Steyn on burning flags

Mark Steyn (05jn27) offered his thoughts on the flag burning ammendment in Fireproofing fuse. It got a lot of people thinking that maybe the ammendment was a bit of a reach.

And maybe a few would feel as many of my correspondents did last week aboutridiculous complaints of Koran “desecration” by U.S. guards at Guantanamo — that, in the words of one reader, “it’s not possible to ‘torture’ an inanimate object.”

That alone is a perfectly good reason to object to a law forbidding “desecration” of the flag. For my part, I believe if someone wishes to burn a flag, he should be free to do so. In the same way, if Democrat senators want to compare the U.S. military to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, they should be free to do so. It’s always useful to know what people really believe.

That’s the point: a flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that’s not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can’t stand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business.

It’s the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand the battle of ideas is won out in the open.

When someone desecrates a symbol, the intent is to create offense. Making such behavior illegal just raises the stakes of the offense and clarifies that is indeed achieving its desired goal. In other words, burning the flag is one of those things like a kid throwing a tantrum. Its success is in the attention it gains. It is contemptible behavior stimulated by an attempt to gain something from someone more potent and powerful. It pushes limits and creates the dilemma between personal responsibility for reasonable behavior and social enforcement of responsible behavior.

Perhaps, the exposure of irresponsible behavior is a good goal. This is a realization that the irresponsible person is irrelevant. It is the other people in society that need to learn about issues and views and reasons. If you trust these others, then you know that they will see the irresponsible behavior as representing unsound ideas and form more effective and appropriate conclusions using that knowledge.

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