The unveiling of the national icons : a plea for patriotic iconoclasm in a nationalist era /
Albert Boime.
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
xvii, 427 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
More Details
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 365-401) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One



The American flag flown from a staff is the most pervasive national monument in our visual environment. Although an artifact often used in conjunction with, and constitutive of, other national monuments, it is unmatched in its embodiment of core American ideals and myths. No other patriotic symbol is as integral to the construction of our national identity. Its ubiquitous presence functions as a noncoercive barrier to the disremembering of our loyalty and our obedience to the national principle. The flag literally maps the terrain as a warning against geographical and ideological straying. It flaps and flutters above our national and local institutions, and its image is adapted to every conceivable fashion and reproduced in every conceivable medium. Our early socialized response to the flag and its hold on our sympathies are reinforced by its many applications in patriotic rituals and customs. Depending on the circumstances, the sight of the flag can heighten, trigger, or reawaken dormant patriotic and nationalist feelings.

    Unlike the other national icons to be studied here, the flag's uniqueness is not concretized in a singular form like Mount Rushmore or the Lincoln Memorial. The flag as an artifact (and not as a reproduction) manifests itself in multiple symbolical replicas, often made of worthless materials. Nor is it the concoction of a single individual or a group of individuals whose belief systems may be researched and identified. The old tale tracing the flag's origin to a design supplied to Elizabeth ("Betsy") Ross by George Washington has never been verified, except indirectly by way of statements attributed to her in old age. Although Ross, an upholsterer by trade, did sew flags and pennants, there exists no primary documentation confirming that she sewed the first one. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to show that the story was pure folklore, fabricated by a grandson named William Canby. In 1870, Canby told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that his grandmother had been asked to make the nation's first flag during a visit from Washington in 1776. He subsequently elaborated the story by adding that she had suggested substituting the simpler five-pointed star for the six-pointed ones in the original design. A more likely scenario is that Canby, who was only eleven when his grandmother died, heard her discuss one of the several pennants she indisputably sewed for the Pennsylvania Navy in 1777.

    But the story caught on thanks to the historical circumstances in the last quarter of the century, when the country was flooded by immigrants and women began demanding their rights. The legend of Betsy Ross was then championed by fledgling conservative groups such as the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, whose members claimed a superior birthright through their colonial lineage and cherished a symbol of a traditional female role as a rebuke to the emerging feminist movement. The cause was advanced by the painter Charles H. Weisgerber in the 1890s, whose image of the Birth of the Flag , featuring Betsy Ross at work on the national banner during a visit from Washington, was exhibited at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. As will be seen, this was also the context for the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance at a time of imperialist preoccupations and nativist reaction to the influx of immigrants. The domestic portrayal of a patriotic seamstress sewing the nation's flag was made to order for the diverse chauvinist hereditary societies at the turn of the century.

    Nevertheless, as will be shown, the legend of the flag issuing forth from a woman's lap under the auspices of the Father of the Country carries with it implications of Old Glory's sexuality that is not without resonance in patriotic culture. For now, however, it should be emphasized that no single individual can be credited with the invention of the Stars and Stripes: It evolved over time in response to dynamic conditions. This does not mean, however, that the flag's symbolic associations are not subject to manipulation and control. No one can doubt its capacity to inspire feelings of nationalism, and this is a potent weapon in the arsenal of our political leaders. It may not be widely known that the United States was the first nation to celebrate a Flag Day, to create a Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and to codify a flag etiquette -- all strategies designed to delimit the sphere of the flag's evocative meanings. Until the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that flag mutilation is an exercise of the freedom of speech and the demise of the Soviet Union, only the two superpowers had enacted flag desecration laws; more recently, the latest claimant to superpower status, Japan, has seen its courts rule that schools must fly the Japanese flag and that flag burning constitutes a criminal act. It would seem that powerful nation-states dominated by authoritarian impulses have to stringently control the parameters -- and hence the significations -- of flag usage.


A flag is the emblem of a society made visible to the group's members. The elevated flag is derived from the original function of banners and pennants to identify ships at sea and military installations. Flags inevitably relate to totemistic emblems carried aloft on poles that once served and continue to serve tribal religious ceremonies. They identified kinship and regional communities. The flag is the emblem of a coherent group identity that in principle expresses the shared values of that group and distinguishes it from all others. Theoretically, the claim for the universality of these values is encapsulated in the reductive symbolism of the flag. The ability of human beings to endow material objects with meaning is especially seen in the signifying functions of flags. Flags are symbols through which independent countries proclaim their identity and sovereignty, and they can inspire soldiers to sacrifice their lives for the glory and honor of their nation.

    It had been the flags of royalty planted or raised to claim the virgin land of the New World that established the primordial relationship of flag to colonialist possession. The rebels of the Thirteen Colonies adopted the flag of the imperialistic English East India Company as their own emblem, and territorial expansion has remained a signifying source of power of the red, white, and blue. In fact, throughout U.S. history, the doctrine of Manifest Destiny would etch itself into the emblematic fabric of Old Glory as a graphic record of expansionist realization. In 1846, Walt Whitman -- then a fledgling editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle -- exulted that the victorious climax of the Mexican War would be "to furnish a cluster of new stars for the spangled banner."



Practically, the American flag serves as a badge of national identification and unity, but beyond that, such ideas as freedom and liberty typically invoked by the flag give powerful evidence of our ability to invest meaning in "an old rag of bunting," as Emerson wrote. When traveling abroad, many Americans experience a sense of pride and power at the sight of the national colors flying in the breeze. The flag has become an inherent component of our national language system, its fabric and design designating the noble ideas on which the nation is supposedly based. By sacralizing Old Glory, the government has at its disposal a kind of visual and linguistic shorthand for enlisting the loyalties of its citizenry.

    As our country expanded its political and cultural horizons, the flag gradually shifted from being a sign of nationality and territorial demarcation to becoming an object of veneration. Flag "worship" evolved relatively recently in our nation's history and was deliberately encouraged through education and popular institutions. Throughout the nineteenth century, the flag's image could be used in any number of ways. It was certainly no desecration in the last century to adapt it to different kinds of clothing wear or to use it in advertising -- sometimes with the messages even printed directly on the white stripes. The various imperious "don'ts" of the Flag Code adopted in 1923 by the National Flag Council rectified that by specifically prohibiting those and other applications of the American flag.

    Although it is impossible to trace the precise historical moment of the metamorphosis of the flag as simple national marker into an object of cult status, the type of reverence we have accorded it in modern times reveals itself most vividly around the time of the Civil War and the firing on Fort Sumter. At that moment, the national flag still flew over the fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, even though the state had seceded in December 1860. This flag was charged with unprecedented symbolic status as the remnant of federal authority in the seceded states. When early in the morning of April 12, 1861, the Palmetto Guard of South Carolina opened fire on the fort, the flag was raised. The Stars and Stripes now became a key target during the ensuing Confederate bombardment and was finally shot down at noon. The damaged flagstaff was then fastened to the ramparts, but the Union forces capitulated shortly afterwards. When the South Carolinians took formal possession of the fort, they raised the Confederate and palmetto (the state emblem) flags.

    Like the flag hoisted over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima 84 years later, the Fort Sumter banner became a powerful focus of patriotic rally and fund raising. Preble wrote that Sumter's fall "created great enthusiasm throughout the loyal States, for the flag had come to have a new and strange significance." The flag was draped everywhere in the North in response to Sumter, and the demand for flags outpaced the ability of the manufacturers to produce them. The Sumter flag was awarded to the Sanitary Commission, a Civil War counterpart of the modern Red Cross run by a northern elite, whose officials carried it across the country and displayed it before large crowds. These officials spoke of the outrage to the flag as symbol of the Union, investing it with a special metaphorical significance. Four years later, after the fall of Charleston, Lincoln ordered that the flag be raised again with noisy ceremonious fanfare over Fort Sumter.

    During the war, the federal republic made enormous strides in its evolution toward a centralized, modern industrial state, whereas the Confederacy had to reinvent itself as a new nation. This sectional split transformed the entire South into a kind of foreign country -- indeed, the separate secession ordinances declare the individual states "sovereign and independent" -- forcing both sides to rally around different flags. The intense scrutiny and self-awareness of the significations of the flag under the changing circumstances are captured in the tortured compromise solution proposed just prior to Sumter by Samuel F. B. Morse, the versatile painter and inventor of the telegraph. As his agonizing rhetoric expressed it:

The Southern section is now agitating the question of a device for their distinctive flag. Cannot this question of flags be so settled as to aid in a future union? I think it can. If the country can be divided, why not the flag? The stars and stripes is the flag in which we all have a deep and the self-same interest.... We all have sacred associations clustering around it in common, and, therefore, if we must be two nations, neither nation can lay exclusive claim to it without manifest injustice and offence to the other.... The most obvious solution of the difficulties which spring up in this respect is to divide the old flag, giving half to each.

Morse's bizarre solution was to perceive the flag as a map, with the upper portion being north and the lower portion being south (Fig. 3). He would have split the star field diagonally with the appropriate number of stars in each half, and given each flag six and a half stripes, thus preventing "all dispute on a claim for the old flag by either confederacy." Morse naively hoped that the sight of the divided flag would shame the citizens of both sections into "a fraternal yearning for the old Union," but his brave proposal went down with the Fort Sumter banner.

    The Stars and Stripes now became the symbol of pro-Union sentiment, while the Confederates fought under a distinctive flag that they hoped to raise over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The flag could be seen at this moment as a symbol of discord rather than of solidarity, as a sign of dis-unity and dis-union. The war, with its fierce polarity, transformed Old Glory into a fetishized instrument of ardent patriotism in the North when the country was more divided than it had ever been or would ever be again. On the one hand, it was relativized as just another piece of bunting associated with a one-sided orientation, and on the other, it was emphasized as the exclusive emblem of a privileged view of national status. The flag henceforth became a component constitutive of one particular version of national identity, a badge of fraternity forged in an exclusionary context. A June 1861 editorial in Harper's Weekly asserted that there were two divisions in the United States, "that of the country and its government, and that of the rebellion. One marshals its hosts under the stars and stripes; the other `wishes only to be let alone' under the rattlesnake." The fraternal bond inspired by the Star-Spangled Banner sprang from the external threat not of a foreign enemy but of another set of American brothers and sisters. Perhaps the closest parallels to this unprecedented development are the French civil wars in June 1848 and May 1871, when the militant working classes grouped under the banner of the red flag and the rest of French society identified with the tricolor. Similarly, it was during our own Civil War that the flag first attained to cult status, paradoxically when we were literally at war with each other.


Two Civil War productions, one literary and the other visual, speak to this burgeoning nationalism centering on the flag. The first is Edward Everett Hale's short classic, "The Man Without a Country," published in the Atlantic Monthly in December 1863, and the other is Frederic Edwin Church's Our Banner in the Sky of 1861. Both authors engage in popular flag waving as a way of participating in and promoting the momentary nationalistic fervor as well as a means of exploiting it. Hale wrote his short story as a contribution "towards the formation of a sentiment of love for the nation," and Church allowed his picture to be reproduced as a cheap chromolithograph of mass circulation.

    Hale's story is an allegory in which Philip Nolan, a person inured to sleazy patriotic emotions, is condemned to spend his life in naval vessels, never to hear the name of his native United States mentioned. Nolan dies on shipboard, literally a "man without a country." Yet Hale does not allow this tough-minded hero to escape with his ego intact. The story's fictional narrator, Danforth, who is with Nolan in his old age, hears the protagonist say with choking sobs:

"And for your country, boy, and for that flag, never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother...."

Here the flag metonymically represents the nation feminized as the Mother, and Nolan guiltily confesses his own careless abandonment of the caring, nurturing female who stands above party and self-interest. Hale hints at a possible sexual attachment to the flag, sewn and stitched by females since Betsy Ross and always offering its ample folds for a maternal embrace. The inculcation of patriotic love of country is the responsibility of the female; it comes with mother's milk. During his final hours, Nolan transforms his berth into a shrine whose centerpiece was a picture of Washington enveloped in the folds of the Stars and Stripes. He cries to Danforth: "There cannot be a man who loves the old flag as I do, or prays for it as I do, or hopes for it as I do."

    The story concludes around the time of the Civil War and enjoyed a great popular success. Hale wanted to arouse support for the government in a difficult time, and appealed to the flag as a maternal symbol beyond mere politics. In this way, he solidified the hold of patriarchy by displacing maternal affection onto the flag and allowing the actual (male) rulers to go on about their nasty business. Although the flag elevated on a pole suggests the phallus and hence the heroic male body, when it is displayed flat or as a covering or just prior to its hoisting it takes on attributes consigned to the feminine. Women banded together in the Civil War period to produce flags for their loved ones, often presented in special ceremonies replete with patriotic propaganda. According to one popular story of the first Stars and Stripes to fly in battle (August 3, 1777), the red cloth was taken from a woollen petticoat donated by a soldier's wife. The very nature of the design, with its alternating red and white stripes and field of blue, reminded foreign observers of a patchwork quilt. Emanating from the private sphere of the home, lying across the lap and associated through its fabric with the ample feminine skirt and hence the female body, the flag must have aroused a complex set of feelings. It was not uncommon for a male to bury his face in the flag's folds and kiss it. This fetishization of the flag is captured in George M. Cohan's popular World War I song, "You're a Grand Old Rag," inspired by a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg who carried with him a tattered flag for ceremonial occasions. Recalling his Civil War days, the veteran said, "it was all for this. She's a grand old rag."

    The feminization of the flag may hint at the psychodynamics of flag worship. Freud suggested that the fetish served as a replacement -- a surrogate phallus -- for the female lack of a penis in the male's mind, helping to guard against the fetishist's own fear of castration. The commonplace eroticization of female underclothing, which marks the last phase of undressing and hence represents the last moment in which the woman could still be considered as phallic, may be associated with the sacrosanct fascination for the flag's folds. Conversely, as Freud again proposed, the predominantly female invention of plaiting and weaving may have as its unconscious motivation the imitation of pubic hair that conceals the genitals, and thus the lack of the missing phallus. These psychosexual readings are interwoven with the warp and woof of the flag cult and gain credence as the design shows up increasingly in every conceivable article of clothing. Perhaps the potential of the flag to be implicated in the feminine erotic is seen most vividly in this recent startling cheesecake image that appeared during the height of the Iraq invasion, This Picture Is Dedicated to Our Troops in the Persian Gulf (Fig. 4).

    The conjunction of the flag and its staff may constitute the fusion of male and female symbols that symbolically restores the female to wholeness and reconstructs the lost phallic mother. Around the time of the War of 1812, the standard was set up over a log cabin schoolhouse on Catamount Hill, one of the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, to declare the solidarity of the locals with the prowar Republicans. Two local sisters, Rhoda and Lois Shippee, patched together the flag, and their young relative, Fanny Bowen Shippee, later commemorated the event in verses redolent with the male-female symbolism associated with the flag and its staff:

Mrs. Rhoda Shippee, who stood for the right,

Gave cloth for the stars and the field of pure white;

It was wove on her loom, and hatchelled from tow,

And of beautiful finish, as white as the snow.

And Mrs. Lois Shippee for the "union" gave blue,

Which she spun, colored, and wove -- it was lovely to view.

The ballad goes on to state:

And they planted that staff, and they worked with a will,

`Twas as straight as an arrow, and as trim as a quill,

And all the people were there from "the Hill."

They stood there in groups a-waiting to see

That emblem so grand -- the Flag of the Free!

First comes the labor of the women in gathering the raw materials and weaving them into a finished design, and next follows the hoisting of the flag by the males "as straight as an arrow." The final act is the salute of the collective body of men and women to the elevated and proudly waving "Flag of the Free."

    Perhaps the closest visual counterpart to Nolan's short stow is Frederic Edwin Church's Our Banner in the Sky , which forges the Stars and Stripes out of the natural environment and thereby merges the Fatherland and Mother Nature into an all-embracing patriotic emblem. It was executed just after the firing on Fort Sumter and during the time of the exuberant burst of flag adulation in the North. Strongly pro-Union, Church created a hallucinatory and illusionistic image of a sunrise motif that simultaneously resembles a flag fluttering from its staff. The sky with its streaks of red and white cloud surrounding a still deep blue firmament spangled with stars becomes a natural flag waving from the branches of a desolate blasted tree in the left foreground. As if in anticipation of Nolan's shrine, an eagle -- the principle of masculine invincibility soars above the pinnacle of the combination tree-flagstaff. Also like the fictional Nolan, Church had an obsession with natural history that he worked through in his landscapes. In this case, his particular predisposition assumes a moralistic urgency. The transformation of an early dawn motif into a tattered flag still waving overhead sent an unequivocal message to Church's audience: A Union triumph was prefigured in the heavens -- the teleological goal of earth's unfolding history and America's destiny.


Scot M. Guenter's research revealed that Union and Confederate flags were first introduced into the sacred precincts of church services in reaction to the fall of Fort Sumter. He cites numerous instances as well of flags being attached to the crosses outside of churches and being flown from church roofs, towers, and spires. Sermons were based on such flag-related texts as "In the name of God we hang out our banners" and "Lift up a standard to the people." The vestry of Grace Church, New York, wanted a flag to fly from the apex of the church spire, two and sixty feet above ground. When this was accomplished, a local paper reported that the historian writing for future generations will not fail to mention "that the flag which was once the flag of our Union floats boldly to the breeze of heaven above the cross of Christ on Grace Church steeple." Both sides, of course, looked to Divine guidance and support for their respective causes, but the victory of the pro-Union forces gave special force to the Stars and Stripes. Hence, the flag's fetishization and reverential sublimation emerge at the moment of the Civil War, though the ritualistic codification of this attitude does not realize itself fully until the end of the century and the World War I period.

    The persuasive appeal of cultish patriotism was seized in this period of social and political instability. A long editorial in the July 1861 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine entitled "The Masses" is a torturous discussion of the strategies necessary to get hold of the people and prevent them from falling under the spell of radical social programs. It called for an evolutionary combination of "stability and progress" to be attained through a religious-patriotic devotion to the national emblem:

Every patriot must strive and pray that the old constitution and laws may be maintained, and that the nation may be fixed in the steadfastness of a sound conservatism, and quickened by the fire of progressive courage. God has given us our guiding law and our moving mind, and he will continue and renew them still. More deeply perhaps than we are conscious, we feel this two-fold gift when we look at the flag of our Union, as we have so often done of late, and our hearts beat quicker, and our eyes fill with tears of joy and hope as we gaze upon its stripes and stars. Those stars speak to us of laws of equity as fixed as the eternal heavens; and those stripes, as they wave in the breeze, tell us of that mysterious breath which moves through men and nations, that they may be born, not of the flesh, but of God.

    After the Civil War, the Republicans, claiming the role of the party that "saved the Union," easily monopolized the flag's persuasive potential. They continued to control the evocational field of the symbol through the end of the century when the cult of the flag was firmly established. Two factors contributed to this intensification of the flag's aura: the surging imperialism and the influx of southern and eastern European immigrants -- many of them participants in international socialism -- in the last quarter of the century. The vision of the flag fluttering from the ramparts of the remnants of the former Spanish empire thrilled the hearts of the jingoists and implicated Old Glory in a rekindled expansionist fever. Enthusiastic American troops delightfully replaced the Spanish flags over Guantanamo and Havana and Manila with the Stars and Stripes, thereby giving an added measure of devotion to the flag cult Admiral Dewey dragged in the wake of his flagship returning from Manila a 500-foot red, white, and blue banner, and no one complained. As a writer of a popular history of the War with Spain articulated the flag hysteria in his preface:

The last vestige of old sectional feeling disappeared in the inspiring unity with which all, North and South, fell in behind the flag; and, as the war closed, our eyes were open to a wider vision, the promise of a grander destiny than we have been wont to consider in store for us.... The Stars and Stripes now float in the Antilles and over rich islands of the Pacific. Whatever comes, it has been shown that the people of the United States do not shrink in the face of duty to themselves and to humanity.

And his concluding remarks unequivocally reveal the expansionist teperament:

Having destroyed the only government that existed in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, and in the Philippines, there rests upon us the responsibility and the problem of securing to these islands a better government. The work will not be the work of a moment. It will, henceforth, be a feature of our government, of our national life. It will be less an appendix to the history of the war than a history in itself -- the history of a nation from the time it took its place as a dominating factor in the civilization of the world.



The U.S. government deliberately sparked patriotic fervor by carrying the flag to new territories as a shield for the desire to gain new markets for the flood of goods produced by its burgeoning industry. The labor force required to operate the mechanized factories and textile mills -- usually consisting of Catholics and Jews -- was recruited largely from central and southern Europe, bringing patterns of life different from the Old World remembered and revered by the WASP-elite. An attempt was made to solve the problem of intense class conflict by attempting to quickly "Americanize" the foreign element. This led directly to the revival or formation of several patriotic societies and school indoctrination rites centered on the flag.

    National veterans' organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) targeted public schools for flag worship. The Commander-in-Chief of the GAR declared in 1892: "Let the 8,000,000 boys and girls in our elementary schools be thus imbued with a reverence for the flag and all it represents. Then the future of the Republic is assured, and that flag shall forever wave." Not surprisingly, the idea was sparked in the city of New York, where the conspicuous presence of immigrant children offered a splendid test case for patriotic indoctrination. As might be expected of fanatical flag idolaters, the GAR did not accept refusals lightly, and in one instance in Illinois impugned the patriotic loyalty of recalcitrant local school administrators by spreading rumors that one of them was a foreign alien yet to be naturalized and the other a draft dodger who evaded Civil War service by fleeing to Canada.

    This type of exclusivistic or "pure" patriotism was also expressed in the rise of groups claiming descent from the original settlers, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in 1890. The DAR enthusiastically joined the GAR's campaign to install flags in all public schools and indoctrinate immigrant children -- an ironic display of public concern given that organization's anti-Semitic and racist biases. Patriotic rhetoric and devotion to the flag became instruments for controlling the "unruly" newcomers, whose interests were subordinate to those of the privileged. It is hardly surprising that reverence for the flag became the centerpiece of conservative strategy for dealing with the vox populi .

    It is precisely in this period that the idea crystallized for some systematic flag ritual and salute to be practiced daily in the schools. The pervasive presence of the Pledge of Allegiance in our national life makes the ritual seem almost ahistorical. In fact, the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag was written by Francis Bellamy and James Upham as recently as 1892 to instill "old-fashioned' patriotism in "alien" school children. It was formulated to coincide with the anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America and was used in the opening ceremonies of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, initially planned in conjunction with the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. The patriotic propaganda surrounding the exposition invoked expansionist and Eurocentric themes, glorifying Anglo-Saxon leadership, the westward movement, and the industrialized state. Patriotic groups seized the opportunity to exploit the climate created by repeated appeals to nationalism by consolidating their plan for the presence of flags in the public schools. The preeminent children's periodical of the day, the Youth's Companion , became swept up in a campaign to place flags in all schools by Columbus Day 1892 and sponsored a nationally organized recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Although there were disagreements among the staff of the magazine over tactical methods in exploiting the patriotic angle, Upham and his assistant Bellamy unhesitatingly jumped on the bandwagon as part of their emphasis on modern sales techniques to increase the circulation of their magazine. Flags were regularly used in conjunction with the magazine's ads at the same time that it began its drive to place flags in public schools.

    Both Upham and Bellamy were raised in deeply pious Protestant environments and had something of a missionary zeal in promoting their cause. They were decisively affected by the strategies of Colonel George T. Balch, a former Civil War officer and New York City auditor, who had witnessed the "immigrant problem" close up in examining the files of the city's health department. The living conditions of newly arrived immigrants -- people he could refer to as "human scum, cast on our shores by the tidal wave of a vast immigration" -- both repelled and fascinated him. Balch blamed immigrants for diluting American civilization, radically modifying "many of the social and political conditions, which in the past have characterized our national life." He became convinced that daily ritualistic respect for the flag in the public schools would "deliver us from the evils and dangers" of the "immigrant problem," and the plan soon obsessed him. He dedicated the last years of his life to spreading the flag ritual in the schools, writing patriotic manuals and primers, and establishing instruction in patriotism as a fundamental component of public school curricula. The zealous Balch even invented a system of flag awards for proper behavior and obedience, thereby combining patriotism with a code of moral conduct. Not surprisingly, Balch received enthusiastic support from the hereditary and veterans' organizations that often coordinated their activities with his own.

    Balch's practical methods realized the conservative dream that began at the time of the Civil War. He openly broadcast his plan to use the flag to Americanize immigrants and assimilate them into the conservative mainstream. At the time of his death in 1894, he was working on a "patriotic primer" based on a catechism of fifty-seven questions. It represented systematic indoctrination of young minds into a propagandized history of the United States and into appropriate comportment. In response to the question, "What is the Object of School Laws and How Are We to Obey Them?," the student had to recite:

The first thing... we little citizens of this school must do, is TO OBEY ITS RULES AND LAWS. The object of these rules and laws is to train us all in regularity, punctuality, self-restraint, industry, order and truthful accuracy in all our work, and this is the way we can best help our teachers and perfect ourselves in good behavior.

The student then offered up memorized responses to each question, including this remarkable attempt to program the pupil to carry out the ritual with enthusiasm and spontaneity:

When we salute the flag, we will remember that we do it by virtue of the free will of this school. When we rise in our places to perform this patriotic act, we will shout joyfully, and will salute our country through its flag with our whole soul. Let us be proud of our country, and as we learn more about its wonderful history, may we become more and more GRATEFUL TO GOD for all the inestimable privileges, rights and blessings which are ours to enjoy, and may we never, NEVER do an act unworthy of the proud title of A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Apparently, the original salute was completed with the arms outstretched and slightly elevated with the palm down, as the students incanted:

In a country where people from many nations are gathered together to enjoy the inestimable blessings which America offers, we little citizens think it right and just that American principles, the American language and the American flag SHOULD BE SUPREME OVER ALL OTHERS, and so we complete our salute with the words, "ONE COUNTRY! -- ONE LANGUAGE! -- ONE FLAG!"

The coercive implication of this slogan and salute was only recognized during World War II, when a parallel could be drawn between them and the Nazi "Heft Hitler!" But for the authoritarian mind-set at the end of the nineteenth century, such patriotic sloganeering and oath taking seemed as American as mom and apple pie (Fig. 5).

    Balch's idea for a universal public school salute was incorporated into the promotional activities of the Youth's Companion . Upham organized a national contest in 1890 for the best essay on the topic "The Patriotic Influence of the American Flag When Raised Over the Public Schools" and published poetry, illustrations, and stories focusing on the flag. When Upham discovered that no provision had been made for a national celebration in conjunction with the official dedication of the exposition grounds in Chicago on Columbus Day 1892, he conceived of a plan to sponsor a national public school commemoration centered on flag raisings across the country. By January 1891, Upham was offering a free souvenir edition of the illustrated poem "Raising the School House Flag" to all schools hoisting the Stars and Stripes, and promised to give the schools special mention in the "National Columbus Public School Celebration, Oct. 12, 1892." The magazine also printed and circulated special certificates to be sold by students to raise funds for the purchase of flags from the Youth's Companion for schools that did not yet own one. These flags were supplied by the manufacturer, W. Anderson and Company of Boston -- one of the magazine's leading advertisers. (Upham's brilliant campaign emulated Joseph Pulitzer's fund-raising drive, which targeted young people in subsidizing the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The popular appeal of Pulitzer's campaign dramatically increased the circulation of the New York World.)

    Charles C. Bonney, president of the World's Congress Auxiliary to the Columbian Exposition, officially assigned to the staff of the Youth's Companion the job of organizing the national celebration. Upham appointed Bellamy, an ordained Baptist minister, to take charge of the Columbus Day festivities. A gifted public relations specialist, Bellamy promptly enlisted the support of state and local school superintendents across the country, with the result that the May 1892 issue of Education advocated that all teachers and school administrators support the event, crediting the Youth's Companion for its decisive contribution to its realization. GAR also participated in publicizing the campaign, and flag manufacturers and distributors reaped tremendous benefits from ads they placed in the Youth's Companion and other venues.

    During the summer, Bellamy traveled to Washington to lobby on behalf of a presidential proclamation upholding the concept of a universal flag ritual for the schools. President Harrison also signed in this period a congressional act establishing Columbus Day as a national holiday. Plagued by the taint of corruption from the inception of his presidency, threatened by the third-party agrarian revolt, and beholden to the Union veterans of GAR (who benefited enormously from new pension laws passed in 1890), Harrison eagerly grabbed the opportunity to proclaim: "Let the National Flag float over every school house in the country, and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship."

    The September issue of the Youth's Companion published the detailed scenario for the national public school celebration in honor of the discovery of America. The ceremonies involved GAR's membership who were responsible for raising the flag in communities throughout the country, and then the regimented pupils were to conclude the event by reciting in unison "The Pledge of Allegiance" written by Bellamy and probably Upham specifically for this occasion. The exercise was carried out with the raised arm salute (this time palm upward), and culminated with the singing of "My Country, 'tis of Thee." Ironically, state laws passed in the 1890s and subsequent decades mandated daily flag salutes even as the Pledge itself extolled the virtue of "Liberty and Justice for all." Nearly 100 years later, when George Bush ran in 1988 against Michael Dukakis partly on the strength of his idea for a federally mandated Pledge in the schools, he tapped into the authoritarian instincts underlying the ritual.


The pressure to pass compulsory flag laws at the turn of the century manifested the desire of those in power to control foreign aliens and potential dissenters. During the celebration of the anniversary of the landing of Columbus in 1892, businessmen and civic leaders organized massive parades in Chicago and New York that expressed their notion of civic order with contingents of military units and citizens marching in regimented fraternal and ethnic groups. It was the businessmen riding in carriages rather than the immigrant workers who led these parades. The World's Fair of Chicago interpreted the past so as to trace the direction of society from the perspective of the privileged elite, and paraded Indian life, for example, not for the purpose of studying culture but to demonstrate the distance between this life and the material progress brought about by civilized northern European white men. The Pledge of Allegiance was conceived in response to class conflict and constituted an attempt to gain exclusive monopoly over the national emblem by trying to control its significations. Certainly the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses would feel excluded from the ostensible meaning of the flag when at first they were unable to reject the ritual on religious grounds. Later, Eisenhower's addition of "under God" during the height of the Cold War extended patriotic exclusion to atheists and other religious dissenters. Clearly, when it is necessary to enforce respect for an emblem that we are told stands for freedom of expression, that emblem is no longer merely political but also theocratic. In fact, the Pledge ritual is a prayer that sanctifies the flag while stigmatizing desecration a a heretical and iconoclastic act.

    The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 aroused the nationalists to fever pitch, and it was in this period that flag reverence became institutionally entrenched. Official U.S. propaganda and its outlets made flag display and flag ceremonies a key ingredient of their campaign to win support for the war and maintain exalted patriotic feeling. That year the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws sanctioned a "Uniform Flag Statute" with explicit prohibitions against desecration and mutilation. At public events, people now stood to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, and in the ceremonies of organized sports, municipal pageants, youth camps, and movements like the Boy and Girl Scouts, flag etiquette became a fixed part of the formal agenda. The urgent demand for flags created a multimillion dollar bonanza for flag manufacturers and entrepreneurs who multiplied dramatically in this period. The Federal Trade Commission reported to the Senate that retailers had doubled and tripled their prices after America's entry into the war.

    A week after war was declared, President Woodrow Wilson established a Committee on Public Information (CPI) to mobilize public opinion in support of the war. Despite Wilson's rousing crusade, Americans generally did not rush to enlist and Congress voted overwhelmingly for a draft. George Creel, a veteran journalist, was appointed chair of the CPI; he hired hundreds of writers, artists, and orators to mount a massive propaganda campaign unprecedented in American history. Flags and flag rhetoric were systematically incorporated into this effort to excite a reluctant public. Socialists, who condemned the war, made crucial gains in the municipal elections of 1917 and demonstrated that the war was unpopular among large segments of the population who protested the draft and abhorred profiteering.

    The government's response was to pass the Espionage Act, ostensibly designed to curb spying, but actually intended to punish those who "wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the U.S...." This law was used to prosecute dissidents who spoke out or wrote against America's participation in the war. It is no coincidence that the phrasing of the Uniform Flag Statute on mutilation, adopted by several states, resembled that of the Espionage Act: "No person shall publicly mutilate, deface, defile, defy, trample upon, or by word or act cast contempt upon any such flag, standard, color, ensign or shield."

    How this might be carried out in practice is seen in the case of dissident E. V. Starr of Montana, who was confronted in March 1918 by one of those vigilante groups organized by the states to test the loyalty of local citizens. The group attempted to coerce him into kissing the flag. Starr not only refused, but also had the temerity to state that it was "nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes." In a context of mad obsession with loyalty his words were construed as seditious, and in August he was handed a harsh prison sentence and fine.

    The war hysteria, akin to that caused by the Civil War, was heightened by social instability. The growing militancy of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), female suffragettes, pacificists, and socialists challenged the presumed prerogatives of the dominant classes. In response, conservatives began to deploy the symbol of "Americanism" to isolate the threat from these dissenting groups. Foes of labor unions, the threatened conservatives, equated the open shop with Americanism, and racists, anti-Semites, anti-Catholics, and opponents of woman suffrage used this term unsparingly to justify their biases. In 1918, Congress went still further by passing the Sabotage Act and the Sedition Act, empowering the federal government to punish any expression of opinion that was disloyal, profane, or abusive of the American form of government, flag, or uniform. This opened the way to systematic persecution of radicals and pacifists.

    The most remarkable textual expression of this contradiction appeared in 1918 -- in the vivid, hysterical book entitled The Religion of Old Glory by William Norman Guthrie. Guthrie's tract is riddled with racist, anti-Semitic, antipacifist, anti-Red, antiunion, and antifemale suffrage sentiments, yet he writes in exalted prose of organizing a new nondenominational national religion around the Stars and Stripes. Guthrie took as his point of departure a special edition of the National Geographic Magazine devoted to the "Flags of the World," but which in fact focused on the history of Old Glory. He opened his book with a quote from President Wilson borrowed directly from the text of the National Geographic : "This flag, which we honour and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation." The conservative socialite Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, who ran the National Geographic Society, always presented the National Geographic as an nonpolitical unbiased journal, and his special October issue on the flags betrays a profoundly partisan and nationalist bias geared to the needs of the Committee on Public Information. Several passages on "personal sacrifice" attest to this connection. For example:

In the present world struggle, in which the United States of America is now engaged, we of this land hold to the ideals represented in the history and the promise of the Stars and Stripes -- the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness safeguarded for all mankind. And though many must fall in the achievement of those ideals, a noble and imperishable good will endure as a monument to their sacrifice. History can bestow upon such soldiers no higher encomium than that of Defenders of the Flag.

The National Geographic also linked the practice of pledging allegiance to the flag in school with containment of the unruly social sphere, again revealing its involvement with the intentions of the hereditary societies. Under the photograph of a classroom scene of the flag salute, the caption noted:

The salute to the flag fosters a spirit of unity and loyalty among the future citizens of the land, regardless of the many racial stocks from which these children may have sprung. Happily, educators are rapidly appreciating the importance of such outward symbols and ceremonies, and it is hoped that the time is at hand when such patriotic customs will be universally adopted in our public and private schools.

Finally, the expansionist ideology that coincided with the period of Grosvenor's maturation (b. 1875) -- reflected in his magazine's preoccupation with colonialized and exotic peoples -- bursts forth in the prose of one of his writers:

The story of the Stars and Stripes is the story of the nation itself; the evolution of the flag is symbolic of the evolution of our free institutions; its development epitomizes the amazing expansion of our boundaries and the development of our natural resources; its glorious history is the history of the people whose sovereignty it signifies.

    This then is the rhetoric that evidently inspired Guthrie to such raptures in the book that appeared the following year. Guthrie contends that his ideal flag is associated not with the collectivity, but with a chosen elect preeminently suited for the business of guiding them:

It has to be set up, lifted, and carried or flown to indicate the whereabouts always of the leader -- whether, on the one hand, chieftain or king, by supposed divine right of birth or priestly annointing; or, on the other hand, by the peoples' living and intelligent, direct or indirect choice and mandate to his office and station. Naturally, in the first case, it will identify by design, colour, and number, the leader; in the second case, the folk or nation. For the sake of effective announcement to the stranger -- friend or foe -- threatening and appalling the latter, summoning and inviting the former, rallying and cheering its own -- it must somehow manage to describe, to exaggerate, indeed, and idealise the descent, the record for prowess, the noble character, and awful terrifying intention of the leader or of the folk.

    Guthrie's allusion to the "folk" (anticipating the Fascist idea) barely disguises his contempt for them; his terms designate a privileged body capable of idealizing "the descent, the record for prowess, the noble character, and awful terrifying intention.... "This body is perforce masculine, and Guthrie is quick to phallicize the flag in accordance with the male or what he called "the life principle." As he explained the flagstaff's symbolic significance: "The staff or pole represents the ancestral life, set up stably, affirming and evoking the immortal, because self-perpetuating, principle of the family or stock." It is constitutive of the chieftain's -- hereditary or appointed -- prerogatives as transmitted to him "by the ancestral gods."

    Guthrie minces no words about deploying the national banner for manipulation of what he calls the "Primitive Man." He rejects the modern intellectual sensibility that analyzes and dissects in favor of the instinctual response to clear unambiguous signs. He hopes to create a language of flags for organizing the masses and "for a nascent national sense of power and destiny." Here is how the modern "chieftain" (Guthrie?) can win over the crowd:

When we want to speak powerfully, passionately, to large masses of men, we have to employ simple, crude, short words. When we want to be heard beyond earshot, we must resort to signs and symbols. The signs or signals must be very near to experience. Every one must not only recognise them, but have personal life touched in some degree, or rather, tapped by their first appearance and long contemplation, or else they would soon stale, lose interest, cease to be effective in arousing passion, in compelling action, in eliciting courage and self-sacrifice.

The flag is meant to "dominate," not merely to "decorate," for it is ultimately tied to conquest: "It is not too much to say that our patriotism expands as the map of the continent unrolls under us when we travel westward to the Pacific." Guthrie could see in the Grand Canyon, "our Mecca," a sacred shrine, the predestined image of the Stars and Stripes inscribed in the rocky strata.

    Although Guthrie's spirited discussion is steeped in the unconstrained enthusiasm for the flag arising out of World War I, he is unable to resist the opportunity to practice the politics of exclusion. In one of his most revealing and astonishing sections on the flag's symbolism, he takes up "The `Colour' Question" in addressing "the white of the flag in the six stripes and in the five pointed stars as well." What immediately comes to his mind are popular phrases such as "being white" and "treating another man white." Proceeding to a thumbnail history of slavery in the United States, he concludes with the claim that a more desirable lower class from Europe (read white), equipped with both brains and brawn, reached American shores and made blacks irrelevant. The Civil War was thus necessary "to free the white race from the immediately agreeable and, to the few, highly profitable handicap, which is involved in a complete personal guardianship of an inferior race."

    Guthrie, however, feels that the experience of slavery and its aftermath was ultimately beneficial to the privileged classes. As a result of the national trauma, Americans "are far more acutely race-conscious than any other nation." This means in practice that although

we passionately believe in the freedom and civic opportunity of red and black and yellow and brown, who are among us and politically of us; we do not believe in miscegenation. We want free men of pure breeds, so far as that is desirable for the best human values. So we resist Japanese invasion, Hindu invasion, or any other, that seems to jeopardise this ideal. It is no question of relative inferiority -- as to which is the superior; it is a question mostly of differences too profound to permit of social admixture. This is to be a white nation we say, and mean what we say, every syllable of it, with a conviction born of bitter, costly experience. It is to treat black and yellow, brown and red, as "white" as may be; but "white" for all that, ay, because of it, we shall see that the nation remains!

Thus, Guthrie's racial theories are displaced onto the color symbolism of the flag; the colors function side by side but remain sharply separated, and white predominates. It was only a short step from conceiving the possibility of eliminating minority protestors and dissidents of every stamp from symbolic protection of the flag, including even those otherwise worthy citizens who affirm their individual right to desist from participating in flag rituals. As he declared on behalf of his transcendent religion of the flag:

Suppose, for the nonce, we establish by law, as patriots, for the observance of all alike, the one cult of the flag? Suppose we punish protestors and non-conformists, by what punishment fits the crime of obstructing spiritual harmony -- by exclusion? The nation has a right to banish, to deprive of the benefits of the Social Order, any one who refuses to do his duty, as power-getter and power-conserver, who for this refuses to accept the necessary means thereto; who will not use, as his own, a symbolic language, agreed upon as the most convenient, solemnly to convey and perform that duty vowed, that duty done? Surely it has the right to remove from its midst whoever denies honour and worship to the Undefined God in whom this nation as a nation trusts, and whom it needs to invoke unanimously now, even as at its first start. For this National Cult, there must be chosen and set apart and protected by law, an object of psychological crowd-regard and concentration of attention, which shall definitely designate and signify the nation in its ideal life .

Thus, Guthrie seized the occasion of the crisis of World War I, when patriotic pressures mobilized the citizenry in a common front against the foreign enemy, to narrowly define its significations in favor of a homogeneous elite.

    Guthrie's wartime hysteria anticipated the strategies used subsequently to enlist the loyalties of the heterogeneous population in support of the elite's version of history and economic freedom. Yet the American flag remains a classic example of the polyvalent meanings of a national emblem. Despite its apparent simplicity, it is an enormously complex symbol, a lightning rod for a whole range of emotions and attitudes predicated on the idea that all Americans can find themselves somewhere within its folds. Diverse groups may rigidly define "Americans" in relation to themselves, but in the end, we are all simply dwellers in a particular geographical region. Furthermore, the symbol of unity projected by the flag in the modern period depends on an inherent contradiction: Where people genuinely feel themselves a part of a community, there is little need for a distinctive sign of their association. It is mainly in societies in which there are class and ethnic divisions, intense specialization of labor, and a bellicose disposition that there is a need for a symbol that pretends to be a common denominator for all. Although it is only human to want signs of unity that provide a symbolic safety net, it is remarkable to what extent we actually cocoon ourselves within it. Thus, in most societies, this fiction cannot be maintained except through intense indoctrination; flag symbolism is almost always associated with a sustained propaganda program, in which one group claims a monopoly over the flag and attempts to exclude those who do not accept its definition of patriotic loyalty. This program works most effectively when the nation is in a hostile confrontation with another, but it also works when nationalism assumes an exclusionary and xenophobic face. For the Nazis and their supporters, the National Socialist swastika promoted the unity of the Aryan peoples against the Jewish other, while Germany's Jewish citizens clearly felt excluded at the sight of that flag.

    In America, a classic case is the Ku Klux Klan, which enthusiastically adopted the Flag Code and scrupulously indoctrinated young people in proper flag etiquette. As a definitive test of patriotism and Klan loyalty, prospective members had to swear an oath of fealty to the flag and to the Constitution. Klan regalia symbolically linked flag devotion and religion, representing members together with flaming cross, Bible, and a conspicuous Old Glow -- symbolism dear to the concept of Gerald L. K. Smith's racist newspaper, The Cross and the Flag . At the peak of their power in the mid-1920s, Klan members publicly flaunted their appropriation of the Stars and Stripes. On August 9, 1925, some 40,000 hooded Klansmen swept down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., holding aloft a riotous display of American flags.

    The yawning gap between the rhetoric of the Pledge of Allegiance and the practice of American life may be explained by the way in which the national props -- the Bill of Rights, the Statue of Liberty, the Stars and Stripes -- are perceived by the elite who command the media and major sites of festival and display. They use the flag and patriotic icons to mask the actual exclusivity of their ideology -- an exclusivity that is readily apparent to those who suffer from political, social, and economic exclusion. These contradictions fostered the social protest and rebellion of the 1960s and have been embedded in American popular art and culture since that period.

    The attempt to interpret the flag on behalf of the reigning elite and to indoctrinate the citizenry with one version of Americanism led to state laws enforcing respect for the flag and protecting it from mutilation. This in turn prompted various disenfranchised groups to search for alternative meanings and significations. They were not angry at the flag per se, but at the betrayal of those ideals that it supposedly represented. They resented its symbolic manipulation by a government that they believed not only failed to deliver on the flag's promise, but substituted rhetoric and tropes for the redress of injustice. The area most conducive for protest lay in the codified rules and rituals for proper display of and respect for the flag, because these were inevitably tied to the one-dimensional interpretation of what the flag meant. In the 1960s, these alternative readings -- which included flag burning, mutilation, trampling, defacing, and conversion to articles of clothing -- stimulated the Congress on July 5, 1968, to pass federal legislation prohibiting flag profanation.

    What helped set the stage for the ability to see the flag in a degraded or nonsancrosanct context was the work of the avant-garde artists of the 1950s and 1960s that depended on preexisting, kitschy images like ads and comic strips. The decision of the Supreme Court on June 21, 1989, was the end result of a cultural revolution that began with the flag series by Jasper Johns in the mid-1950s and culminated in the retrospective of Childe Hassam's World War I flag paintings (brilliantly contextualized by Ilene Susan Fort) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1988-9.

    Johns's image inaugurated a type of "Patriotic Pop" relating to the avant-garde movement that wallowed in popular images presented in an ironic and deadpan way (Fig. 6). By passing off the flag in a "high art" context, Johns could exploit its gut-wrenching nationalist appeal to position the viewer in a more serious analytic stance. It was this break with the emotional and ritualistic display of the flag that encouraged a semiotic exploration of what inevitably proved to be no more than a common piece of fabric inscribed with a banal design.


In 1954, Johns had a dream of himself painting the American flag, and thus his flag series emerged out of the chauvinistic commotion of McCarthyism and the Eisenhower years. It was on Flag Day 1954 that Eisenhower signed legislation amending the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" to emphasize the yawning gap between the atheist Soviets and pious Americans, and in the same year, he dedicated the Iwo Jima Memorial. Also in 1954, Irving Berlin was voted a gold medal by Congress for "composing many patriotic songs, including `God Bless America.'" Johns certainly did not escape Cold War patriotism; [the year statehood was granted to Alaska (1959),] Johns exhibited his flag images at Leo Castelli's gallery and memorialized the fading Old Glory in his painting of three superimposed flags of forty-eight stars.

    Johns, however, sets up the flag design so that we experience it as art. Sometimes painted monochromatic gray or white or painted on bright backgrounds, Johns's flags served to neutralize the grand metaphor of Old Glory by holding it up to close scrutiny in the secularized space of Leo Castelli's art gallery. Here no one could experience any sudden patriotic flush or feel inclined to salute, and in effect, the image of the flag was completely divorced from those sites in which the ritual of respect or decorum was normally played out. The flag could be seen as a depersonalized flat image akin to other Pop Art subjects absorbed from the mass media and making the gallery rounds in those days. It became just another motif and in its uncustomary surroundings could be evaluated in terms of symmetry, repetition, color, and all the other formal qualities attached to prime-time art gazing.

    The conspicuous display of ideological symbols and icons during the mid-1950s attracted the eye of the Swiss immigrant Robert Frank, who began photographing the images of politics, leisure life, and mass culture th

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 1998-07:
In this lengthy, intensely written, and provocative volume, Boime (art history, UCLA) in effect attacks American society by attacking its icons. He seeks to unveil what he considers to be the reactionary ideational and historical underpinnings of the American flag and several leading monuments commonly identified with American ideals. A self-proclaimed iconoclast, he contends that these icons identify America with freedom-loving, democratic, and egalitarian values while the country is in reality militaristic, authoritarian, and oppressive of the poor and minorities. He argues that such icons conceal the gap between rhetoric and reality, and Boime's mission is to unmask how the flag and monuments have always been instruments of patriotic manipulation by the ruling elite and ideological right. He undertakes to undo this insidious "regulation of the national memory" by exposing its unsavory history. He also contends that however harmless the icons may have been initially, they have since been taken over by jingoistic political elements, as in the conservative campaign against flag burning and the use of Statue of Liberty imagery to oppose immigration. Boime finds it difficult to sustain his campaign against all national monuments, however. Admitting that the Lincoln Monument has become a symbol for the civil rights and other protest movements, he says it shows how "the people" can occasionally expropriate an elitist monument. The enigmatic Vietnam Memorial is not an icon at all, says Boime, but a wailing wall where veterans expiate their personal guilt for participating in an unjust war. Graduate collections. C. T. Goodsell; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, July 1998
New York Times Book Review, October 1998
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Table of Contents
Patriotism and protest: reconstituting Old Glory
The engendering of moderate politics: the Statue of Liberty
Patriarchy fixed in stone: Gutzon Borglum's Mount Rushmore
The battle for hearts and minds: the Marine Corps Memorial
A house undivided cannot stand: the Lincoln Memorial
Epilogue: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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