Of Peace Symbols, Flags and Mental Gymnastics


Several months ago, I was at Macy's and saw the cutest pair of pajamas. They were whimsical, colorful and I wanted them. I took them off the rack and went into the fitting room. It was there that I realized the bottoms were covered in tiny peace symbols. On the rack, I had only noted the vibrant collection of colors. I begged off and exchanged them for this not-as-cute, but still-cute pair of pajamas:


I've wanted to write about this for some time now, but found it a difficult topic to address because our perceptions will no doubt vary and despite the fact that SpouseBUZZ never delves into politics, someone would likely feel the urge to start a political discussion. But over the weekend, I read a blog post by another military spouse who unknowingly gave me the perfect jumping-off point for writing this post.

I wanted to write about peace symbols, how they're used and interpreted and why some military families may take issue with them.Alison wrote about another symbol - our flag.

I have no problem with the Stars and Stripes, in the abstract or the specific. A tiny flag dangles from my charm bracelet. My son's framed drawing of Old Glory hangs prominently on our walls. I love visiting the tattered remnant at the National Museum of American History that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner."
But flying a flag outside our front door? It never seemed necessary. My husband is a career Naval officer, and at the time of the photo shoot, we were heading into a yearlong deployment. Flags are supposed to symbolize patriotism and loyalty to country, but as a military spouse, I live those ideals inside and don't feel compelled to display them on the outside.
Like many people I know, I had come to believe that installing Old Glory on one's porch was sometimes more a display of partisanship than a display of feeling-something akin to placing a candidate's sign in the yard. In the years since I had awakened into political consciousness (think Reagan Revolution), right-wing activists have sought to make flying the flag, wearing it, or even talking about it affectionately synonymous with fidelity to their cause. This reached its peak three years ago when then-candidate Obama was accused of disloyalty to the country for not wearing an American flag lapel pin. He explained in 2007 that he had stopped wearing it because it had become a substitute for "true patriotism" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, noting later that, "I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart." This struck me as a sensible position.
Nonetheless, flag bullying continues. "I fervently believe the glorious Star-Spangled Banner should wave over our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard heros [sic]. President Obama wants to raise the rainbow flag of the homosexual rights movement over them," read a recent fundraising letter from the conservative Family Research Council. I don't want to be associated with people who fly the flag, metaphorically or otherwise, to telegraph their cause; the Stars and Stripes has become so freighted with assumptions that it seemed almost safer to me to avoid dealing with it altogether. There was nothing I felt I needed to prove, to friends, neighbors, or anyone else.

I've never thought about the flag in the terms that Alison has, and she may never have thought about the peace symbol in the terms I have, but I can totally relate to Alison's thought process. I understand the hesitancy in prominently displaying a symbol that may send what we perceive (rightly or wrongly) the wrong message about who we are and what we believe in. It's interesting to me the situations which lead to considerable thought by military spouses, especially during war, but which don't demand the same from our civilian counterparts. Completely understandable, but interesting nonetheless.

I certainly wouldn't have sported my cute, peace pajamas at the PX, but if I wore a shirt with a big peace symbol on post, what message would that send? Would people assume I'm an "anti-war" military spouse staging an in-your-face protest? Would they think the PX an inappropriate venue from which to make a political statement? Would other spouses deem my shirt offensive if their husbands were currently on battlefields? Would the soldiers feel I was poking a stick in their eyes? Or, would anyone even notice, or care? I'm not sure, and I don't really care what people think about my attire, but I do care if someone attaches a sentiment to me which I don't embrace, particularly one which relates to military service, hence my reluctance to don peace clothing and accessories. Cute or not.

When you look at images from anti-war protests, you can't help but notice the numerous displays of peace symbols. Fair enough. Makes sense. "Peace" and "anti-war" go hand-in-hand when you think about it, but the peace symbol has, at times, been used to express an anti-military sentiment.One milspouse I talked to about this said she felt that the peace symbol had been hijacked and it's potentially simple, pure meaning has become a political, divisive anti-military symbol.

But here's the rub for me - Nobody is more anti-war (for lack of a better term) than military families. It's our spouses who are called upon when peace doesn't prevail. When peace doesn't prevail,it is our families who could pay the ultimate price. We'd like nothing more than for our husbands to spend the rest of their lives training for the worst-case scenario and never having to test their skills on a real battlefield. Supporting our spouses doesn't mean we don't long for peace. As one milspouse once told me, "military" does not equal "militant."

If peace symbols were widely perceived as nothing more than an endorsement for peace, you would see a lot of peace symbols covering the chests (and butts) of military spouses on posts and bases all over the world. Unfortunately, it's not that black and white. When I see an adult displaying a peace symbol, I get what they think about war, but I tend to wonder how they feel about the military in general. And that's why, even in the privacy of my own home, I knew I couldn't waltz around with peace symbols splashed across my rear end. It's the same reasoning that prevents me from whining to a Gold Star Spouse about my husband leaving his clothes all over the floor when he returns from a deployment.

Alison suggested that what the flag should symbolize lives in her heart. Similarly, what the peace symbol should represent is what I pray for every single night.

I'm sure many civilians see those cute peace earrings and clothing and pick them up without going through a mental excercise about whether or not a political, pro or anti-military sentiment will be attached. For some, it's nothing more than a fashion statement, especially young girls. And that's okay. But for others, war and military service is raw, and tangible. We're often more sensitive to symbols and perceptions. At least I am. And although Alison and I were addressing two very separate issues, and in the end our choices were different (she chose to hang the flag and I chose to pass on the peace), her post really struck a chord with me because as military spouses, we both examined our perceptions of these symbols, and, more importantly in the context of this post, what we thought others perceptions were.

It's nice when a polo symbol on a shirt is just a polo symbol. It's nice when the flower on a pair of Yellow Box sandals is just a flower. But man, slap some peace symbols on a pair of pajamas and life can really get complicated.....

Note: SpouseBUZZ is a military spouse support site and refrains from political commentary. Let's keep comments free from endorsements and attacks on candidates or political parties.

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