love of freedom and country, but at the end of the day it is in our respect for the principles of freedom that we show our true colors.