Jan 2, 2005

National Remembrance and Our Nation's Flag

On Saturday, President George W. Bush has ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff for five days to honor victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami as a White House delegation prepared to visit the devastated areas.

A few nations have followed suite by ordering their nation's flags at half-staff and yet others including Australia and the United Nations have chosen simply to offer a moment of silence instead.

Meanwhile in Phuket, Thailand, the tragedy is quickly becoming a memory with discos, bars and hotels opening back up as quickly as they can, and tourists flying back in, sipping their gin and tonics and having a "wonderful holiday" on the beach.

The situation and the circumstances are almost surreal. As our entire country is in mourning for a period of five days, it is business as usual back in Phuket.

The earthquake and tsunami was a terrible catastrophe and I feel very sorry for all those who have suffered, but a presidential proclamation ordering our nation's flags to flown at half-staff to "honor and respect" these individuals who have suffered and died though this natural catastrophe is a bit much and "over the top".

It is unprecedented that we as a nation would order our nation's flag to be flown at half-staff to honor and respect those who suffer or die in a natural disaster. Not only is unprecedented, but it "cheapens" that very honor that we as a nation bestow on those who have valiantly died either in an act of war, those who have died in the service of our country or the selected and distinguished foreign dignitaries of our friends and allies that we as a nation have traditionally bestowed this honor and mark of respect on.

For what reason should these people be honored? For the simple reason that they died? People die in natural disasters every day. In our parents, grandparents, and our own lifetimes there have been and will be disasters which have dwarfed the present one in terms of death.

Does this presidential proclamation now set a precedent for future natural disasters? Where is the barometer now set? Is the loss of 150,000 lives any more significant than the loss of say 50,000 or 100,000 lives? The next time a disaster happens, we will need to ask ourselves that very question.

Is it the sheer magnitude of the disaster that somehow has made the difference? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are indeed paying homage to the victims of this terrible catastrophe or to the catastrophe itself.

We honor and respect individuals for their contributions to society and to humanity and not due to the method or manner in which they die.

In 1997 when Mother Theresa died our nation's flags were not ordered to be flown at half-staff by presidential proclamation. How is it that Mother Theresa who saved millions of lives was not worthy of such an honor and mark of respect and yet the victims of this terrible earthquake and tsunami are?

To haughtily and whimsically bestow such a solemn honor and mark of respect on these individuals does more to patronize them rather than honor them.

Perhaps a more appropriate response by our government would have been a moment of silence to remember the victims and their families.


  1. remember: a lot of people were killed, including some Americans. And there are a lot of immigrants whose families live in those countries. My relatives are Filippino, but I know Thai and Indonesians who are American citizens, not to mention Indians.

  2. Hi!
    Well, I guess I don't have much to say about the flag thing in addition to what you said. It's a nice gesture, but I agree, a moment of silence would probably have been more appropriate.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see that you're doing fine. I can't even imagine what it must be like over there--I know the images from TV and the internet can't possibly tell the whole story.

    I really do enjoy reading your blog! I blogrolled you back when I first read you, after your post on other American expats badmouthing America. I actually wasn't surprised by what you said, but it doesn't make it any less distressing. Thanks for countering that negativity!

    Anyway, email me at beth / at / bamapachyderm / dot / com if you want! (I don't keep an email link on my blog because you never know WHO will be sending junk, but it's not totally hidden! LOL)

  3. Live always finds a way to go on. Some people deal with horror by returning to "normal" as soon as possible.

  4. It wouldn't be Asia if they didn't back to normal as soon as possible and frankly I applaud them. I was in NY during 9/11 and those schmucks busied themselves with declaring so much this and that 'hallowed ground' that all that's rebuilt is a pathetic excuse for what was lost. It heartens me to see Thais and Indonesians, THROUGH THEIR TEARS, get back to normal as soon as possible. They're Asians. They will endure.

    As for the flag at half staff, yes, I am all for it. Number one, it undermines the UN which is nice in itself. Number two, I am in mourning about it all. So put it half staff!!!

  5. You're right SandalistaWatcher. It wouldn't be asia if opportunists didn't see an opening now that all the established operators have been literally blown away. (Strangely, that last statement isn't ironic at all.)


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