We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Flying the flag

Egged on by their BBC interviewers, a number of pundits and Iraqi exiles have been criticising the use of the American flag as an “execution hood” over the statute of Saddam. It was “inappropriate” and it “should not have been done”. Voiceover commentary on News 24, as I type this article, added “Better judgement prevailed and the flag was removed”.

To me, there seem to be three immediately obvious polite answers to such criticism:

  1. The Iraqi crowd cheered when the US flag was raised. Rageh Omah, BBC reporter on the spot, could not hear the sonorous commentary in the studio, and made the possibly career-limiting mistake of answering the question “How is the crowd reacting to the American flag?” with the simple truth. This answer has obviously not been repeated in evening bulletins.

  2. The U.S. flag was raised by an over-exuberant marine, and removed within minutes when seen by a commanding officer. This was no indicator of imperialist policy, quite the opposite. Conquering armies rape and pillage, the Americans leant the use of their M-88 Armored Recovery Vehicle to a celebrating crowd.
  3. The flag was not raised over a public building or other centre of power. It was attached to a symbol of the old regime that was about to be destroyed. If you insist on reading undue symbolism into this, then the message would be not “America rules the roost now” but “America delivered you from the tyrant whose statue you are destroying”.

But the overwhelmingly obvious response is not so polite: I’m just glad the Iraqi people in the street aren’t such ungrateful SOBs!

39 comments to Flying the flag

  • DANEgerus

    Another pompous biased prick for the BBC firmly embedded in his offices where the Iraqi’s couldn’t lynch him for being an asshat.

    The CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera… making the world more Palestinian.

  • Russ Goble

    Yeah, CNN hyperventilated over it too. It was a stupid thing for the marine to do, but the problem I had is that CNN (whose coverage hasn’t been that bad) was saying the IRAQIS were pissed about it which from what I’ve read and heard isn’t true. They used the example of the Marine who did the same in Umm Qsar and said they took it down after the Iraqis were pissed. No, they took it down about 5 minutes later when the Marine’s commander had a conniption over it.

  • While I understand the issue of raising the flag, I think that there has been an oversensitivity to it.

    The most ludicrous statement about the flag/statue incident that I have read was in Slate by Fred Kaplan. I commented about it on my blog, which I would directly link to, but BlogSpot is screwing up the permalinks again…

  • 1stblogever

    an american flag cant be raised for a few moments!!??
    we had very little backing from the rest of the world – and NO backing from the UN – if left to the UN – that statue in Fidros Sq. would be standing for the rest of our lives waiting for the UN to come to a consensus – Hooray for the US Soldiers and the rest of the coalition soldiers.

    I just hope and pray for the best in Iraq and that if Iraq succeeds that other nations in that region will see the success and follow suit!

  • Think the Iraqis will be burning French and UN flags in the streets soon?

  • John

    Also notoriously absent from disparaging remarks about the flag incident was the fact that it was quickly replaced by a Pre-Saddam Iraqi flag.

    Oh, and that individual Iraqi’s in the crowd were waving around American flags as well…

  • mark holland

    I’m pretty certain I saw the Marine give his stars and stripes to an Iraqi stood on the statue’s plinth who then waved it frantically. Like someone said some people are far too sensitive or downright nasty – like, no surprise really, the cover of today’s Daily Mirror.

    However, the interesting thing about the Iraqi flag that was tied around the statue’s neck for a while was that it was a pre Kuwait Gulf War flag – ie without the opportinistic Arabic script on it. Someone somewhere must have kept that flag hidden for the past 12 years.

  • Commentators need to be embedded! MB is too polite to say where, but suffice it to say, her proposed location would not be very nice.

  • augustr

    The guy with the flag was second generation Chinese(?) American. His family and that of the other guy were just on Today show.
    Neil Diamond was right.

  • augustr

    The guy with the flag was second generation Chinese(?) American. His family and that of the other guy were just on Today show.
    Neil Diamond was right.

  • augustr xxxxx

    The guy with the flag was second generation Chinese(?) American. His family and that of the other guy were just on Today show.
    Neil Diamond was right.

  • S. Weasel

    I was watching it on NBC’s Today show, featuring Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and two other even more forgettable ‘personalities’. You should’ve heard them pounce when the flag went up. There was a palpable sense of “hoorah! Something to bitch about!” in the air. The flag was visible for no more than a few seconds, and suddenly it was The Topic.

    Well, not quite: just as the statue was toppling, Katie turns to Tom and says, “Of course, there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestine situation is resolved.” And so, while the Iraqis were dancing around waving homemade American flags and slapping Saddam’s statue with their shoes, the NBC news crew discusses how even quite moderate Arabs agree that Palestine is the key to the whole region.

    Feh.

  • Russ Goble

    First off, S. Weasel, how did you keep from throwing a shoe at the TV after hearing NBC’s coverage. That’s just awful.

    Also, Mark Holland made a great point that I hadn’t thought about and clearly none of the commentators thought about. You have to know that that flag was probably banned from public display on Saddam’s orders. I don’t know if it was a political risk to have that flag in one’s possesion, but still it’s interesting that that person seemed to keep that flag for a purpose.

  • S. Weasel

    Did anyone notice the guy in the crowd who had a great big American flag with a great big picture of a motorcycle across the bottom half? Looked like a Harley-Davidson promotional gee-gaw of some kind.

    I just love the way our cheap, shallow American cultural kitsch keeps turning up on the Arab Street (think Ernie and Osama, together forever). You think our A-10 Warthogs and MOABs are powerful? Wait until you get Big Macs, blue jeans and Homer Simpson! Bwahahahaha!

  • Val

    This unbelievable episode is the key to the flag hood issue:

    The Times article.

  • I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK? Sure, the politically smart thing is not to flaunt the US flag but for gawd’s sake, those guys fought their way across Iraq and all the way to Baghdad, so that damn well gives THOSE GUYS to right to at least remind the world it was not the frigging UN or France or Amnesty International which is liberating the Iraqi people, it is the USA (and Britain).

    The Iraqis right there in the square were not booing or looking uneasy and that should tell anyone but a complete idiot (or who is commenting in bad faith) that it was entirely appropriate AT THAT MOMENT.

  • KH

    I was watching ABC, and Peter Jennings almost gasped when the flag went up. He sounded like a school principal who had just caught students vandalizing the bathroom.

  • mark holland

    Blimey that flag was in the Pentagon on 9/11here

    “YANKEE bastard,” yelled the young British peacenik at the first American tank to roll up to the Palestine Hotel. “Go home.”
    She picked a man who had waited for 576 days to give his answer. Marine First Lieutenant Tim McLaughlin leant from the turret of his Abrams tank — nickamed “Satan’s Right Hand” — and screamed back: “I was at the Pentagon September 11. My co-workers died. I don’t give a f***.”

    Lieutenant McLaughlin had with him a Stars and Stripes that he had been given at the Pentagon that fateful day. In Baghdad’s Paradise Square, he handed the flag to Corporal Edward Chin, who climbed a giant statue of Saddam and draped it over the deposed dictator’s head.

  • MLD

    Re: Val’s article

    It has a line that starts out:

    “Whether the American heirarchy has the sophistication to..” blah, blah, blah. Yes, we are such an unsophisticated country. Silicon valley, men on the moon, the Human Genome project, cloning the gene for cystic fibrosis, and God knows how many other disease genes, etc, etc, etc.

    How can we stand ourselves? Sorry, off topic I know but I really hate that sneering tone, whether it is directed toward the US or toward anyone else. Sigh.

    A young soldier puts up a flag in the heat of the moment after witnessing God knows what on the battlefield? I think I can find it in my heart to forgive the little imperialist, colonial opressor.

    I hope he comes home safe.

  • Elizabeth

    Some times the snarling hatred toward the United States is shocking and terribly saddening.
    I noticed Pizza Hut, Popeyes Chicken signs behind an American journalist giving a report from Jordan last night.
    I also noticed shock and dismay coming from the mouths of some of the Jordanians interviewed by that reporter, about the fall of Saddam.
    What, no more money being sifted through to support varioius anti-American/anti-capitalist causes from Saddam?
    I still think nasty undies should’ve been shoved over the head and ears of that statue.
    Oh, how rude of me.

  • It would be interesting if we could see the original raw video. The Times article mentions the crowd lightly cheering at the draping of the US flag. I know that I heard them cheer. The US flag was handed down, ultimtely to an Iraqi on the top of the statue pedestal who started waving it with a big smile on his face.

    After the statue came down, a number of Iraqis were dancing on the M-88 armored vehicle that was helping to pull it down and I noticed one of the Iraqis was waving a small US flag.

    This entire issue is manufactured because it’s obvious that the local Iraqis didn’t object to the Marines brief display of patriotism.

  • It’s an attractive, distinctive flag too, not cluttered and drab like so many Near Eastern ‘national’ flags.

    Supporters of the UNO should be surprised and grateful if the Americans allow it to continue to exist, never mind following its petty instructions.

  • G Cooper

    Elizabeth wrote:

    “Some times the snarling hatred toward the United States is shocking and terribly saddening.”

    Indeed it is. And just as bad is the arrogant, patronising condescension habitually adopted by some British journalists and broadcasters.

    Being British myself, it makes my toes curl with embarrassment whenever I read or hear it.

  • mark holland

    ronnie schreiber and others,

    The Iraqi guy waves stars and stripes from atop the plinth pretty much at the start of this clip. The commentary is kept to a minimum too so you can really hear the crowd go for it.

    Shukhran.

  • Nicole

    I find it interesting that for the most part the Iraqis people are glad the US/Britian military are there helping them regain their freedom, while other countries have a problem with US/Britian being there. Do they not see the same news coverage that I see of the Iraqis people cheering and celebrating the fall of Saddam’s regime? I think those other countries should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping up to the plate to help bring Saddam down!!!
    God Bless the troops and I hope they come home soon and safe!!!!

  • Liberty Belle

    MLD, I too tripped up over the thinking behind “whether the United States has the sophistication …” in The Times article written by a frightfully sophisticated reporter by the name of Stephen Farrell. Maybe Condoleezza Rice could give him a call and get some tips. The US, plus its allies, conquered a country the size of France in three weeks, not just by out fire-powering them, but by outwitting them. The sheer intellectual daring behind the running of this war are breath taking. But Stephen Farrell, as an employee of The Times, may have a take on the future of Iraq that the less well informed Donald Rumsfeld, VP Cheyney, President Bush and Colin Powell hadn’t already thought of. I’ll just bet it’s nuanced.

  • S. Weasel

    Yes, we are such an unsophisticated country. Silicon valley, men on the moon, the Human Genome project, cloning the gene for cystic fibrosis, and God knows how many other disease genes, etc, etc, etc.

    No, no…that’s technological sophistication. Everybody gives us that. They just don’t think it means much.

    The sort of sophistication wanted here is a world-weary, cynical, corrupt, eurodefeatist shrug. Think of the Old World as a continent full of sophomore art students, all wearing black and smoking strong cigarettes with their wrists turned round the wrong way. It’s the sophistication of Ingmar Bergman films, things sprinkled with goat cheese and France.

    A beatnik sort of place.

  • Do they not see the same news coverage that I see of the Iraqis people cheering and celebrating the fall of Saddam’s regime?

    Sadly, for the most part, no. Probably in Europe they do, but they get the same commentators others noticed here. But Radio Free Iraq is coming and it will start spreading the word about the truth in Iraq to other Middle Eastern countries. Those countries might not believe the US, but they will have a harder time disbelieving the countless Iraqis.

  • A_t

    no… the sort of sophistication required is the realisation that there many successful ways to run your country, that the US model is not automatically the best, that people get offended for all sorts of stupid reasons, some of which may have terrible consequences, that people have national pride and are not generally given to following an other country’s instructions unquestioningly (as they were asked to when arranging this war; “just believe us, they have WMD”), oh! that there are other countries in the world where the people are free. All these things, the current US leadership has at times shown a distinct lack of understanding over (or regard for… not sure).

    But yes, you’re right, there is definitely a knee-jerk deplorably patronising attitude towards US politics at large in Europe. It’s mostly unjustified.

    The whole phenomenon does however cut both ways; even prior to the present spat, many Americans, journalists in particular, were happily assigning patronising stereotypes to various flavours of Europeans, and adopting “oh, how quaint… you’re a little backwards over here” attitudes. A little more understanding and less pricklyness on both sides might be a good thing.

  • Liberty Belle

    S. Weasel – Funny post. You have hit the nail on the head with wit and precision. (I don’t know how one knows that a nail has been hit on the head with wit – but I just intuit it. It’s a nuanced kind of a thing.) I’ve never seen it so well encapsulated before. ‘Wrists turned around the wrong way’. Funny! They are just soooo outside the Anglophone loop, meaning they are just soooooo separated from the reality of today’s world.

  • Russ Goble

    “All these things, the current US leadership has at times shown a distinct lack of understanding over (or regard for… not sure).”

    A_t, could you give examples of this?

  • MLD

    A_t,

    Good point. There are many wonderful ways to do the same thing and I don’t care for knee-jerkism of any sort ( and great science comes from Europe too, don’t ya know).

    Politicians behaving badly! How on earth could such a concept end up on a libertarian web site? I think we should quit America-bashing and Europe-bashing and go back to some good old fashioned, ‘yeah, the government, they’re all bastards and give me back my tax money’ type of bashing :)

  • Catherine

    Hi—Great blog and thread.

    Sorry if I’m repeating someone else’s point (pressed for time here) but my feeling is that it *was* smart, politically speaking, to drape the flag over Sadam’s statue face briefly. I’ve been following a crash course in Middle Eastern politics and culture ever since September 11, and time and again I’ve read or heard that Arab culture “respects strength.” If you think of Bin Laden’s speech about the strong horse and the weak horse, you get the idea.

    Yesterday’s flag moment, broadcast to the entire Arab world, was America’s strong horse moment. It said: we won. We’re the big dog now.

    More specifically, the flag moment said, to Islamists and to corrupt Middle Eastern leaders: think twice before you harbor terrorists; think twice before you build weapons of mass destruction; think twice before you fly airplanes into our buildings. Think twice, and then don’t do it.

    My sense is that many in the Middle East got the message. The NYTIMES today ran an op ed citing a joke that’s being emailed around the Arab world: “Young Assad of Syria sent Bush a message telling him that if he wants him to go, he doesn’t have to go through that much trouble. He can just send a text message on his cell phone.”

    Watching television all day yesterday I realized why we have embedded journalists (one of the reasons why): we have TV cameras embedded with our troops because we *want* the Arab world to watch us take over a whole country in 3 weeks’ time. We’re making a point.

    If you haven’t seen it, be sure to rent THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I saw the movie many times as a child, and have been constantly reminded of it throughout this war. In the film a vastly superior power from outer space sends a representative to earth to warn us to stop blowing each other up OR ELSE, and not one of the planet’s leaders will even meet with the guy to hear what he has to say. They’re all too busy building bombs and invading neighboring countries and refusing to have meetings with foreign diplomats on anyone’s turf but their own. Finally the spaceman manages to get their attention only by staging a vivid demonstration of his power to vaporize the whole planet just by having his robot flip a couple of switches on the cheesy control panel inside his flying saucer.

    That’s what we just did with our televised war and our flag over Saddam’s face.

    We got their attention.

    In the West we focus on Arab anger and hate; we worry whether the war will make it worse. But as far as I can tell, Arab anger isn’t the critical factor. The critical factor is Arab perceptions of U.S. strength and will.

    The flag moment will certainly make Arabs angry. But more importantly, the flag moment will cause many to see that building nuclear weapons and running terrorist training camps is a bad idea.

    I want to add that, being a (usually) politically correct American myself, I don’t bring up the “strong horse” notion of Arab culture to criticize or condemn an entire people. I prefer strong horses myself, and I don’t find it odd or offputting that an Arab would prefer to find himself on the winning side, not the losing.

    I also don’t mean to imply that I understand Arab culture. I don’t. But I’ve read enough now that some aspects of Arab culture feel familiar, and one of those aspects is what you might call Arab “realpolitick.”

    Here’s another line from the TIMES op ed: “Westerners often miss the cynicism and sophistication of Arab world.”

  • A point missed by the elegant, detailed and varied supras: The flag-drape issue was taken to be a no-no because it briefly, ‘way too briefly, failed to respect “Arab sensibilities.” When in the history of the world have any Arabs noted, much less attended to, Western sensibilities? We are dancing a feverish impossibility in always kowtowing (to mix metaphors and historic antecedents) to the Arab ‘street,’ when that ‘street’ routinely spits in the face, deliberately, provocatively and ad nauseum, in our collective faces. We spent treasure and lives and extraordinary moxie wresting these people from their transgressive monster-despot. They recognized our puissance as a guarantor of their new lives: Why is it beyond the abilities of the anchor-blondes and -blondettes (including Palestine Jennings et al.) to pay even minimal lip-service to our histrionic and historic win? but for the guts of the UK and the US, several million people would be shivering while genuflecting to a type of vermin the world has to its sorrow seen too much of last century. The flag of the USA over the vast metaphoric ugliness of Sodamn? It was an eloquent and articulate assertion of the courage and heart of this magnanimous country of caritas and courage. How much would the Arab peoples have given to save the Iraqis? We had our answer for 24 years: not a centime. Oops. Wrong currency for generosity and kindness. Revision: Not a red cent.

  • A point missed by the elegant, detailed and varied supras: The flag-drape issue was taken to be a no-no because it briefly, ‘way too briefly, failed to respect “Arab sensibilities.” When in the history of the world have any Arabs noted, much less attended to, Western sensibilities? We are dancing a feverish impossibility in always kowtowing (to mix metaphors and historic antecedents) to the Arab ‘street,’ when that ‘street’ routinely spits in the face, deliberately, provocatively and ad nauseum, in our collective faces. We spent treasure and lives and extraordinary moxie wresting these people from their transgressive monster-despot. They recognized our puissance as a guarantor of their new lives: Why is it beyond the abilities of the anchor-blondes and -blondettes (including Palestine Jennings et al.) to pay even minimal lip-service to our histrionic and historic win? but for the guts of the UK and the US, several million people would be shivering while genuflecting to a type of vermin the world has to its sorrow seen too much of last century. The flag of the USA over the vast metaphoric ugliness of Sodamn? It was an eloquent and articulate assertion of the courage and heart of this magnanimous country of caritas and courage. How much would the Arab peoples have given to save the Iraqis? We had our answer for 24 years: not a centime. Oops. Wrong currency for generosity and kindness. Revision: Not a red cent.

  • A point missed by the elegant, detailed and varied supras: The flag-drape issue was taken to be a no-no because it briefly, ‘way too briefly, failed to respect “Arab sensibilities.” When in the history of the world have any Arabs noted, much less attended to, Western sensibilities? We are dancing a feverish impossibility in always kowtowing (to mix metaphors and historic antecedents) to the Arab ‘street,’ when that ‘street’ routinely spits in the face, deliberately, provocatively and ad nauseum, in our collective faces. We spent treasure and lives and extraordinary moxie wresting these people from their transgressive monster-despot. They recognized our puissance as a guarantor of their new lives: Why is it beyond the abilities of the anchor-blondes and -blondettes (including Palestine Jennings et al.) to pay even minimal lip-service to our histrionic and historic win? but for the guts of the UK and the US, several million people would be shivering while genuflecting to a type of vermin the world has to its sorrow seen too much of last century. The flag of the USA over the vast metaphoric ugliness of Sodamn? It was an eloquent and articulate assertion of the courage and heart of this magnanimous country of caritas and courage. How much would the Arab peoples have given to save the Iraqis? We had our answer for 24 years: not a centime. Oops. Wrong currency for generosity and kindness. Revision: Not a red cent.

  • A point missed by the elegant, detailed and varied supras: The flag-drape issue was taken to be a no-no because it briefly, ‘way too briefly, failed to respect “Arab sensibilities.” When in the history of the world have any Arabs noted, much less attended to, Western sensibilities? We are dancing a feverish impossibility in always kowtowing (to mix metaphors and historic antecedents) to the Arab ‘street,’ when that ‘street’ routinely spits in the face, deliberately, provocatively and ad nauseum, in our collective faces. We spent treasure and lives and extraordinary moxie wresting these people from their transgressive monster-despot. They recognized our puissance as a guarantor of their new lives: Why is it beyond the abilities of the anchor-blondes and -blondettes (including Palestine Jennings et al.) to pay even minimal lip-service to our histrionic and historic win? but for the guts of the UK and the US, several million people would be shivering while genuflecting to a type of vermin the world has to its sorrow seen too much of last century. The flag of the USA over the vast metaphoric ugliness of Sodamn? It was an eloquent and articulate assertion of the courage and heart of this magnanimous country of caritas and courage. How much would the Arab peoples have given to save the Iraqis? We had our answer for 24 years: not a centime. Oops. Wrong currency for generosity and kindness. Revision: Not a red cent.

  • A point missed by the elegant, detailed and varied supras: The flag-drape issue was taken to be a no-no because it briefly, ‘way too briefly, failed to respect “Arab sensibilities.” When in the history of the world have any Arabs noted, much less attended to, Western sensibilities? We are dancing a feverish impossibility in always kowtowing (to mix metaphors and historic antecedents) to the Arab ‘street,’ when that ‘street’ routinely spits in the face, deliberately, provocatively and ad nauseum, in our collective faces. We spent treasure and lives and extraordinary moxie wresting these people from their transgressive monster-despot. They recognized our puissance as a guarantor of their new lives: Why is it beyond the abilities of the anchor-blondes and -blondettes (including Palestine Jennings et al.) to pay even minimal lip-service to our histrionic and historic win? but for the guts of the UK and the US, several million people would be shivering while genuflecting to a type of vermin the world has to its sorrow seen too much of last century. The flag of the USA over the vast metaphoric ugliness of Sodamn? It was an eloquent and articulate assertion of the courage and heart of this magnanimous country of caritas and courage. How much would the Arab peoples have given to save the Iraqis? We had our answer for 24 years: not a centime. Oops. Wrong currency for generosity and kindness. Revision: Not a red cent.

  • Oh well. Better not tell anyone that the 9 foot long, 5700 pound bunker buster developed for this war is nicknamed the “Saddamizer”.