Raise The Flag!
As of July 22, 2016, the flag of the United States of America has been flying at half-mast for 20 out of the past 40 days. The President has issued declarations mandating that federal buildings fly the flag at half-mast on account of terrorist and other violent attacks in Orlando, Nice (France), Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Flying the flag at half-mast is legally required on certain days: National Fallen Firefighters’ Day, Memorial Day (but only until noon, after which it must be raised to full mast), Peace Officers’ Memorial Day and after the deaths of a President, Vice President, members of Congress or other dignitaries. In addition, under U.S. law “the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or orders”. See 4 U.S.C. §7(m). It is this general power that the Griever in Chief has used in the past two months.
Empathy is warranted for the unfortunate pedestrians on the streets of Nice, France who were run over on the sidewalk by a truck on July 14, but President Obama’s declaration of five days of flag at half-mast projects weakness and gives terrorists the notoriety they crave.
Likewise, blue lives matter, but we already have a Peace Officers’ Memorial Day. Any police officer killed in the line of duty is too many, but the number of police officers killed in the line of duty each year is about half what it was in the 1970s. Violent crime has also decreased substantially all across America since 1970. The homicide rate in the United States, at 4.5 per 100,000 per year, hit a 51 year low in 2014. The homicide rate has ticked up slightly in the past year and half, but the reasons for that are unclear.
So why do we have headlines screaming “Attack on Officers Jolts Nation on Edge” across the entire front page of the New York Times? Full page NYT banner headlines used to be reserved for the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.
There is a “viral video effect” that may (or may not) cause police to be less aggressive. Part of the answer may also lie in how our brains got wired over time. When homo sapiens emerged 160,000 years ago, there weren’t very many of us. If suddenly five out of a clan of 30 cave people dropped dead, that potentially threatened extinction of the clan. So our brains may have become hard wired to react with much more anxiety to the sudden death of five people in one incident than to the steady drumbeat of 32,645 people dying in 2014 from vehicle accidents distributed all over the country in individual accidents.
Finally, there is politics. Politicians on both sides seek to use fear to their advantage. On the Democratic side, President Obama has repeatedly used violent attacks to make the case for gun control. As an aside, Iceland, with Europe’s highest gun ownership rate, ranks No. 1 in the world for being the most peaceful country on earth. At the Republican National Convention this past week Donald Trump used perceived insecurity to invoke Richard Nixon’s law and order message from 1968.
By obsessing over each act of violence, our country risks becoming weaker. There were 225 Americans killed in Belmont, Missouri on November 7, 1861, a battle that nobody but civil war history buffs remember. At Shiloh, 3,482 were killed, at Gettysburg, 7,058 never left the battlefield. The U.S. civil war resulted in an astonishing 620,000 war related deaths. The U.S. flag flies at half-mast until noon on Memorial Day in remembrance.
Just today there is a report of a mass shooting at a shopping mall in Munich Germany, with a currently reported death toll of eight. We do not honor them by flying the flag at half-mast. We honor them by flying the flag high and keeping our country strong.
©2016 Clark Stith
Paid for by Clark Stith
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