Backing the flag amendment House passed measure

Senate to consider it

November 02, 1997|By Adrian Cronauer

Thirty years ago, as a young Air Force disc jockey, I entertained U.S. troops in Vietnam. My signature wake-up call, "Good morning, Vietnam!" became the title of the hit movie based ever so loosely on my radio career in Saigon.

The film had plenty of Hollywood exaggeration. For example, I must admit that Robin Williams, who played me in the film, is much funnier than I am. I also believe that I was a better disc jockey.

But important element of truth to the film showed how frequently I annoyed the Saigon brass by fighting against military censorship. Those scenes demonstrate how we can inform, entertain and even inspire one another if we push the limits of the First Amendment.

Most of my professional life has been spent defending the First Amendment.

Having enjoyed a career in broadcast journalism after Vietnam, I have always been a defender of free speech and would never support anything that infringed on our American right to say or write whatever we like.

Having said that, I want to declare my support for the proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration, an amendment overwhelmingly approved by the House (310-114) in June and scheduled for consideration by the Senate in January. I support the flag amendment because it provides protection for our flag without setting a dangerous precedent that waters down the First Amendment.

I reached this position after "Good Morning, Vietnam" was released nine years ago. Veterans groups, business organizations, colleges and universities across the United States invited me to speak to their members.

During those meetings, I have heard people, some who risked their lives in defense of the American flag, speak passionately and eloquently about the need to protect this precious national symbol from any type of physical desecration.

I came to realize how strongly individuals, both veterans and nonvets, identify with the flag. I believe the flag is qualitatively different from any other symbol we have in this country. It represents uncommonly powerful things, both intellectually and emotionally: love of country, the country itself, patriotism and the sacrifices that have been made on behalf of our nation for generations.

I have concluded that the flag has a "secular sacredness" that entitles it to a special form of constitutional protection -- one that can be achieved without undermining the First Amendment.

Gallup polls consistently show that 83 percent of Americans want the amendment; several state polls show similar results, and legislatures in 49 states have passed resolutions urging Congress to pass the flag amendment.

By joining the House in passing the amendment, the Senate can protect an honored symbol while preserving our First Amendment rights. It also can send an important message to the young people about the ideals of America, basic to what our nation stands for ideals worth honoring and protecting.

Adrian Cronauer, a communications lawyer in Washington, is vice chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Administration. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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