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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2001 /2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Ben Stein

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Flag basks in freedom's glow -- IN the wake of the mass murders Sept. 11, Americans have begun to fly the flag in great numbers. You see the Stars and Stripes fluttering from homes, stores, office buildings, on cars, on clothing, at airports - everywhere Americans want to say they love their country, its ideals and people.

But this has provoked a backlash, which is natural in a free country where any number of disgruntled men and women are running about at any time. Some of them have been quoted as saying the flag represents repression, exploitation or arrogance.

I am delighted that even the most misguided opinions have protection in this glorious nation. But these cranks are so far off the mark about what Old Glory represents that it's a crime against education.

The American flag is not about repression. The American flag is a beacon of hope so bright that World War II death-camp prisoners in agony in foul straw lifted themselves up to see the emblem that meant deliverance from racial murder. The flag means such generosity of spirit that even our enemies in Europe risked their lives to run to the West to be able to surrender to forces under the banner, which spelled hope and kindness even to those we fought.

For the 45 years of the Cold War, the American flag represented a system of human freedom and the chance to be what you want to be. Hundreds of thousands fled states of repression and regimentation to cross minefields and crawl under barbed wire to get to the protection of that flag.

The flag that fools deride was the magnet that lured the imprisoned of Cuba to take to the sea in little more than rafts to risk - and lose - lives to get to the freedom it represented. Even now, the poor and hopeful from all over the world, from Haiti, from the Dominican Republic, from China, from everywhere in Africa, risk hardships difficult to imagine to get here and start lives of freedom and possibility.

To Americans after the massacres of Sept. 11, the flag represents our unity and determination to keep our country free. But to the rest of the world, it has forever meant the chance to rise from wretched poverty to anywhere your hard work can take you. Its red, white and blue are the rays of light at the dawn of new lives for tens of millions who knew only closed, hopeless prisons of lives. Their birthplaces substituted hatred, control and forceful conformity for man's natural birthright of liberty, love and individuality. America gave them that birthright.

Even now, Afghans are desperate to leave their beautiful but brutally oppressed country and come to the one place on Earth where they know they will be safe. Even as we attack the people in their country who murdered so many on Sept. 11, we drop food for the innocent Afghan people - and probably the guilty ones, too. This is a small measure of our generosity as a people.

Our flag is the symbol of a social, cultural and political order based on who man naturally is: an individual, infinitely varying creature who deserves to be able to live out whatever his or her dreams may be in a spirit of cooperation and freedom from terror.

Of course, some here and abroad will hate that flag out of jealousy and envy, will hate the very idea of freedom and be terrified by it. Obviously, Osama bin Laden is one of those. But we who are blessed to live here under this flag should love it and thrill to see it wave. It is, for all of mankind who do not live in a self-imposed cage of hate, the flag of hope for a better life and a beacon for all of the world.

I pity those who don't understand that, but I glory at a nation so sure that freedom is the right way that it allows even those who hate and fear freedom to speak under its spectacularly billowing red, white and blue.

JWR contributor Ben Stein is a writer, actor and host of Comedy Central's Turn Ben Stein On and Win Ben Stein's Money. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Ben Stein