Last Monday, Western Howard County Delegates Warren Miller and Gail Bates introduced a bill that would direct the Maryland State Highway Administration to “establish a permit program allowing individuals and organizations to display a United States flag on state–owned circular islands at the center of a traffic roundabout.”
Not coincidentally, last month a Western Howard County family, the Winklers, held a “patriotic rally” in Woodbine for the right to display a United States flag on a state-owned circular island at the center of a traffic roundabout.
The Winklers, and their hastily formed nonprofit, “United Patriots of Maryland,” had attracted attention from local (Howard County Times) to national (Fox and Friends) media over a dispute with the State Highway Administration (SHA) concerning the right to fly a flag at a Woodbine traffic circle.
The family had maintained a flag in the circle for more than three years, finally culminating in the installation of a full-on cemented-in flag pole and the trimming of nearby non-flag-supporting fauna. SHA found the sudden and unexpected sprouting of a potentially dangerous hazard troubling, and removed the entire apparatus.
Fox News screamed “State Says American Flag Violates Law,” which, of course, is not really what the state said at all. With all the attention, the Winklers soon had a pro bono lawyer preparing that most American of responses, a lawsuit.
Rhonda Winkler vowed to fight until the flag flew over a nondescript traffic circle, in support of the “military” and “armed forces.”
We were presumed to be standing for more than just one roadside flag.
Now, with the introduction of HB 132, our long national nightmare is over. Assuming it passes both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly, soon the Winklers will have the ability to apply for a permit, pay a small fee, and, thanks to the Winkler Rule (my name), fly roundabout flags to their hearts’ content.
The “problem,” such as it is, has been addressed. The birth of bureaucracy, before our very eyes, allows our well-oiled patriotic machine to roll on. The able elected representatives of the offended family are to be commended for seeing a problem—and its attendant media attention—and taking action to quell the well-covered controversy.
But what, exactly, has been accomplished by this sudden sturm und drang? Are veterans better supported by their community, their state? Has justice returned to Woodbine?
Imagine, perhaps, if a quarter of that time, effort and expense had been spent instead on behalf of an established veterans' advocacy organization. (Team RWB is my personal mission, but there are many others.) Likewise, imagine if Chili’s donated half the amount it usually gives away in free meals on Veterans Day to the Wounded Warrior Project (knowing, of course, that the cost won’t be offset by vets' families’ meals or drinks or desserts).
Imagine if instead of planting a flagpole on someone else’s property, the Winklers had built a ramp for a recently returned wounded vet. Imagine if instead of raising some overblown alarm, Fox had spent some time reporting on the need for improved PTSD care.
While Woodbine and the SHA were squaring off, Ron Paul brought a uniformed Army corporal onto stage in Iowa, in violation of both well-established and well-known military regulation and campaigning propriety.
Yesterday, a former Navy SEAL wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal condemning the release of operational details by politicians, stating: “It is infuriating to see political gain put above the safety and security of our brave warriors and our long-term strategic goals. Loose lips sink ships.”
All of this may seem a long way from Woodbine and one flag-flying. Still, all are ultimately self-aggrandizing actions taken in the name of “supporting”—without any real support offered—some nebulous concept of the military or patriotism. Everyone wants their piece of the troops, to add an imprimatur of military support to their own personal message. What they don’t seem to want, however, is to labor for those who truly need their help, to work without notice and without widespread recognition.
So now Maryland traffic circles join car dealerships, Chick-fil-As and Ralph Lauren in their right to fly the American flag. With that task accomplished, I ask that everyone who “fought” for this, everyone who waved a flag or muttered about government incompetence, to take an afternoon and help a vet find a job. Help your elderly neighbors with their chores. Do something beyond the symbolic. For that, your country will be in your debt.
Fox News, though, may not come calling.