Page One

Flags, peace, and protests go well together

Ken Norwood Berkeley
Thursday October 04, 2001


Flags on Fire trucks, on porches, on lapel buttons, and sides of buildings? Of course, this a free country!  

And, I am protesting the “WAR” talk and the open-ended war powers authorization by congress (with the exception of Rep. Barbara Lee).  

There is no contradiction there. Wearing the flag, as I do, gives me the right, the license, to scrutinize what our “leaders” and the military do, to appeal for alternative ways of solving terrorist violence other than more killing, bombings, and other of the habitual urges for revenge. I do not fully trust Bush, Cheney, Powell team, any more than during the Gulf war. I revere our flag, it is imprinted in my psyche, from growing up knowing only F.D.R. as my president, saluting the flag as a Boy Scout, seeing it flying every Fourth of July and Memorial Day, and seeing it draped on my father’s casket, dead due to illnesses from gas in WWI. 

During all my years as a patriot I took advantage of my freedom in America to protest when I felt it to be appropriate, to show my disdain for violent, exploitative, and unethical decisions by elected officials and corporate powers.  

My rights and my love for our flag were most deeply imprinted as a permanent-mind picture on the morning we American POWs heard of the death of FDR from our German Guards. It was April 13, 1945 and 10,000 captured allied airmen were on a march from a POW camp in Nuremberg to Stammlager VII-A near Munich, Germany. We were angry at the guards, suspecting another attempt to demoralize us. 

The early morning air was misty cool, and our grundgy 1,000-man column was stopped in a wooded dell alongside a stream and ordered to attention. The American officer in charge announced that the German commander of our guards had given permission for a special announcement; his voice faltered, and I knew then that the rumor was true.  

He spoke the words we did not want to hear and asked for a moment of silence. A bugler out of sight in the woods across the stream played taps.  

Simultaneously, a small American flag appeared briefly to our right partially hidden by foliage. Chins quivered and tears flowed freely, the three minute ceremony was over, and the order came, “Right Turn, March.” We were headed for another town in Southern Bavaria, in the glorious spring time, while the front line bombardments rumbled in the distance. 

Now, I protest the talk of “WAR” and do so wearing the flag proudly. I fought in aerial combat, and lost dear friends in a “war” to defend the “free world” against a brutal enemy, Adolph Hitler. As a P.O.W. a vicious reality emerged for me and many others: once a war is begun God is on no ones side as attacks and counter attacks wreak carnage on both sides. Now the awful truth has reached American soil, horrible beyond words. I earned the right to “just say no” to revengeful violent actions that beget the same, and yes to seeking non-violent alternatives. 


Ken Norwood