Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ignoble use for a noble flag

In an act of unspeakable evil, a man and a woman ambushed two Las Vegas police  - Officer Alyn Beck, 41, and Officer Igor Soldo, 31,  who were just eating their lunch at a CiCi's pizza place.  The murderers were a couple whom neighbors described as "militant;" they had threatened previously to kill police. As they fired, they yelled, "This is a revolution." They then covered the fallen officers' bodies with a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, "Don't Tread on Me," before going to a nearby WalMart, where they killed a woman in the name of their foul revolution.  Then, carrying out what seems to be a murder-suicide pact, the woman shot the man and then herself.

Just what good was supposed to come from this revolution will never be known, because there was none.  But maybe, now that the "Don't Tread on Me" flag has been used in such a venomous way, people will think twice before waving it around thoughtlessly in America.

You see, the flag itself was known as the Gadsden Flag in our colonial era and represented our fight against Britain.  Using it as a symbol in a domestic argument confuses our fellow Americans with international enemies.

Franklin's cartoon
The 13 original colonies were here in the East, of course, where poisonous snakes abound. In 1751, tired of England sending their criminals to America as a punishment,  Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Pennsylvania Gazette that we ought to deport our poisonous snakes to England in retaliation. Three years later, as the French and Indian War was being fought, he made a political cartoon - the first ever in an American newspaper - showing a snake that had been cut into 13 pieces, with the slogan "Join, or Die" to indicate that the colonies needed to co-operate for mutual defense in the war.  There was a belief in those days that a snake cut into pieces would find itself whole again if the pieces were placed next to each other by sunset.

Really.  They thought that.

The first 7 ships of the US Navy, put together in time to fight in the Revolutionary War, carried the "Liberty Tree" flag, the one with a pine tree and the slogan "Appeal To Heaven," but Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden, in charge of outfitting the vessels, had a flag made up showing a rattler with 13 rattles and the motto "Don't Tread on Me" to fly on the mainmast as the distinctive personal standard of the flagship of the commander-in-chief of the Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. 

A later version of the flag, with the the snake uncoiled (and possibly ready to strike) became the flag of the Navy in colonial days, and since 1977, this flag has flown from the bow of the US Navy ship that has been in service for the longest continuous time. Currently, that's the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).

How a flag with noble origins dating back to our fight for freedom from the country from which we broke away has been bastardized into being the symbol of people who shoot down police officers is something I can't explain, though.

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