by Ron Madson
In July of 2007 one hundred words waited anxiously to see if they would be included in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary–only twenty were inducted. Some words stood above the crowd such as “ginormous,” “perfect storm” and “smackdown” while others were a credit to our ever increasing cultural advancements–“crunk”, “speed-dating” and our latest entertainment import–“Bollywood.” As if we needed another reason to support Operation Freedom in Iraq, less than 5% of our annual national budget was spent on our Iraqi nation building exercise for which we had a whopping 10% return of the twenty new words added to our lexicon this past year thanks to our investment there— “IEDs” and “flex-cuff.” While the word and the device called “IEDs” can be found everywhere, you might think “flex-cuff” plays a second fiddle to IED’s, but just type in “flex-cuff” with the word “Iraq”on your search engine and you will find that there is a high probability that “flex-cuffs” far outnumber “IEDs”—but I digress.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary uses the following criteria to determine if a new word should be added: “If a word shows up enough in mainstream writing, the editors consider defining it.” In a previous edition of the Mormon Worker (Volume II) I offered to provide my legal services to Blackwater by providing a novel defense to acts of aggression introduced by our Executive branch called “the one-percent doctrine.” I suggested that innovative “one percent” legal defense could be extended to gangs, domestic disputes, and criminal proceedings. I have had no takers. However, I have lowered my sights to reach what I consider a very obtainable personal benefit from the Iraq adventure that I am hoping Merriam-Webster dictionary people will provide—the introduction of a new word to the American lexicon—“Flagophilia.” I am sending a courtesy copy of the Mormon Worker—surely by now a “mainstream” writing— to the editors of the Merriam-Webster dictionary people which includes this very article you are now reading. This is a start. I would suggest the editors of Merriam-Webster also consider a companion word coined by none other than popular political commentator and television host Stephen Colbert of the “Colbert Nation” who proclaims himself as the premier “flagophile.”
“Flagophilia.” The word “philia” is a common suffix which means “an intense or higher level of love of something.” There are hundreds of words followed by “philia” such as a Francophilia which means a “love of France and French culture” (a word arguably disappearing from America during recent years) to only slightly less savory “philias” such as “necrophilia” for which I will spare the reader from my defining it here. But some things merit “philia” such as flags and nothing has been more evident in our nation the last seven years then a clear demonstration of “flagophilia” by a nation of “flagophiles.” Flagophilia has been around since mankind with the assistance of cartographers decided to divide the earth into multicolored line-divided nations.
However, the United States having a healthy dose of “nationphilia” went as far as institutionalizing a Pledge of Allegiance to our flag in our public schools during the 1950s so we could easily sort out, as recommended by the Honorable Senator Joseph McCarthy, those among us that were real patriots, and not pretenders.
However, since “9/11”—a word that also should be “hung in the rafters” of any dictionary—“flagophilia” has reached a zenith of societal approbation. Since 9/11 the “Red, White and Blue” can be seen everywhere from sport’s apparel to bumper stickers to creative tattoos, and every size from “ginormous” flags at “ginormous” retail stores to the tiny but fashionable flag pin worn on suits by all real patriots. In fact, flag pins have become such a reliable indicator of love of nation that this year when it was noticed that one of the dozens of Presidential Candidates had not been spotted wearing a flag pin there has been an unrelenting “smackdown” as to his faux pas—and every time I see him it is hard to concentrate on the substance of what he is saying when he is not wearing a flag pin.
I became a resident of Alpine, Utah in 2001. On nearly every recognizable holiday if you drive through this small but growing town of 12,000 you will find almost every home with an American Flag neatly placed along the street by the local scout troops. It is quite a sight. Like the politician flag pin, the only homes that stick out are those without a flag. Some quacky psychiatrist might characterize the need to have every home show their flag as community, obsessive compulsive disorder—but I would prefer to call it “flagophilia.”
If ever a word deserves to be placed permanently in our national lexicon it is “flagophilia.” What I wrote above will be sent to the Board of Editors for Merriam- Webster, but since the Mormon Worker addresses “Mormon” matters, I will address two issues that arise among Mormon “flagophiles”: First, do we have a choice as to which flag to adore and secondly, given our polygamous roots, is it possible to love more than one flag at the same time, and if so which flag should be given the highest place on our flag poles?
Standard of Peace Flag
As to choice of flags, in our generation it is a little known fact that at the genesis of our faith an Ensign Flag was designed which was flown at Zion’s Camp, Nauvoo and then Ensign Peak. After persistent and violent attacks on the Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, Joseph received from the Lord what is now canonized as Section 98 of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord tells his saints how to respond to enemies. The Lord commands us to “Renounce war and proclaim peace.” (D.C. 98:16). To make that mandate clear to others, the Lord further commanded us to “lift a standard of peace” (D.C. 98: 34) or as referred to elsewhere the “Ensign of Peace”: “And again I say unto you, sue for peace not only to the people that have smitten you, but also to all people; And lift up the ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth; And make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.” Doctrine & Covenants Section 105: 38-40.
In obedience to the Lord’s commands in Sections 98 and 105 a blue and white “standard of peace” flag was prepared and carried with Zion’s Army: “I gave orders that a standard be prepared for the nations” (Joseph Smith History 6:528) This flag stood in stark contrast to the “red flag” adopted by the mobs in Jackson County, Missouri. The Lord did intervene and fight the battles for His people as promised, and “softened the heart” of their enemies through the power and virtue of the words of peace, and then Zion’s Army made the final offer of peace by disbanding as commanded. When the mobs were forming in Nauvoo, Joseph instructed the church leaders that “a standard to be made and raised for the nations.” After Joseph’s death and the Nauvoo City Charter was repealed, Brigham Young used a blue and white flag as a signal and standard of peace and hoisted it above the temple, and then before arriving in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young discussed his plans to raise the LDS flag on the top of Ensign Peak, which he had seen previously in vision: “The House of the Lord will be reared in the tops of the mountains and the proud banner will wave over the valleys…I know where the spot is and I know how to make this flag, Joseph sent the colors and said where the colors settle there will be the spot (Lee, Diary, Church Archives, Historical Department, Salt Lake City). Then as Joseph F. Smith noted this vision was fulfilled:
“One 26 July 1847, just two days after Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, he and others ascended a dome-shaped hill north of the present Utah State Capitol Building. He had seen this prominent peak in vision. As President Young raised a flag he also symbolically lifted the “ensign to all nations…”
Brother B.H. Roberts taught the significance of this flag that was unfurled:
The Ensign that these Latter-day Saint Pioneers had in mind, and of which they had frequently spoke en route, was something larger and greater than any national flag whatsoever; and what it was meant to represent was greater than any earthly kingdom’s interest… This Ensign was in the minds of the Mormon Pioneers concerned not with one nation, but all nations….not nationality but humanity in its scope and concern. It was the sign of the Empire of Christ.”
The Deseret News conference report of April 1853 reports that an LDS flag “a blue and white banner with stripes and twelve stars encircling a single large star” representing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His latter-day Kingdom was displayed when the corner stones of the temple were laid. Brigham called this flag three names: “Flag of the Kingdom”, “Flag of Deseret” and most telling, “My flag.” The “Standard of Peace or the Standard of Truth” was unfurled “High on a Mountain Top.” (Joel Johnson, 1853 Hymn). The standard of truth had been erected and the Lord had laid a foundation of peace that would break up the patterns of vengeance and death spawned by the contracted feelings of nationalism and ethnocentric tribalism. The Lord had communicated through his latter-day revelations a new way—a way of peace and that way now had a flag. We did then and we continue to have a choice.
That was the original flag of our faith—mandated by revelation and designed to unify us under a new message. The question then arose when we were given statehood into our host nation—which flag would be placed the highest on the flag pole? The verdict is in and Old Glory flies alone. How that came about is a subject of another more in-depth article.
I believe I have a deep “philia” for our nation’s Constitution and Bill of Rights and the Anglo-Saxon traditions found in our Common Law. I revere the freedom we have in our nation to dissent and learn from our critics even within our nation. Thomas Jefferson understood that national justifiers or enablers should not be considered as having a monopoly on the title of patriot: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” That being said, here is my flag preference: No national flag and no pledge of allegiance to the flag of any nation. I recognize how offensive such a choice must appear to those in our nation suffering from “flagophilia” and I do not pretend to require that anyone else even understand much less respect my choice. However, my choice is tied to my understanding of my Christian faith. The only person I have Pledged My Allegiance to said this:
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s Throne; Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the Great King; Neither shall thou swear by the head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay : for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5: 34-37).
Is there evil that comes from pledging one’s allegiance to a nation? The obvious danger or folly associated with pledging allegiance to any political entity no matter the country–whether neutral Switzerland or Nazi Germany—is that you have given your conscience and potentially your agency to a group which can decide at any time to contravene the Gospel of Christ. In other words, I chose to only sustain the law of the land to the extent the law protects me in my inalienable rights—but no further:
“We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience…We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights…” D.C. 134: 2, 5
I sustain a law or government only to the extent it sustains my freedom of conscience and inalienable right to withhold any personal support to any endeavors of my nation which I consider contrary to my religious conscience. My religious belief is that I owe no oath or allegiance to a symbol such as a flag that might be waved in a manner defined by Merriam-Webster, to wit: “Flag Waving: Ardent or violently emotional appeal to or expression of patriotic or partisan sentiment.” While sometimes the appeal might be considered noble, it is often, nonetheless, blind and all too frequently violent in the name of some “noble” cause. And partisanship and nationalism is a threshold removal from the Gospel and Light of Christ.
A statement from one of our recent Presidents reflects the nature of national partisanship: “I will never apologize for the USA, I don’t care what the facts are.” George Bush, Senior. I recognize that many if not most that wave flags have noble and loyal intentions but my belief is that if an endeavor or conflict is on its merits just and righteous it needs no artifice beyond its justness, while the more dubious the endeavor the more it requires slogans and flag waving. Two other dictionaries said it best: “patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel” (Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary) to which Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary responded:
“Patriotism: Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.”
The problem with a group pledge or oath to a nation is that it does not in the oath or pledge itself reserve the right to withdraw support for any endeavor which I individually find contrary to my conscience. For example, my Christian faith does not allow the killing of any innocent life whether sanctioned by the state or not. In the words of Howard Zinn, “there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” I refuse to pledge allegiance to a flag that represents any form of taking of innocent life in the pursuit of any form of retaliation. (see D.C. 98: 24). Therefore, my first choice is that I pledge allegiance to no nation’s flag.
But If I Must
On October 3, 2007 James Broussard, saw a Reno, Nevada business establishment with a Mexican Flag hoisted above the American flag—the making of a “perfect storm”. Taking his military knife he cut down the Mexican flag and threw it on the ground. Interviewed by the news he explained: “If they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come fight us. But I want somebody to fight for me and for this flag.” To all the James Broussards out there I want to let you know that I do not want to fight you, I do not want to fight anyone, but if I must have a flag— that not being my first preference— I choose the “Standard of Peace” flag shown in this article. My wife and son can and should fly the American flag every Holiday and I respect their feelings, but I only ask that the Standard of Peace not be considered as an invitation to fight but an invitation to not fight under any national banner.
With the Standard of Peace flying on Ensign Peak Apostle Heber C. Kimball expressed my sentiments best:
“I am not national or sectional, and God forbid that I should be, for I have that spirit that delighteth in the welfare and salvation of the human family. And when I have that Spirit about me, can I be national? You never knew that feeling to be in me for I abhor it. I will not bow my head to that national spirit, nor to any spirit that is not of God.” (Heber C. Kimball JD 4:278).
I attended Glenn Dale Elementary School in Maryland from 1960 to 1966. Every day we recited both the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as well as our prayers to the Virgin Mary and other Saints—this being a Maryland Catholic community. It did me no harm not knowing then the significance of anything I recited. But now I appreciate more fully the significance of pledges and oaths and I refuse in good conscience to pledge any allegiance to any nation and it’s flag no matter how noble that nation may perceive itself to be. Thank God I live in a country where “flagophilia”, while widespread, is still optional and voluntary. I will not burn a flag, I will not deny anyone the right to wrap themselves in the flag, any politician the right to tether their ambitions to the flag, or any military to use their flag to identify which team uses the IEDs from those that employ the “flex cuffs.”