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Campus Follies: The American Flag and Art

by | Nov 12, 2017 | Columns

As Veteran’s Day weekend passes, we reflect on the importance of supporting our military men and women and the rights they fight tirelessly to preserve, among them Freedom of Expression.  The voices of our troops are unfortunately seldom heard, but one veteran, in particular, is facing backlash over his beliefs.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the sculpture of a world renown Fine Arts graduate and former Air Force military man, Max Combs, was placed in the school’s Student Art Gallery.  According to an NBC affiliate news station, his piece entitled Counterintuitive Revolt depicted an ax stabbing an American flag draped on the ground.  The ex-soldier explained the purpose was to question “Where is America?” and as “intended to call into question our damaged image, and even question our tarnished American values.”

Making Comparisons

In response, many UNLV colleagues displayed outraged, stating that the piece was offensive to those serving our nation and should be removed from the gallery.  Their anger extended to campus officials who allowed the figure to remain.  One woman argued that, since it receives federal funding, the college should be required to revoke such a disrespectful sculpture.  Others accused that administrators were behaving hypocritically, as a few weeks prior they erased a swastika spray-painted at the Student Art Gallery and yet refuse to withdraw the work by Combs.  Do the pupils have a point?

The comparison is, in short, entirely illusory.  Swastikas indicate direct support for the Nazi cause: you know, that ideology that led to the deaths of 6 million innocent Jewish citizens.  The fact that UNLV millennials supported the Swastika parallel to the Counterintuitive Revoltsituation depicts a complete misunderstanding of history, which is perhaps, the type of class towards which to allocate that federal funding.

Flag Code

According to the Independence Hall Association, the U.S. Flag Code states that the red, white, and blue should not make contact with the ground.  However, acting in contrast to the guidelines does not result in a penalty to citizens, as adherence is utterly voluntary.  With UNLV behaving in concordance with federal law, for what reason should they be forced to reject viewpoints that are not deemed to incite violence?  Would disallowing the student to display his beliefs indicate suppression of his First Amendment Rights?

Combs’ explained his work in a press release:

“I don’t believe the general population of our nation is solely responsible for current perceptions; I believe our leadership is tremendously liable. That is what this sculpture is about. The piece is intended to call into question our damaged image, and even question our tarnished American values.”

Although Counterintuitive Revolt is controversial and causes offense to many, Combs’ perceptions are vital as they illustrate the variety of beliefs our military men and women, who all too often go unheard, comprise.  Many veterans may disagree with his treatment of the flag, and that is their right for which they have entirely fought: to partake in intelligent argument and discussion for the progress of the country we so love.

1st Amendment?

It may sound quite Orwellian, but if collegegoers would like to ban expression with which they oppose, what makes them think the government will not silence their views when met with an objection? It is time to bring back support for the First Amendment on college campuses.

What are the thoughts of our readers?  Should UNLV remove Combs’ sculpture?

Read More From Gabriella Fiorino

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