Jewish World Review April 7, 2006/ 9 Nissan, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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‘Furl that flag,’ for 'tis leery | LOS ANGELES — The ancient Chinese sage who advised generals yearning to enhance their splendor to "put out more flags" ought to be recognized as the patron saint of every rebel with a cause. Sometimes the rest of us can't hear the music for the sound of marching feet, but we can see the flags.

The backlash against Mexican flags in the street theater about illegal immigration has set off a run on the Stars and Stripes. Every demonstrator needs one, whether he really wants it or not. Some flag stores here have sold out of American flags.

Street demos are scheduled in a lot of places over the next few days, as Congress continues to haggle over amnesty, not only whether to grant it but over how to avoid calling it amnesty when they grant it. Organizers have got the message, even if sometimes the demonstrators haven't, that the Stars and Stripes, like it or not, is for once the politically correct banner to wave.

Flags have a unique ability to touch the emotions, which is why a clever cave man first fashioned a banner from a bit of his loin cloth to fly over his cave (only a gentleman wears Hanes), no doubt to celebrate his slaying of the tastiest wild creature in the forest for his supper and the capture of the most fetching cave woman in the territory to cook it for him. Captains and kings have unfurled bright bits of cloth since, to ride the breeze to project dominion over pelf and pine. Flags rock.

But the foreign flags that strike the mystic chords of memory in the hearts of the banner bearers can strike fear and loathing in the hearts of mere spectators. Who among us (excluding Gloomy Gus on the left, who never has a nice day) has not felt a catch in his throat and his happy heart skipping a beat at the sight of Old Glory snapping in the breeze in a land far from home?

But flags of foreign lands, even lands no longer foreign, can provoke, agitate and even enrage. The sight of the Confederate battle flag, the familiar St. Andrew's Cross, that makes a Southerner want to stand up and holler (particularly if the flag is accompanied by a brassy rendition of "Dixie") strikes fear and loathing in those who in their willful ignorance of their country's history regard it as a flag of defiance and resistance to the law and to the modern culture. (No one is angered more than the Southerner at the sight of the flag of his heroes in the hands of yahoos, nativists, racists and other clods and hoddy-noddies.)

The Mexican flag carried by so many Hispanic demonstrators, many of them children of immigrants who were born here, similarly angered many Californians. No one knows this better than the grown-up faces in the crowd.

"When I see pictures of marchers waving big Mexican flags, my instant reaction is: Republican votes," writes George Skelton, the perceptive California political columnist, in the Los Angeles Times. "When the TV news videotapes young people storming freeway on-ramps and blocking traffic, I think: backfire. When 40,000 kids skip class and become truants, I fear: There go the school bonds ... Except for the foreign flags, the commuter harassment, the school ditching, these have been inspiring protests. Problem is, pictures convey the message."

The Mexican flags, like the St. Andrew's Cross, have become symbols of defiance. Even some of the rhetoric of the defenders of the illegals sounds vaguely familiar, as if employed on other occasions of law-breaking. "What should happen to the 12 million people who are here in the shadows, undocumented?" asks Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat. "Many would say they are here illegally, they ought to go back. Well, they are not going to go back. They are going to remain living furtively, subject to work abuse, exploitation, threats and blackmail." Mrs. Feinstein probably has her facts straight, but her rhetoric is nevertheless a faint echo of a certain Alabama governor vowing to stand forever in the schoolhouse door.

A curious and telling fact about the flags in the demonstrations in downtown Los Angeles is that the Mexican flags seemed to have been held aloft mostly by Mexican-Americans who were born here, perhaps as a romantic gesture of homage to a homeland past and gone. The Stars and Stripes were carried by new immigrants, who only just escaped from a place they're eager to leave behind. They know better than to indulge romance.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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