Dear Mr. President:
On September 14, at Andrews Air Force Base, you paid tribute to four Americans who lost their lives in the service of our country. These individuals were killed by terrorists who carried out an orchestrated attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Along with their families, friends and co-workers, you met the caskets containing the remains of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty and Sean Smith.
In closing your tribute to these men, you said that “the flag they served under now carries them home.” Indeed it did. American flags draped the caskets of each of these patriots and were solemnly presented to their families “on behalf of a grateful nation.” As you know, the manner in which the American flag is placed on a casket, and how it is folded, are rich in meaning. The protocol symbolically unites the deceased with America’s first patriots, who won our independence.
This month, in the course of a few days, Americans saw contrasting images of our flag in the news media. As described above, they watched you at Andrews AFB, a familiar ceremony in which the flag is proudly and prominently displayed to convey American resolve, but also a sense of national mourning. On the other hand, American citizens saw video footage showing angry Muslims desecrating the Stars and Stripes to demonstrate the depth of their hatred for America. Their understanding of how important our flag is to us is precisely the reason they burn it.
Last week, as fundamentalist Muslim mobs burned American flags, it was revealed that you, Mr. President, took our nation’s banner, modified it with your political logo, and offered it for sale on your website. The modified American flag was designed for your personal and political profit.
Mr. President, this is repugnant.
Since your modified American flag was brought to the public’s attention, veterans and other patriotic Americans have protested your desecration of it. Today, the modified flag no longer appears for sale on your website. I’d like to think that once this graven image was brought to your attention, you fixed the problem. If only that were so.
The reason the modified flag is no longer available on your website is not because you realized that it is deeply offensive to America’s veterans and citizens; or that it is narcissistic; or that it is reminiscent of how some political figures try to transition a society from the rule of law to a personal and centralized authority. No, the reason your spokesperson gave is that it was a “limited edition” and there are no more available. The implication is that if more were available, you would happily sell them.
As president, you are the leader of our country, but that responsibility is temporary. You are already guaranteed a place in our history books — is that not enough? Must you try to immortalize yourself in our country’s most sacred symbol? As president, you are supposed to guard our nation’s history, not edit it.
Throughout our history, the flag has accompanied our people on dangerous journeys. On the earth’s highest peaks and the oceans’ deepest valleys — even on the surface of the moon — American explorers planted the flag to celebrate their victories. Our citizens pledge their allegiance because of what the flag represents — the courage of our past and the promise of our future.
On any given day, millions of Americans turn and respectfully salute our flag at ballparks and civic ceremonies. Millions of our countrymen have gone to war wearing uniforms adorning that flag.
Congress has passed laws and government institutions have written protocols for the proper use and display of the flag. The modified flag that you sold on your website, Mr. President, likely violates one or more of these established rules. But that is not what is most troubling about this situation.
What is most concerning is that by modifying America’s flag, you violated the trust of the American people. You violated the honor of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty and Sean Smith. You violated the memory of American heroes who fought and died for our country and you did so willingly.
By failing to apologize, and by implying that you would continue to sell the modified flag, you have disrespected our flag and those who gave their lives for it. You placed personal ambition above our nation’s honor. That is a malady of the heart.
Thomas P. Kilgannon
President, Freedom Alliance