Often I am asked by reporters, "What harm does it do to burn a flag?" This question usually comes from young men and women, most of whom aren't veterans, and I frequently sense that they really don't understand why this issue is important.
Recently, I was asked this question: "Tommy Lasorda told the story of a flag burning during a Dodger game in 1976 where Rick Monday ran out on the field and tore the flag away from a protestor. When they became aware of what had happened, the crowd stood and sang 'God Bless America.' Doesn't that prove that we don't need the flag-protection amendment?"
When I heard the question, I was reminded of what Gen. Patrick H. Brady, Medal of Honor recipient, said. He pointed out that nobody can change your mind or my mind about protecting our flag. It's the children of America that we have to think about.
What happens when they lose, or are no longer taught, respect for our flag? What will happen when an enemy threatens our nation, or even attacks our country, and our moral fiber has become so desensitized -- our patriotism has been so eroded -- that ordinary citizens aren't willing to stand and fight for the United States?
Brady reflects on those who have died in battle, and those who risked their lives for this great country. He says that the men who wear the Medal of Honor risked their lives for their country - many of them died -- but he wonders if they would be willing to risk their lives for the "country we are becoming."
Then I think about those thousands of men and women singing "God Bless America" in Dodger Stadium. Why were they doing it? Well, obviously they did it because they loved their flag.
But why do they love their flag, and why do they love their country? It's not something you are born with, this patriotism and love of our flag. It's something you learn from your parents, your teachers, your Sunday School teachers, your drill instructors, your life experiences.
Throughout the lives of those who rose to their feet, we had laws protecting Old Glory. Throughout their lives, they'd been taught that America was a good nation, in fact, the greatest nation on earth. Many probably risked their lives in her defense. They understood that "the tree of Liberty is watered with the blood of patriots."
That's why they stood and sang.
But what of this generation, and of the next? What are they being taught about love of country? What are they being taught about the greatness of America? How many of them will start each school day pledging their allegiance to our flag, as most of us did? How many of them will learn the proper way to respect her, and what she means and why patriotism is important?
And what of those who grow up learning that the flag is just one symbol among many, just one point of view, not deserving of any special recognition, dignity or respect? How will they reconcile the idea that we prove our love for our nation's flag by allowing those who hate America to desecrate it without penalty?
Twenty years from now, when another Rick Monday snatches a flag from someone who is trying to burn it, will the crowd still sing "God Bless America," or will it rise in anger because the game has been delayed?
It's certainly true -- as we've heard people say -- one person burning a flag, or urinating on it, or defecating on it, or trampling it under his feet, will not harm Old Glory. But it's not true that no harm is done.
The harm is done if the American people fail to respond to such vile and hurtful conduct. The harm is done only if, by our apathy, we condone the defiling of the banner that has draped the caskets of our American heroes. Edmund Burke once said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Failure to protect our flag by law is not a celebration of liberty; it is the celebration of evil. A great nation cannot preserve its greatness by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to that which is wrong, to that which is destructive, to that which is immoral and evil.
What harm does it do to burn a flag?
Over time it destroys the very fabric of our nation. It undermines the goodness that makes us great; and it ensures that future generations will not stand and spontaneously sing "God Bless America" because they will not know that - once -- God did.
Daniel S. Wheeler is the President of the Citizens Flag Alliance, Inc., and the Executive Director of The American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.