Letter to the Editor: local veterans on Hampshire flag burning

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

(Christina Yacono/ Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/ Daily Collegian)

To the Editor:

We write to offer a veterans’ viewpoint different from those dominating the events at Hampshire College. We are members of chapter 95, Veterans for Peace, an international veteran’s organization whose mission is to build a culture of peace, expose the true costs of war and heal the wounds of war. Though we wouldn’t burn the flag, we applaud and support the work of Hampshire College students and administrators in creating a teachable moment. We believe in the right to free speech, to listen and to protest. We find the threats to Hampshire students, administrators and reporters to be reprehensible and contrary to values we served to protect.

Mayor Domenic Sarno of Springfield says the flag represents “freedom, democracy, strength and hope.” As veterans, we served our country with the hope of protecting such values. But we also recognize that those values – spoken so easily on days like Veterans Day – are not all that the flag symbolizes.

It cannot be denied that horrible things have been done under the flag. In the United States, we often ignore and erase the truth: unending immoral wars and occupations, denial of Native American sovereignty, repression of many Americans’ civil rights, as well as betrayal of service members and veterans. As veterans of moral conscience, we choose to see the full impact of our country’s choices.

Howard Zinn said, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” To be proud of being an American without seeing our darkness is a deadly sin. Our flag represents multiple truths – both inspiring and terrible. We must work on seeing and acknowledging where we fall short of our ideals, not just seeing what we want to believe.

Although flag burning is free speech that we are pledged to defend, we wash the flag, metaphorically and literally. It’s time to wash the flag so that we can fly it proudly without stains and tatters. The work of setting right the wrongs done under the flag will take a long time, so we must do it every day. The first step of mending the social fabric is not ignoring the harm done by some of our country’s choices.

Daniel Ritchie lives in Easthampton, and Eric Wasileski lives in Greenfield.