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Half Honors for All

It once was unusual to see the flag at half-mast, and replaying the news in your head, you always knew the reason: someone noteworthy had died. That's changing. Now, 16 states lower the flag for any state resident who dies in military service. It's a popular trend and it's on the increase. So reports the WSJ, 7/1/06.

Flying the flag half-mast for each fallen troop seems a fine gesture. But is it not simply me-ism, the same self-celebratory force that impels us to erect roadside monuments at every phone pole our loved ones smack into?

Don’t think this trend can do anything but spread. Grizzled veterans, long content with an annual remembrance of their services, Memorial Day, will soon feel left out. In time, they too will expect half-mast treatment when they die.

And you just know someone will see the irony in that 1942 Flag Code, which allows half-mast honors for high state officials. We all have a short list of officials whose deaths, if anything, should be greeted with hoisting the flag yet higher, were that possible. If they merit half-mast, surely firemen, policemen, ambulance drivers and the like, must qualify. And what of the common taxpayer, who makes it all possible?

In time, full-mast flying will be unheard of, and the upper pole halves will rust from disuse. Inevitably, greedy business will begin to realize how much money can be saved by not building the upper half. The new pint-sized poles will first appear at WalMart, and will quickly spread. Cost cutting is not something to be sneezed at today.

Of course, this new tactic will not negate the need for half-staff honors. As the flag seeks its new half-position, it will fly lower yet to the ground. Repeat the cycle a few times and it will begin to touch the ground, especially those half-acre flags they fly at pancake houses.

We all know that the flag must not touch the ground. It’s difficult to predict what might happen next, but one possibility is that citizens, not wanting to risk flag desecration, will stop buying them, and the flag industry will go belly-up. Nor should we imagine this threat confined to America only. True, the USA may lead in me-ism and lean-n-mean business, but we should not be so smug as to imagine other countries will not catch up. Thus, nation after nation may see their flag industry wither and die, the only possible exception being tyrant-run countries, where people can drop like flies and nobody gives a hoot.

A world without flags….truly a scenario too terrible to imagine. But it could happen if we don’t nip this half-mast trend in the bud.

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