Lecture No. 49 – October 2017


A few weeks ago, I was on a tour of Ireland. Now, I’m not going to take up your time telling you all about the tour. I’ll save that for next month. I returned home to news that is, to me, grossly confusing.

My trip began about a week after Harvey had devastated southeast Texas. As we were boarding our flight at D/FW, Hurricane Irma was wreaking havoc in south Florida. I returned to learn that Hurricane Maria had ravaged the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The local news was dwelling more on what the city council was doing about removing Civil War monuments and DISD renaming four elementary schools. They have news programs on Irish TV, proportionally more news programming than we have. I turned on the TV one morning; I’m not sure which of the five news channels was on. There was a picture of a flatbed truck slowly driving down a street at night with a police escort. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen was the word “Live.” Across the bottom of the picture were the words “Dallas, Texas.” The truck had the statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park on the bed.  The impression was that it had to be done secretly, at night, to avoid any demonstrations. The accompanying commentary was a simple “No Comment.”

The Irish love their sports. We were traveling through County Mayo the week before the All Ireland Hurling Championship. Two teams were scheduled to play for the cup in Dublin that Sunday. Hurling appears to be a combination of soccer and rugby with a few other moves tossed in for good measure.

County Mayo was to play Dublin again. The Irish are also a bit superstitious. It seems that the County Mayo team had been cursed about 40 years ago.  That year, the team had won the championship and upon their return to Mayo had noisily interrupted a funeral procession. The officiating priest cursed the team saying that Mayo would not win another championship until the last member of that team had died. The last living member of that team lived in New York City, and it was rumored he had passed away.

It seemed that the whole country was primed for a Mayo win although they were the underdog. I guess the last man still lives; Mayo lost in the final few minutes, although they had the lead most of the game. The next day, the emphasis was on the upcoming rugby championship game.

We Americans love our sports, too. However, the interest seems to be centered on the playing of our national anthem before the contest and who’s going to do what with limited interest in who will do what during the game.

The function of the flag has changed over the centuries. Before the Common Era, military units were identified by what was called a standard. Later in the Middle Ages, banners were used to identify a knight on the battlefield. It was a rallying point for common soldiers who were often in the service of a particular noble.

The oldest national flag still in use belongs to Denmark. It has been in use, unchanged, since at least 1478. Its cross design has inspired the flags of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland as well several smaller political sub-states. The oldest tri-color belongs to the Netherlands. During the reign of Charlemagne, the coastal area where the Netherlands is now located was identified with the tri-colors of red, white and blue. In 1520, the flag first appeared as orange, white and blue. It was known as The Prince’s flag. By 1620, the orange had been replaced by red.

The French national flag was designed in 1794 prior to the French Revolution. The flag that was used at Six Flags represented the monarchy, the Royal House of Bourbon, a white flag with gold fleur-de-lis.

The United Kingdom doesn’t really have a national flag. Parliament has yet to adopt a national flag. What we know as the Union Jack is a composite of the flags of England,  Scotland and Ireland.

Today’s national flags often represent not just the country but also something significant about the country, as evidenced by the Union Jack.  The three crosses speak of the patron saints of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. The patron saint of England is St. George. His flag is white with a red cross. St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is represented by a blue flag with a white diagonal cross. In 1801, the flag of St. Patrick was added, a white flag with a diagonal red cross. Many former British colonies remind their citizens of their former ties to Great Britain by incorporating the Union Jack as part of their national flag.

The French tri-color represents that nation’s ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The design has persisted through five republics, two monarchies and two empires.

Our national flag has several functions. First, it is the banner that represents our nation wherever it is displayed. Our flag represents the history of our country. A nation that has grown from the original 13 colonies, the alternating stripes, to the indissoluble union of 50 states.

When we pledge our allegiance to our flag, we are not pledging our allegiance to a piece of cloth. The next phrase is “and to the republic for which it stands.” That republic represents the ideas expressed in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that governments are instituted among men and exist only at the consent of the governed.

Our forefathers went on to put into our Constitution further definition of those unalienable rights. We have freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to trial by a jury of our peers. Each of those freedoms carries the responsibility to exercise that right within socially acceptable limits. I can own and carry a weapon, but I cannot discharge that weapon within the city limits indiscriminately thereby endangering others.

Our freedom of speech allows us to express our feelings and beliefs in many forms, but it brings with it the responsibility that we do not defame or slander others. Each of the freedoms we enjoy carries with it the responsibility to exercise that freedom justly. We enjoy freedom of the press. However, journalists are obligated to report the news honestly and without prejudice. We enjoy open and free elections of those who govern us, and we have the duty and responsibility to ensure that those we elect govern honestly and with integrity.

The question to stand for our national anthem or to kneel in protest is a question best left to the individual. Traditionally, we stand, remove our hat, and place it or our hand over our heart. We have been taught that this is an acceptable way to honor our country, the ideals it represents and in small measure to honor those who have died in service to our country and those ideals.

To do otherwise causes me to ask, “Why?” If the answer is justified then, although I may not agree with what you do, I must respect your right to do it. As long as your actions do not demonstrate disrespect or interfere with the right of others to honor the flag as they see fit.