I saw this yesterday coming over the Old Hammond Highway bridge – a big American flag painted on the roof of a church.
It seemed out of place.
Not because it was a splash of red, white, and blue on a backdrop of black, white, and gray. It seemed out of place because it was a symbol of the unity of our nation offset by the most obvious example of how our nation forgot one of its own. While the flag has 50 stars together on one blue background, for three days last year, we were one star. Alone. On our own. Swallowed by the blue.
The year and a half I did not live here, I lived in another country. I was there during September 11, 2001. I watched live on CNN International as the WTC burned, as the second plane hit, and as the two towers fell. I hurt because people hurt. And I hurt more because it was happening in America.
Though I don’t see much use for patriotism, I felt it that day. I felt more American, even living in another country. I felt more connected to my country, even being far from it.
It was fleeting. Our President’s missteps after September 11, 2001, reminded me that patriotism is only good for excusing nationalistic furor. Wrapped in a flag, our President had hoped to justify murder.
It didn’t work. Murder is not an American value. The imperial wars we are fighting around the world do not make me feel more American.
And the flag set in the destruction left by the levee breach does not make me feel more American. It reminds me more of how this part of the world is different from the part of the world that is "American," that America takes care of, that America is interested in. Seeing the flag near the breach reminds me more of conquering armies planting their symbol of victory into the soil of the foreign lands they have laid to waste.
We were at war with America and didn’t know it. And we lost.
Hundreds of Americans died who would not have died if the levees had been built properly. Dozens of them died in Lakeview where this red, white, and blue mural was painted. No one can wrap those deaths in the flag and make it go away.
The United States can ensure Katrina never happens again. If it diverted the resources it dedicates to imperial wars in foreign lands to the Gulf Coast, we would be protected. If hundreds of billions of dollars were dedicated to life rather than death, I would feel more American. I would feel patriotic. I would feel that the American flag was not out of place in New Orleans.