24 April 2007

Sgt. Wilt is Wrong

United States Army Sergeant Jim Wilt is mistaken about lowering flags to half-mast in mourning.

In this AP article, he expresses frustration that the nation's flags are lowered to half-mast for those students killed in the VA Tech massacre, but not for American servicemen killed in Iraq. He proposes that at least the base he operates from should fly the American flag at half-mast when a serviceman from that base is killed.

I agree with the sentiment, but there is an important principle which has been overlooked: The national flag is flown at half-mast only on a day when the entire nation is officially in a State of Mourning. Countless Americans risk their lives in hazardous jobs every day. Every day, somebody is killed protecting America from terrorists, protecting citizens from criminals, protecting humans from fire, what-have-you. In no way does it detract from the honor rendered to those who give their lives to point out that if we fly the flag at half-mast every day, then there is no honor rendered at all. Just as a routine alert is no alert, if every day is special, then we could save money and simply buy flagstaffs half as tall.

Also, under no circumstances should a military base lower the flag of its nation due to one, three, or all of its assigned personnel being killed--without orders to do so from Washington. A national day of mourning is a Presidential Declaration, and no base commander, not even the Secretary of Defense, has the authority to go around lowering flags.

The third point is that the students who were murdered had accepted no particular risk, and in fact had assumed a complacent sense of security due to the declaration of the campus as a "gun-free zone". This was a promise made by the University which could never be kept, and as a result, after a certain point the students had no fighting chance. Please note that those quick-witted enough to act in time did not let the situation go beyond a certain point in their area. Those would be Zach Petkewicz and Prof, Liviu Librescu. But for the rest of the students, trusting and obedient, Death walked in and blew them away.

For this, a nation mourns in public.