Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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american flag stars and stripes

Photo: Manu1174 / E+ / Getty Images

Adam Bello was talking about his grandfathers, a few weeks back, at a meeting. He said that they both were World War II veterans and that he had always been proud of them. And at one of their funerals, he thought he saw that pride pass to the next generation as, while the rifle salute was being fired, he saw something change in his children’s faces, a realization maybe of who their great-grandfather had been and what he had done.


               That’s a sacred thing. That’s an American thing.


               He saw something like it on another occasion, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as an escort on an Honor Flight trip. While waiting for the changing of the guard, a large group of students seemed bored and lost in their phones, until the orange-shirted veterans approached. As the elderly heroes made their way to the viewing area, the students stepped aside and looked on in almost reverent silence, marveling at the men and who they had been and what they had done.


               That’s a sacred thing. That’s an American thing.


               And it reminds us that there are things bigger than our differences. It reminds us that the “united” in United States stands for something.


               Which gets us to the flags.


               In front of the County Office Building.


               There is a whole line of flag poles, flanking Main Street on either side of the old main entrance of the Monroe County Office Building. Those poles have flown controversy of late, and Adam Bello may be considering a policy change to avoid that in the future.


               The loudest voices have been against the flying of the Israeli flag on one of the poles. In a show of support with Israel and the Jewish people after the terrorist attack of October 7, Adam Bello ordered the Israeli flag to fly from one of the poles. Personally, I’m glad. I’m pro-Israel and I’m against the anti-Jewish bigotry that seems increasingly common.


               But some people weren’t happy. On at least two occasions, demonstrators tore the Israeli flag down and stomped upon it. Each time, Adam Bello put it back up. I admire that.


               But somebody made a suggestion to Adam Bello that he seems to be seriously considering, and which is probably a pretty wise move.


               Specifically, what if the rule was that the only flag that could be flown in front of the Monroe County Office Building was the flag of the United States of America – the stars and stripes?


               The flag that rested on Adam Bello’s grandfather’s casket, that flies above the cemetery in Arlington, that is folded like a tricorn hat in countless American homes. The flag the president wears on his lapel, and which is on the uniforms of our police officers and to which our elementary school children daily pledge allegiance.


               What if that was the only flag authorized to fly in front of the County Office Building?


               That would mean the Israeli flag would have to come down. So would the Ukrainian flag. And there would be no more Italian flag on Columbus Day and no Irish flag on St. Patrick’s Day. The Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ flags would not be flown and the various days, months and weeks of special commemoration would pass without a series of corresponding banners coming and going from the stately poles on Main Street.


               That’s what the county executive is considering.


               Not as an act of disrespect to any of those flags or causes, but as a way to avoid unnecessary division and to reinforce our common identity as Americans, as brother and sister citizens in a Republic.


               I hope he decides to do it. I hope he decides that we are a one-flag country, and the flag we honor at his building is the flag that represents us all.


               Flying a variety of flags in honor of special causes or countries is a courtesy, but a courtesy which invariably offends some. I’m pro-Israel, and so I like the Israeli flag. But people who are not pro-Israel don’t deserve to have their sensibilities offended. Ditto for any other country or cause. Some will like it, and some will not. And the flag poles at the seat of county government ought not to be in the business of making political or social statements that alienate or offend any group of citizens.


               Yes, we have differences, but the flag poles at the county building that serves and represents us all aren’t the place to fight them out.


               Those flags unavoidably divide us on the basis of our opinions and beliefs.


               But the flag of the United States does not.


               Its very design is a symbol of unity. The several stars and stripes are meant to visibly represent different states, people and opinions coming together in one Union of varied people, interests and geographies.


               The American flag doesn’t belong to one party or philosophy, it represents us all. It is the one thing to which we can all return when the natural stresses of disagreement pull us apart.


               And a line of American flags in front of the County Office Building – one on every pole – sends a message about what this county and this country stand for.


               I think this would be a good policy. I hope Adam Bello decides to enact it.


               In times of peril or crisis, Americans rally ‘round the flag.


               Maybe in downtown Rochester, it’s time to do that literally.

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