With hundreds of Tea Partiers descending on Richmond today, I have to say that's one thing I really admire about them -- their flag.
The yellow rattlesnake flag stating "Don't Tread on Me" has had several iterations. Ben Franklin came up with the clever idea of using the timber rattlesnake as a symbol for America. He later used a chopped up rattlers on flags that flew during the French and Indian War. A coiled rattlesnake version was flown by the new U.S. Navy as tried to block the British from receiving war shipments during the Revolution.
I'm no conservative and am hardly a flag waver, though, as a child, I saw plenty of military ceremonies on the Marine Corps and Navy bases where I grew up.
Years later, starting in 1986, I found I really wanted that flag. I was a U.S. news correspondent in Moscow. It was heighth of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was in power and his saber rattling had brought the world the closest that it had been to nuclear armageddon since the Cuban Misile Crisis. He had boosted defense spending, deployed new, more powerful ICBMs and was threatening to unleash Star Wars which probably wouldn't work but had the Kremlin and Defense Ministry screaming with fear.
There was plenty of espionage and we correspondents were considered to be spies. The Soviet Union was a police state. Our apartments, telephones and telexes were bugged and any Soviet citizens who might vist were stopped by KGB officers posing as militia (police).
I drove a Soviet-built car that had a special yellow license plate reading "K-004" which was code for American newsperson. We could not go more than 25 miles outside of Mosocw without express permission. Even if we had permission were were still stopped at police roadblocks every 10 miles or so and often were kept waiting for an hour or two while the militiaman doublechecked our story so he could get a red star on his forehead. Soviet news correspndents faced similar rules in the U.S.
At first it seemed romantic, mucking about like a character in a John LeCarre novel. Soon, the restrictions, plus the drudgery of dealing with Soviet bureaucracy, became little more than a never-ending pain in the butt.
This became especially true when winter came and temperatures fell to 30 below. We'd drive around waiting for the cop to pull us over because of the license plate as we searched for rare gasoline stations. We used special coupons to get gas. If we found a station our gas tank lock was typically frozen over. The two solutions were urine or a cigarette lighter. Both had their own dangers.
It was at times like these that I dreamed of a "Don't Tread on Me" flag. I wanted one so badly. I would fly it from my car windshield or from my apartment balcony. It would be my personal emblem of resentment and resistance.
Now I think I understand the Tea Party.