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Paying - the Piper?

December 9, 2010 – There’s a story about how the United States was trooping into an arena along with other countries in order to take part in the Olympics, back in the early years of the 20th century. As the American cadre of athletes approached the platform where the head of the host nation typically sits, the flag bearer dipped our flag as a sign of respect. An athlete from Ireland is said to have run forward and caught the flag in its downward trajectory. “This flag bows to no man,” he admonished. Ever since, the United States has refrained from dipping its flag.

Americans to this day consider themselves and their country exceptional, but are capable of explaining why only with platitudes such as “because this is the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The rest of the thought, “… and it is for this reason that we represent to the world the hopes and prayers of all of humankind,” is generally regarded as window-dressing, and goes unsaid. We increasingly ignore the responsibilities that accrue as a result of our exceptionality. Actively representing an ideal just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; it occasionally requires self-denial! A disconnect has developed between our alleged beliefs, and acting on them.

What does it mean to have little to eat, nothing in the way of material goods, and a government that operates by way of corruption? Life lived at the edge is filled with anxiety. Worries can be so numerous they become debilitating. Without the comforts of family and friends, and without the motivation that hope offers, a zestful life becomes an impossibility. People can persist in the midst of despair, but no one wants to live that way.

That is why the United States matters, not just as an entity. It matters because, historically, we have offered people hope. Hope for a better life, hope for their children, hope for the future. It is a place where dreams have meaning. When people have looked to the United States, they have believed that America makes the world a better place in which to live.

In an interview with Bill McKibben conducted by Democracy Now! (, I learned that my country paid other countries to side with its do-nothing approach to climate issues in Copenhagen. Paid people to do the wrong thing about climate disruption, the most important problem the world has ever faced. We know this as a result of the documents leaked by WikiLeaks. Our debt to Julian Assange is greater than I could have ever imagined.

Somehow it is so very hard to think of one’s country in terms like contemptible, corrupt, and venal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

It is time for the United States to begin dipping its flag again.


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