This week, President Obama bowed deeply and purposefully before Japanese Emperor Akihito when greeting him on official duties. Why do this, when it flies in the face of a proud American tradition? That tradition: America does not bow before earthly kings.
While other countries often dip their flags as a sign of respect, Americans do not. As an American of Irish heritage, I proudly credit Irish-Americans with making this tradition prominent.
In the 1908 Olympics in London, American athletes of Irish ancestry “urged” the flag bearer not to dip the Stars and Stripes in the Games’ opening parade, as the US team passed by the British royal family. (According to a PBS documentary on the Irish experience in America, narrated by actor Aiden Quinn, some of the Irish American athletes promised the flag bearer that, if he did dip the flag, he’d be in the hospital before nightfall). The flag bearer was convinced, and the Stars and Stripes stood tall and proud as the American team walked by the King of England.
As the story goes, there was an uproar. In response, Martin Sheridan, US team captain (and a native of County Mayo) reportedly said that the flag of the United States “bows before no earthly king.” Historians dispute whether Sheridan really said this…but neverthless, it’s now part of our tradition. To many Americans, it remains a symbol of national pride that the Stars and Stripes is never dipped to foreign powers.
Well, the President of the United States, when he’s representing our country in his offical duties, IS the Stars and Stripes. Both he and it are symbols of our nation—its heritage, values, traditions and pride.
Our President is the guardian of those traditions and that spirit, not their owner. They are not his to do with as he pleases.
I’m eager to hear his explanation for this, his SECOND bow before an earthly king. Surely this wasn’t carelessness. He must have had a purpose.
I’m also eager to see how American media reacts. If, as I suspect, they yawn indifferently, it won’t reflect favorably on them. Many conservatives think that America’s media community view itself more as residents of a global community, instead of citizens of the United States. I hope that perception is wrong—let’s see what the editorial pages have to say this week.
FoxNews photo of President Obama bowing to Japanese emperor: http://whitehouse.blogs.foxnews.com/2009/11/13/president-obama-meets-with-the-japanese-emperor/