“Put Out No Flags” is the title of Katha Pollitt’s latest diatribe in The Nation, and the title pretty much tells it. Pollitt begins with a heartwarming anecdote: “My daughter,” she writes, “who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I’m wrong — the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism.” Then, a concession: “In a way, we’re both right,” because the American flag is “the only available symbol” and must bear “a wide range of meanings, from simple, dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and harassment on New York City streets and campuses.” (Reading writers like Pollitt, one would think that angry mobs were putting Muslim neighborhoods to the torch while the police looked on.) In the end, mercifully, a mother-daughter compromise ensues: “I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that’s hers, but the living room is off-limits.” How’s that for tolerance?
While her daughter rushes out to buy Old Glory, Ms. Pollitt bemoans the fact that “there are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really needs — equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence. The red flag is too bloodied by history; the peace sign is a retro fashion accessory.” But lest we think her just another old guard, Guevera-style lefty, pining for ’60s salad days, Pollitt hastens to note that she has “never been one to blame the United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World.” Still, she does manage to blame us for supporting the mujahadeen against the Soviets, adding that “there’s a story in here about the attraction Afghan hypermasculinity holds for desk-bound modern men. How lovely not to pay lip service to women’s equality!” Instead of backing warrior chauvinists, needless to say, we should have been supporting “the forces in the Muslim world who call for education, social justice, women’s rights, democracy, civil liberties and secularism.”
Where, exactly, those forces are to be found in poor, ruined Afghanistan, Pollitt does not deign to say. Instead, she coughs up what has become the left-wing party line: “Bombing Afghanistan to ‘fight terrorism’ is to punish not the Taliban but the victims of the Taliban, the people we should be supporting.” Of course, no one has bombed Afghanistan yet, but never mind that. In Pollitt’s worldview, it is always 1969, Richard Nixon is always president, and the bombs are always falling on innocent Cambodia. Then as now, “war would reinforce the worst elements in our own society — the flag-wavers and bigots and militarists.” (One wonders if she includes her own daughter among those despicable “flag-wavers.”) And then as now, “it’s heartening that there have been peace vigils and rallies in many cities, and antiwar actions are planned in Washington, DC, for September 29-30.” Joan Baez, call your office.
Finally, Pollitt finds an emblem to replaced the hated stars-and-stripes. “A friend,” she writes, “has taken to wearing her rusty old women’s Pentagon Action buttons — at least they have a picture of the globe on them. The globe, not the flag, is the symbol that’s wanted now.”
Well, at least there’s hope for her daughter.