Today, I was walking to work when I saw someone riding a bike, wearing a POW/MIA shirt. Every day I pass by two post offices and a park that fly the POW/MIA flag.
It got me thinking. This flag has always bothered me deep down, ever since I first became aware of it. Now, I don't wish to denigrate anyone that has an emotional attachment to the flag, but I think there is something troubling about its prevalence in the US.
According to the Department of Defense's Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing Personnel Office, the flag is "a constant reminder of the plight of America's POW/MIAs".
Now, if this flag gives people comfort, that's a good thing. Yet, I think there is an undercurrent of anger about the outcome of the Vietnam War in this flag, too. There are traces of hostility. If the US would have been seen as winning this conflict (what "winning" means in this context is very problematic), would this flag be flying everywhere in the US? I don't think so.
I see the POW/MIA flag as an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War for many people -- not necessarily due to the fact that they experienced a personal loss of someone during this conflict, but that the flag was some sort of representation of a psychic wound that the person felt was inflicted upon them. As Jimmy Carter infamously said, no apology was required to Viet Nam for the war because "the destruction was mutual".
But, the POW/MIA symbol doesn't begin to encapsulate the tragedy that the Vietnam War was. What about the people who didn't go missing in action, but came back irreparably damaged?
For God's sakes, what about the Vietnamese? They suffered deaths in the millions. They're still suffering from the effects of chemicals used in the war. What does the flag have to say about that?
I don't have a lot of optimism about the current conflict in Iraq. Again, we have invaded another country without provocation. Again, the conflict has been drawn out over several years, with drastic consequences for the US military, and far more drastic consequences for the civilian population of the country we are occupying.
I think winning, something we again seem to be having a great deal of trouble defining, much less achieving, is not a likely outcome. So, what will be the iconic symbol Americans grab hold of after this conflict finally sputters out?
I saw a lot of people generate their own seal for their blog at an Official Seal Generator website.
So, I made a seal for the aftermath of the war. Not funny, but I put some thought into it.