The following is cross posted at http://www.thefederalistpapers.org:
The night that Rand Paul stood on the senate floor and filibustered the nomination of the CIA director a new twitter hash tag was born: #standwithrand. Everyone from backgrounds and positions as diverse as Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream to Twitchy’s Michelle Malkin declared their solidarity with Senator Paul by using that hashtag in a tweet about the event.
Some hashtags are new and mark one time events of importance like Senator Paul’s filibuster, but some are renewed over and over when events and ideas reemerge in importance to the Twittering public.
When you see this flag:
Detail of a mural in the museum at Gonzales, Texas featuring the Come and Take It flag from Wikipedia.org
you might think of the Texas Revolution, but that was just a revival of a flag used in the American Revolution at Fort Morris in Georgia.
When the British demanded a surrender from the poorly protected fort and the very small contingent of Revolutionary Soldiers there, the entrenched Col. McIntosh’s defiant written response to the British demand included the following line: “As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply: COME AND TAKE IT!”. The British declined to try and take the fort at this time, believing that the bravado of the Colonel was bolstered by the possibility of reinforcements on the way, but they eventually wrestled all of Georgia away from the Revolutionaries.
The phrase “come and take it” in the context of war has been traced back to King Leonidas (you might be more familiar with his story from the movie 300) in response to the Persian Army’s demand that the Spartans surrender.
In each of these cases, the phrase “come and take it” on the flag and the spoken word were tokens of brave defiance in the face of overwhelming odds not entirely unlike Davy Crockett at the Alamo–or his famous use of filibuster against Andrew Jackson’s Indian Bill.
You can easily see how this flag could be the historical equivalent of a hashtag: #come&takeit
The importance of the American flag, the truly uniting symbolism of it was not born during the Revolution. At that time there were more recognizable symbols like the Gadsen Flag:
with a phrase that could also easily be translated into a hashtag: #donttreadonme.
A flag doesn’t need to have any words in it to be a uniting symbol any more than a twitter hashtag needs to be clear or even gramatically correct to become the same powerful symbol and uniting force that a flag once was, and often is.
The American flag became a truly uniting symbol during the war of 1812. The lyrics come from “Defence of Fort McHenry”, a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, who had been sent to negotiate with the British in the War of 1812. Prevented from alerting his countrymen and watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Francis was disheartened about the odds of his compatriots ability to withstand the superior armed British Navy, but then he saw something that lifted his spirits and gave us one of the most famous patriotic songs of all time–one played at every Ballgame in America for more than a century:
O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
In the Civil War, the flag became the symbol of anti-slavery symbol and preservation of the union. In WWII it was a symbol of victory and hope–the picture of it being raised in Iwo Jima is as widely recognized as the picture of the flag on the moon. In movies like “Not Without My Daughter,” it is used to symbolize deliverance and safety.
Twitter hashtags speed through the world like a lightening bolt uniting people on ideas as diverse as #wwjd to #stfu. The amazing ability of twitter hastags to be understood internationally, uniting people with an idea, has become the new international symbols the way only flags have been able to duplicate in the past.
Even opponents to American ideas understand the importance of our most revered symbol. Enemies of the United States can’t burn a hashtag, but a continuing mark of defiance to American values is the burning of the flag. The American flag has been, is and will continue to be the most popular way for Americans to symbolize their values in a way that only hashtags can even remotely compete with–and then only online.
Many companies use hashtags to promote their business, and in comparison, the flag of the United States is America’s best PR campaign and as such, a united front of agreement of ideas and values that are “American” is important. Generally, we turn to the Constitution to provide us with those ideas. But fewer and fewer Americans understand what is in the constitution and those ideas. We wouldn’t post a hashtag on our twitter feed that we didn’t understand, and we shouldn’t fly a symbol of America without understanding what that symbol means and what values it stands for.
Some resources on the Constitution and American Values: