Our Flag


By LT. COL. BERNARD A. BROWN, Assistant Judge Advocate

Delivered at Flag Day Exercises, Sioux City, Iowa, June 14, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 603-605.

BEYOND the reach of his eye, beyond the scope of his mind, stretched the blue expanse of the Pacific. He crouched there, on that hot little isle—crouched in the bush. The flies crawled over him. He thought not to brush them off,—for such thoughts do not occur to barbarians.

Suddenly, the mosquito he'd heard, so quickly developed into a wasp—then into a roar—a new,—and a terrifying roar—that he leapt from out the bush,—and spun about. The air became drenched with sound;—furtively he sought —East, West, North, and South,—he spun again, and ran in circles like a jackal—for jackal-like it did not occur to him to look up. It was more with relief than with shock that he heard a crunching splash behind him. Whirling, he saw that a great grey bird had smack the water and burst into a thousand pieces of a thousand different shapes.

As he looked he leapt, and leaping,—stared from behind the brush. Staring with intensity he saw the shattered airship sink from sight. He reported to his tribe that he had seen a miracle. And they, to a child, repaired to the water's edge. "Nothing remained. Round the scene of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and moving waves stretched away."

But wait: a bit of flotsam had washed ashore. The chief barbarian inspected it,—and announcing "it is only a scrap of cloth, it is nothing" cast it back into the sea. To barbarians, to those upon whom, with impunity, flies do crawl, to those who never think of looking up, it was only a scrap of cloth. It was nothing.

But to us it is everything. For upon that bit of cloth four words symbolically appeared: "Nyle Kinick, All-American."

To bushmen, the report was of no consequence, and was indifferently reported; but American reporters raced to say: "Phi Beta Kappa, All-American, hero of thousands, once again he flew above the line, not on the gridiron, but on Guadalcanal—not with a ball but with a bomb. Once more he was typical—American youth, at its best, in action." For he, Nyle Kinick, University of Iowa, was a symbol in himself. Symbolically a national, American, product, dedicated to the preservation of America, and to the emancipation of the world.

For that cause he fought, and for it he died.

Nyle Kinick is dead, but his spirit lives—as lives the spirit of every American youth today who has given in the service of his country.

Him, as a symbol, we need not study,—him we need only commemorate,—for he was of our soil, of our time, and of our spirit. He was 20th Century Young America. We knew him as we know ourselves.

When Justice Holmes once said, "We live by symbols,"—he did not mean human symbols alone. Today we have met to honor a non-human symbol—but nonetheless—one most humane—a symbol, like Nyle, nurtured of our time, of our place, and of our spirit,—yet older and more complex. We are here for its commemoration, but for that purpose we must study it as well.

To a bushman, to one content with a life among flies, it would be but a bit of "colored cloth, a small thing"-toan American it has become—and is rapidly becoming for the world—a symbol rich in significance, bright in hope and powerful in promise. In one respect the barbarian was right —it is a miracle—to those who don't understand.

A miracle, for it has denied, for more than one hundred and sixty years, what was theretofore considered an immutable law of nature,—FORCE. In Europe, FORCE, formerly respected elsewhere, still dominates political thought: abroad it is the popular belief that no nation can withstand the rigors of war when established on a foundation of fellowship and trust.

In Europe, and in Japan, such a belief is considered contrary to the very course of nature;—and of course any exception to the uniformity of natural law—the halting of the sun in the sky,—the separation of the waters in the sea, and a century and a half of trust and fellowship in government,—is a miracle. To those whose history has been one stream of death, doubt, and destruction, our American "Peace and Plenty" is manifestly a miracle of mankind.

Well, at that,—just look about you. Figuratively, take a globe of the world,—spin it,—poke your finger down. Do it again, and again, and once again. Every time you spin it your finger will point to a spot where there is imprisonment, or hate, or famine, or fear. Unless you touch America.

Spin that globe again, and again stop it with your finger. Sixty-six times out of a hundred you will point to a spot where men sleep on the ground, for today two-thirds of the world still sleeps on the ground. Sixty-six times out of a hundred you will point to a spot where men, once in the dark will so remain. For more than two-thirds of the world has never even seen an electric light. Spin and touch, spin and touch, and always you will point to where misery is victor over man.

Unless you touch America.

Touch her, and you touch that land that has the most in luxury—over seventy percent of the silk of the world; the most in convenience—over 60% of the world's telephones; and the most in commercial power—for instance, we have 80% of all the motor transportation in the world, and this for us, 8% of the world population. From the point of view of material wealth, we are the monarchs. Our flag flies over the strongest, happiest and richest nation ever created by man.

These things have made us the subject of universal envy. Because of material things we are called the Miraculous Americans.

But it is not these things by which we achieve greatness— they are but like the leaves on the tree that reflect the symmetry and beauty of the tree itself. The greatness of our land is not in its products, but in the process by which we achieve those products.

The means of our attainment: the use of freedom at her best, the ease of worship, the right to speak and read, and to think as we wish; the right to win,—and as a famed Missouri Senator once said: "the inalienable right of every American to make a fool of himself after his own fashion"—the use of these means, the exercise of these rights, these are some of the purposes for which our Flag stands as a symbol.

Dark depressions, death, and doubt—those old shadows have so clouded the Japanese and German thought mat as nations they have emphasized wealth to the exclusion of individual happiness and national peace. They have developed a warped political perspective—they look to the factories, the gold, and the ships. We know that it is not the fruits of our labor themselves, but the pattern in which we labored, that constitutes the soul of this great Nation.

This wealth of nations we attained through the use of group action in a tolerant way. Religious and politicalcreeds were allowed free play. Desires of minority factions were heard and heeded. They had a voice in the land. Axis nations feared to hear when the people spoke, especially if their voices came in a chorus. And so they outlawed social organization—significantly at the outset of their treacherous careers. It was "Nazi or nothin'." And so lacking the benefit of knowing what their people want, their communities remain impoverished through failure of the fraternal benefits of an Elks Lodge, the good cheer and aid sprung from a Gold Star Mothers League, or the wholesome influence of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. They fail to recognize these values as the values, the very values that make the home priceless—and that instill a spirit into the soldiers abroad, and into those soldiers at home who remain in civilian clothes. To them—to the Nazis and the Japs, it fails to register that hearts are sore and need comfort. Such thoughts do not occur to barbarians.

Through freedom for the individual, and the group, our envied goal is attained. The vehicle in which we ride is called "Democracy"—the simple mechanism of a humble mind. And in that vehicle we press forward to yet greater days, and from that vehicle we struggle with those who would block our path and who would wreck our career. It is the greatest governmental vehicle ever driven by man. Let's look at it.

Above the hood is the name, not in letters, but in design. It is a clever symbol—rectangular in shape—and colored? Red, white, and blue.

The motive power of this car, as I have said, is called "Democracy"—democracy,—a changing form of human management that places a minimum of limitation on social fiction.

It is by nature a sort of a set of rules for the race. It says "No tripping, no boxing in, stay in your own lane, and run as you will."

The results have been splendid;—new ideas have flowed into the Forum in a Niagara of abundance. There they are analyzed and accepted,—and with newly accepted ideas come change;—Progress, in the nature of things, exists only with change. In a democracy to begin with, we assume that better things will come. We open the track to the new runners;— we welcome them; we seek new forms and styles of action, for through competition we seek improvement, and are willing to change, and so willing to progress.

At this very point we maintain a bright and distinct cleavage with foreign thought. Japan does not want new ideas; the track is closed to the rest of the human race. Japan has known the one answer—FORCE—known it for thousands of years. And her people stab backs,—devour human rights.

It is peculiarly true of German philosophers that that nation has found, from time to time, the one answer— FORGE—. It was the conclusion: Kant, Schopenhauer, and finally Nietzsche the grandfather of the phobia—German Master-Race, had the one answer. And her people stab backs, devour human rights.

Their answer is the one answer they say—. The mind must be bound to it. Freedom they claim is just a digression from, and could not be, progress towards Truth. They have stopped thinking! Well, just one hundred and twenty-five years ago, the head of the U. S. Patent Office quit his job— for the publicly stated reason there was nothing left for men to invent—he too thought that all the answers were in. How shocked he would be to talk by phone today to London, or to fly to Bombay. Now these nations,—nations of Axis Faith, are like our old Patent Officer. They have closed shop,—and they and their people lack the benefit of inventions to come, or even the advantage of today's creations—not material creations for they are intensely materialistic,-but the immaterial and intangible values—the radio of political thought, the automobile of governmental action, and the airplane of social adjustment. Where they fail we shine. For in America we know that the worst totalitarianism is the totalitarianism of the mind. They, with their jackal instincts, thinking we were unprepared,—and fearing that our wealth could not otherwise be secured, strove to demolish us. They struck at us, and they struck at our friends. They shouted a challenge, and their voices was the roar of the cannon and the surge of the submarine.

Freedom, it appeared, was destined to fight FORCE. For Force was growing,—and Freedom and Force, like the sea and the land,—divide the world between them. The more of the one—the less of the other.

We disliked bloodshed, and sought to avoid it. First we said, "Delivery of goods only, and only in the U. S." Then, as Force grew apace, "Delivery of goods only." The storm did not abate. We loaned our ships,—we prepared our shores,—and finally, the gentleman's cloak of moderation we cast aside—we rolled up our sleeves,—and American men went abroad. That a gentle life can breed a man—that thought would never occur to a barbarian.

Historians are aware—we despise brawls. In Kinick's words, when he received the award of the New York Times, "Thank God I carried a ball, not a bomb." He symbolized the American view. But the time came; and when his time came he carried his bomb.

Today, ours,—the most enlightened citizen army the world has known,—today they fight in places that 10 years ago they wouldn't have been able to find on their old school maps. And they fight not for profit, and not for hate. They strike their blows without malice in the aid of Justice and for all mankind.

Millions of American youths—typified in spirit, in character, in courage by Nyle Kinick as a symbol—fighting for

the millions—the millions of souls now tortured by the terrors of Totalitarianism. They thought we would not—they thought we could not fight. Our Army, the most conservative say, will reach seven million—seven millions of American men and boys.

The Axis challenged; and then they reached for our rights. The challenge was flung back in their face. Fight we will—our bombs will break their backs, our shells will shatter their cities. As a nation righteous with indignation we have sworn it:—as the restless waves of the Pacific symbolically wash over the mortal remains of the immortal Nyle Kinick, so will the waves of American fighting forces wash over and submerge the land of the enemy.

To Barbarians, undisturbed by flies, and content with life in the brush, our flag symbolizes nothing. They would cast it into the sea. To Japs and Germans, undisturbed by killing, and content with a life of material values only, our flag symbolizes wealth. They would cast it into the gutter, but would seize that for which they think it stands.

They are, all of them, grossly in error.

That flag symbolizes far more than nothing, and far more than automobiles or electric lights. It stands for the sustaining ideals that give us, as a nation, the strength to shed tears, but to carry on; to sweat, and to bleed, and to suffer disappointment without failing; to strive,—to despair,—to suffer heartache and heartbreak, but still to go on,—and on —and on.

It stands for the protection of those who would hope, for the reward of the industrious life, for freedom of thought and worship, and it is the symbol for courage.

It stands for strength of character,—a strength woven into the very fabric of that being called America,—woven so tightly, and set so firmly that it has become a part of the American soul.