Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Flag Day

My mom would mark her birthday on June 14th. This is Flag Day in the U.S. But few ever flew the Stars and Stripes, I noticed. But she was tickled that her natal day coincided with what in her youth, I reckoned, must have been a far more celebrated commemoration of patriotism. It also must have been so back then, as she was born a few years after the end of WWI and was married the year America entered WWII, in which her only sibling, her beloved brother Jack and my namesake two decades later, died at Saipan.

I found recently a scarifying quote by the Indian anti-globalism activist-writer Arundhati Roy. “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”

I thought of this watching last week this video by Neil Halloran, "The Fallen of World War II." George Dvorsky comments on how the impact of Stalin on his own civilians, whom he let die so as to make his soldiers fight harder, and the immense amount of casualties the Soviet Union endured, remains eerily evident in these data. Halloran masterfully combines narration and charts, with simple sound effects, minimal pictures, and a clear argument, to show how since 1945, the richer nations have not warred with each other. Civil war declines as nationalism grows, and now, far fewer die. Roy blames death on nationalism; India and Pakistan's birth pangs attest to this slaughter, admittedly.

Halloran would admit that such barbarism in the past few years when it happens may loom as more disproportionate. While news fills our feeds with conflict, very low numbers of deaths register. This is not to minimize loss, but Halloran reminds us that there is a growing tendency from the hard  numbers to demonstrate a definite move away from armed conflict and terror as inflicted worldwide.

At the bottom of every mortal, bloody bar chart he shows, a small flag can be seen. For these, and for of course the ideologies each nation represented (or in some cases, was forced to uphold after invasion or capitulation), I was reminded of my ambivalence towards ritual rallies. In my cubicle, a souvenir (je me souviens) magnet of Québec aside, all I have hanging are mini- Tibetan prayer flags.

This may or may not uphold my principles. In kindergarten, I cherished a booklet of the world's flags; in stamps from colonies and countries, I loved learning geography. Kashmir's partition, Bhutan's frailty, the takeover of Sikkim by India, Maoist victory in Nepal, and the predicament of Tibet all speak to another rebel flag: "Don't Tread on Me." But as the Buddhist appeal in its lofty heartland tries to remind us if unsuccessfully given its own decimation under a red banner, that the ultimate reminder of our shared humanity points to pieces of cloth we hoist with not hate but humility.

No comments: