CAPTURE THE FLAG by Woden Teachout


A Political History of American Patriotism
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An exploration of the history and symbolism of the American flag.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama invoked the flag during speeches, demonstrating the durability of Old Glory as a national symbol. Teachout gives context to such political use, pointing out that it was Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s campaign manager, who was the first to effectively co-opt the flag as a political tool. One 1896 McKinley campaign button had no name or picture of the candidate—just the Stars and Stripes. Teachout shows that debate over the flag reaches all the way back to the founding of the United States, noting that it has been used for various, sometimes contradictory, ends: “It asks us to understand the varied impulses of American patriotism, to reexamine categories of ‘right’ and left’—both of which have at one time or another laid claim to the flag—and to reacquaint ourselves with our shared American values.” In 1844, anti-immigration rioters used the flag as a symbol of white, Protestant, native-born citizens, and groups as disparate as the Ku Klux Klan and civil-rights protesters have claimed the flag as their symbol. The first American flag, hoisted on the rigging of a warship in December 1775, was a flag of rebellion. During the Civil War, Union soldiers sang dozens of anti-rebel songs about the flag. The events of 9/11 reignited the debate, and Teachout makes the case that its widespread use illustrates the depth of patriotism—however it’s interpreted—in American society. “To fly the flag,” he writes, “is to stake an active claim to the promise of an American dream that draws its inspiration from the founders and is continuously renewed.”

A slim but cogent historical examination of America’s most potent symbol.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-465-00209-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2009


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