SCOT BELLAVIA: Half-Staff Overkill?

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One of the daily patrons at my job is a Vietnam veteran. He’ll ask why the flag is at half-staff whenever it is. I google it for him and especially since January 20, more frequently than not, it’s been in memory of victims of the most recent mass shooting or a new high of COVID deaths.

Statisticians consider location, fatalities, and motive to differentiate between terrorist attacks, serial killers, and mass shootings. But in John Q. Public’s barbershop and at his water cooler, “mass shooting” can be defined any number of ways.

Similarly, credible sources claim that COVID deaths are exaggerated because those who die from comorbidities also happen to have COVID-19. The deceased are simplified in the headlines (where it counts) as victims of the virus.

So, the lower the personal quota to satisfy a “mass shooting” and the more patients who die with COVID, the more these events occur. And, if federal edicts continue, the Star-Spangled Banner will stay at half-staff.

My veteran friend expressed disappointment at this regularity. Flag lowering is reserved for heroes and people of elected office or political importance. It used to be that we knew who had died when the flags were lowered.

Their death was already big news. It was the flag they pledged allegiance to and so Old Glory represented them as much as they stood for it. To lower the flag so often, though they have been for of course horrible tragedies, lessens the meaning of the flag, the sensitivity for what happened, and thus, the significance it carries to have the flag wave at half-staff.

You know the boy who cried “Wolf!”? The villagers tired of his false alarm raising and we learned that repetition and priority are inversely related.

We learned the same with the Roanoke Star. No, not the esteemed publication, I’m talking about that homely 88.5-foot structure atop Mill Mountain.

I’m not old enough to remember but I’ve always been told she was red whenever there was a death from a car wreck. That happened too often, so she reddened when the roadway fatality was a result of a drunk driver. Even that became too recurring and she stayed white until 9/11, when she wore red, white, and blue. Again, repetition desensitizes.

Lowering the flag for every death may remind onlookers of an epidemic of “mass shootings” or the “ongoing” pandemic, in the name of “raising awareness,” but in ubiquity it becomes a string tied on your finger, reminding you to remember something you forgot…or never knew.

Scot Bellavia