PASADENA, CALIF. -- Euclid Avenue, just around the corner from my house in this older part of suburban Los Angeles, offers a hodgepodge of trees, architectures, tastes and politics. Palms rise next to magnolias. Tudor cottages stand near California bungalows. Young wine-loving Republicans gossip with older Democrats who prefer beer.
I found it somewhat unnerving then, and perhaps historically significant, to walk the family dog down Euclid this week and find American flags flying on so many different houses, the first time in a half-century that anyone recalls seeing such a display here.
Pasadena has a reputation for being conservative and stodgily patriotic, but that is a false image from an era long dead. The city preferred Democrat Michael S. Dukakis to Republican George Bush in 1988. Many of the people moving into the neighborhood are socially and often politically liberal couples who strongly opposed the Vietnam War.
Hardly anyone displayed flags during that unhappy conflict or the Korean War. But World War II was very different. Justin Volchok, owner of a flag-making company near here, was a delivery boy for a New York flag company when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he remembers "flags going up all over New York City." Pasadenans saw similar displays.
Now, somewhat to the surprise of the people on Euclid Avenue, that reaction has been reborn in a generation that prefers pastels to the bold primary colors of the flag and that rarely sings the national anthem at baseball games.
Jane Cutting, 35, a photographer restraining her large, furry dog from attacking mine, said she put her flag up for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and decided to keep it up in support of U.S. efforts in the Persian Gulf region. "I don't like war," she said, "but I wanted to support the troops in Saudi Arabia."
I have good friends displaying flags on Euclid. Margaret Morales, 34, a homemaker, and her husband Mike, 36, a firefighter and expert soccer coach, see it as a sign of love and concern for soldiers not much older than the eldest of their three children. John Hare, 66, a former prosecutor and active socialist, said he put his up because of pressure from his wife Audrey, 68, a retired secretary, and their children, but wonders if the display is "just part of a herd instinct."
Andrea Hartt, 33, a word processor at home negotiating a career change, said her family's flag might seem a departure from her days as an anti-nuclear protester at the University of California at Santa Barbara, "but we should be supporting the people who are over there, including the people of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait."
Covering a demonstration in San Francisco shortly after the Persian Gulf War began, I saw young demonstrators set fire to an American flag just as was done during Vietnam. It seemed almost a cliche, a theatrical set-piece as necessary to any self-respecting demonstration as blue jeans and a bullhorn.
What has changed this time is the end of embarrassment at patriotic gestures among the large middle group of young American adults who never want to seem too out of step. They will let flags be burned -- it's a free country -- but no longer consider it unsophisticated to wave the flag if they feel like it.
"It's happening all over America," said Lee Hardy, an American Legion official based in Indiana. On his street in the Indianapolis suburb of Greenfield, flags are everywhere, the result of spirited campaigns by radio announcers whose counterparts have had a similar impact in other cities.
Whitney Smith, a former Boston University political scientist who directs the Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass., said that, while there are no reliable statistics on flag displays, interest in the Stars and Stripes clearly has peaked again. Factories are weeks behind in their orders. Even on Smith's block in Newton, Mass., usually a strong anti-war area, "we are seeing more flags and a lot of yellow ribbons," he said.
Hartt described the phenomenon as "a unifying symbol while we all try hard to digest this thing."
As susceptible to peer pressure as anyone, I have put up our flag, usually seen outdoors only on the Fourth of July. It will stay up for a few weeks, I imagine, while my friends on Euclid -- and Saddam Hussein -- wait to see how resilient this newfound American unity may be.