Our national anthem celebrates it. Patriots wave it. Politicians of all kinds try to wrap themselves in it. It is saluted at baseball games, in parades, and on the most solemn of commemorative occasions. It was salvaged in the first hours following the dreadful events of September 11, and it stands outstretched just above the surface of the moon.
It is, of course, the American flag, and there are few symbols as potent. With all the reverence and sacrifice and emotion it inspires, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is ultimately just a symbol. Why is it so powerful? Why does a piece of cloth resonate so loudly for so many? Why a flag, and why this flag, these stripes, those stars?
In For Which It Stands, his timely, comprehensive, and engaging "biography" of the American flag, Michael Corcoran examines those questions and more as he explores the evolution of our most cherished emblem, from the days preceding the Revolution through the nationwide resurgence of patriotism in the aftermath of September 11. Corcoran traces the entire life of the colors, holding forth on a number of engrossing topics, including:
• The fluid design of the flag, the subject of much contentious debate on the part of the founding fathers, and until fairly recently, not officially codified.
• The various alternative flags ingrained in the national consciousness, among them the defiant, rattlesnake-adorned "Don't Tread on Me" banner and the "Stars and Bars" of the Confederacy.
• The role of the colors in war, from how to start a fight with England (raising a flag declaring indepen-dence, high enough for the British Army in Boston to see it, ought to do the trick) to the question of whether to remove from the banner the stars emblematic of the states that seceded during the Civil War, to the giddy ubiquity of the flag following World War II.
Corcoran addresses all these matters and more (including the particularly vexing questions raised by flag burning: Is it such an affront that it warrants a constitutional amendment outlawing that method of protest, or is it perhaps the single most potent expression of our right to free speech, and therefore profoundly American?) as he delves into the wind-tangled history of "Old Glory," an entertaining jumble of much-loved myth and obscure facts. Thoughtful, droll, and fast-paced, For Which It Stands definitively tells the story of America's most recognizable icon, from Bunker Hill to Iwo Jima to Tranquillity Base -- and beyond.
Author and former Golf Illustrated editor Corcoran (Duel in the Sun) takes readers on a whirlwind historical tour, from the 1777 congressional committee meeting where Old Glory's design was approved to an Oaks, Penn., plant where flags are manufactured today. This pocket-size book is filled with facts about the birth and evolution of the Stars and Stripes: Corcoran pokes holes in the Betsy Ross legend (she neither designed nor sewed the first flag), explains that the five-pointed star was virtually unprecedented when the U. S. began using it, and reveals that flag sales began unexpectedly to spike in 1999, thanks in part to Martha Stewart's use of the flag in her home decorating suggestions. Much of this information is related through lively interviews with the colorful and knowledgeable Whitney Smith, whom Corcoran describes as "the world's most ardent devotee of the study of flags." Anyone flying Old Glory today will find much of interest in this little volume.