The statistics on bumper stickers included in this essay are certainly not scientific. But the essay brings up a point many Americans seem to forget. We are not at war against Iraq. Let me repeat. We are not at war against Iraq. Every time I hear someone comment on how "Those damn Iraqis are driving up the price of gas" or elide "the war in Iraq" to "the war with Iraq" I want to wave this essay in his face.
Be assured that students in my classes do indeed write from a variety of political perspectives. But I've offered this assignment for at least six terms now, off and on. It is always optional, and maybe three or four students a year elect to take it on. To receive two such thoughtful responses within a week was heartening. This was a good class. And these two writers were part of the reason why.
America – Love it or Leave it
by Sarah C.
The Stars and Stripes. The Red, White and Blue. Both of these terms are synonymous with the American flag, and the American flag represents a nation based on the principles of justice, freedom and equal opportunity for all. In search of those basic principles, a small collection of colonies fought for independence from a mighty nation a little over two centuries ago. The original American flag had thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white stars in a blue background. As the U.S. expanded and eventually blossomed into a nation of fifty states, the flag was modified to have fifty stars rather than thirteen. The American flag is a symbol of those basic principles that allowed thirteen colonies to blossom into fifty united states.
I respect that this nation is based on these principles and strives to uphold them, and even though I am thankful to benefit from them, when I look at the American flag, I don’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling of love for the United States. On the contrary, I actually feel lost. I feel like I can’t wholeheartedly be proud of my flag because it no longer represents justice, freedom and equal opportunity for all. Now the flag represents the United States government, and whether or not you proudly display the flag or the image of the flag depicts whether or not you support the United States government and its actions. If I don’t agree with the actions of my government, and I don’t feel pride when I look at my country’s flag, am I not a true American?
As an Arab American with a mother from Syria and a father from Iraq, I have a cultural connection with and love for three different countries. When the nation I live in and have been raised in goes to war in the nation I have grown to love because it is my heritage and the home of my relatives, I am torn in the middle. I want my country to free the people of Iraq from a corrupt dictator, but I also don’t want my Iraqi family in danger. I want our troops out of Iraq, but I also want them to hurry up and help Iraq stand on her own two feet and be the magnificent nation she once was. I love Iraq, Syria, and the United States, but I am disappointed in the United States. I was able to witness the fear my dad had every day when the U.S. was bombing Iraq. During that time of war, the news was always on and his eyes were always glued to the T.V. while he was also trying to get in contact with his parents in Baghdad to make sure they were still alive. How can I feel unqualified love for my country when it has destroyed my father’s home, killed thousands of innocent civilians, and caused so much destruction that my grandparents had to move to Syria? And yet, while I am proud to be half Syrian and half Iraqi, how can I feel the same pride, love, and loyalty that Syrians and Iraqis feel towards their separate nations? Which flag is truly mine?
I want to feel loyalty and a strong sense of nationality to a flag I can call my own. When I watch a soccer game on T.V. between two different countries, and each side is drunk with love and support of its country and team, I become jealous of the crowd because I know I couldn’t show that much pride for Iraq or Syria, let alone the U.S. I can’t see an American flag without feeling slightly disconnected from the people around me. Even seeing the colors red, white and blue together causes that same feeling of uneasiness. However, I don’t believe this feeling is unprovoked or even unpatriotic. As I said before, the flag doesn’t stand for what it originally did. The American flag now symbolizes the American government. And to don, display, or fly the American flag means that you fully support the government’s policies. If you don’t support the American government, you don’t display the American flag in any way. Let me show you.
At www.bumperart.com, a website where you can buy all kinds of bumper stickers, you can choose from a variety of categories. Among those categories are “pro-Bush,” “anti-Bush,” “pro-war,” and “anti-war.” I went through and counted how many bumper stickers from each category had a symbol of the American flag or the colors red, white, and blue on them. Here are the results:
• Pro-Bush: 14 out of 25 = 56%
• Anti-Bush: 37 out of 184 = 20%
• Anti-Bush: 37 out of 184 = 20%
• Pro-War: 7 out of 46 = 15%
• Anti-War: 5 out of 84 = 6%
Anti-Bush bumper sticker vs. Pro-Bush bumper sticker
Anti-war bumper sticker vs. Pro-war bumper sticker
The pro-Bush and pro-war categories both had a greater percentage of bumper stickers with either a flag or the colors red, white and blue on them than did their counter category. So, if you support Bush (the government) and the war (the government’s actions), you are more likely to display the flag and/or its colors.
OK, so maybe there wouldn’t be such a correlation between the flag and support of the American government if I lived in the north where the population leans to the more liberal side. After all, it doesn’t help that I live in Texas, the state that proudly claims to be the home of our good old cowboy president. Well, at www.bumpertalk.com, a website similar to www.bumperart.com but based out of Oregon, I performed the same analysis to the site’s “Bush No” and “Bush Yes” categories. The results:
• Bush Yes: 13 out of 40 = 33%
• Bush No: 3 out of 40 = 8%
• Bush No: 3 out of 40 = 8%
Even in Oregon the image or colors of the flag are used more as a signifier of a person who agrees with the actions of the United States, but I already knew that. However, that may be the market playing a part in such statistics. While Oregon’s voting results may suggest a largely democratic and anti-war population, a smart business owner whose company is web-based knows where the money lies. He knows that not only the people of Oregon but an entire nation will be making online purchases of his bumper stickers and therefore, he will not make the majority of his merchandise cater to the preferences of the population of Oregon. Rather, he will make more pro-Bush and pro-war merchandise available for sale because that is what the majority of the United States citizens will be searching for.
I guess the problem is that I am in love with too many places. I have been traveling since before I was born. My mom found out she was pregnant with me while she was visiting my dad’s family in Iraq and she flew back to the U.S. right away. Since then I have traveled to eleven countries outside the U.S. My family has spent countless vacations in Mexico, three entire summers in Syria, and I just came back from India and have fallen in love with her as well. Every time my parents ask me where I want to live when I have my own family, I never have an answer. I don’t know where I want to live. The Middle East is in my blood and I want to marry someone who is from the same background as I am so that we can both understand our appreciation and love of the culture, but America is my home. Every time I come back from traveling I appreciate the luxuries and lifestyle I know so much more, but I also pine for the excitement and unpredictability I experience when visiting another country and culture. I guess I just wish that while harboring all these feelings, I could also feel an unmistakable sense of love and belonging to one particular country.
Maybe that is just the difficulty with being someone like me. Being a “Something-American” means that your heart will belong to two or more different lands. And while I have learned to cope with the strange sense of disconnection that I get when I see the American flag anywhere but on a flag pole, I am still surprised when I see bumper stickers that say things such as “My American Flag Offend You? Then Move to Iraq” and “America. Love It or Leave It.” And while I realize that such a statement only comes from extremely narrow-minded Americans, it still hurts to feel once again that I belong neither here nor there. So I’ll just keep doing what I have been doing: I’ll keep America all around me, Syria in my memories, an Iraq-shaped charm on a bracelet around my wrist, and all three of them in my heart.