Why do I have an American flag on my webpage?

We had one on the Yale CS Department web page, but some members of the department objected, so it was taken down. That's as it should be; we shouldn't pretend that we speak for everyone around here when we don't. However, I liked the flag, so I've copied it to my web page, with a few words of explanation.

The American flag symbolizes freedom and unity. Freedom includes among other things the right to dissent, including the right to burn the flag if that's the way you feel. Unity means that, in spite of differences, we are all engaged in a common enterprise: building and sustaining the United States.

The American flag is not a symbol of racism toward Arabs or any other group that some terrorists may happen to belong to. It is not a symbol of recourse to violent solutions before political ones. It is not symbol of forced unanimity during times of crisis. Dissent does not weaken our efforts; it strengthens them.

I have heard it said that we don't need to "choose sides" in the present conflict between the U.S. and al Qaeda. In my opinion, if someone is trying to kill you just because of your nationality (or race or religion), you don't really have the option of staying neutral. You can hide among the anonymous crowds, but you'll get away with it only if you're a citizen of a big prosperous country like the U.S., not if you're a citizen of a small vulnerable country like Israel or Palestine. The irony of disavowing your country while profiting from past efforts of Americans to make the U.S. strong would eventually get to you. You can emigrate to another country, but the people trying to kill you may not understand your gesture, and kill you anyway.

Your only real option is to stick with the rest of us and work to get your country to adopt the most sensible, moral policy that you can visualize. You can promote pacifism, you can urge us to stop supporting allies that our enemies don't like; you can even advocate dropping the bomb on a region that might contain some terrorists. Deciding that American policy is none of your business is just stupid.

The flag should encompass the entire spectrum of American citizens, from the far left to the far right and (thank God) everyone in between. If the American flag becomes a symbol of a particular set of jingoistic, right-wing policies, the majority of U.S. citizens will have no symbol to rally around.

--- Drew McDermott, October 10, 2001