In the wake of the passing of Queen Elizabeth, I am reminded of my own British heritage. Despite my anglicized French surname, a DNA analysis tells me almost all my ancestry hails from the British Isles.
Still, as an American, it’s interesting to watch the British react to news from the Monarchy. This news wasn’t unexpected as was the news of Dianna 25 years ago, or even of King George VI in 1952. But it is rightly met with grief and sorrow. Ninety percent of the world population has never known a “King” of England in their lifetime. The notion of anybody except Elizabeth sitting on the throne will take some getting used to.
In America, we have no established “royalty”. Perhaps the Adams family or the Roosevelts or the Bushes or the Kennedys would come close. But their royal-ness pales in comparison to the crowns and titles and regality that subjects enjoy in Britain. (Indeed, Americans are not “subjects” to a crown; we are “citizens” -- and proudly so.)
But there is one institution that Americans hold as dear to our heart. There is one item that we hold in reverence, much in the same way as Britons revere the Monarchy.
It is the flag.
When we are young, we are taught to pledge allegiance to the flag. Not to the president, not to the government, but to the “flag”. Is there something special about a swatch of nylon or polyester that demands allegiance?
No, not the “flag” itself. In fact, we are constantly reminded that the fabric of the flag is ephemeral. When it is inevitably worn-out, it is not to be preserved; it is to be respectfully “retired”.
The flag is merely an image, a representation of something much greater. It represents a nation of vast resources, and the capacity and motivation to properly manage them. A nation that comes to the defense of our friends. A nation that, for the most part, fights wars of liberation, not of conquest.
The flag does none of the above, but it represents everything about the nation and the people who live here that make this country so great.
That was the purpose behind laws forbidding the wanton destruction of our flag. That’s why we respect it enough to forbid it from touching the ground. That’s why we salute it and fold it in a triangle.
Even our national anthem speaks to the power and meaning behind the flag. The “Star-Spangled Banner” is not a song about war (as has been claimed). It is about the enduring power of the flag. “The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our FLAG was still there.” Francis Scott Key was rejoicing not in the victory of the army, but in the resilience that was demonstrated by the flag.
Such it is with the British and their Monarchs. Kings and Queens are skin-and-bones -- basically carbon-based life forms, if you will. They may be long-lived, but not immortal. They may be regal, but not gods.
Just as America changes the flag with the addition of each new state, the national anthem of Great Britain will now be “God Save the King”. The Monarchy is above politics, and thus deserves and receives the blessings of God, in the minds of the Britons. The Windsors are thus royalty only in the sense that they represent the hope of the future for the great British Empire.
For the next few days, I think it would be appropriate for the entire world to consider themselves British. The Queen is Dead; Long Live the King!