By the Herald editorial staff
An American flag was flown upside-down outside a restaurant in Richland last week.
It was, said the restaurant owner and a huge majority of those who wrote the Herald's website about it, a mistake.
But to some it was an outrage deliberately intended to antagonize the public.
That would be a remarkably strange decision by a restaurant that depends on the public for its business, and that has a reputation for generously supporting the community, especially youth activities.
An amateur picture of the flag while it was still upside-down was sent throughout the ubiquitous internet.
As soon as a customer (not the photographer) told the surprised owner about the flag it was taken down.
With the number of tattered flags flying around or flags flying at night without their own illumination and the number of flag-designed clothes and accessories displayed at last year's national political conventions, you'd think a simple mistake wouldn't draw so much attention.
But it did.
Racism may have played a role. Some of those claiming outrage saw the name "Chapala Express" and linked the upside-down flag to some nonsensical conspiracy among Latino restaurant owners.
Others saw a sandwich board for Monterosso's Italian restaurant in the picture (it is located behind Chapala Express) and doubled their errors: Besides seeing a mistake as a plot, they reached the wrong conclusion about who made the mistake.
Unless, of course, they have it in for Italians, too.
Flora Mendoza, owner of Chapala Express, told of her anguish in an open letter to the public.
"We truly apologize for any inconvenience and misunderstanding this might have caused," she wrote.
"We would never do anything like this to disrespect this great and wonderful country. We respect it, admire it and are honored to be able to live in a place that is the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Who could argue with such sentiments?
The American flag is an important symbol that stands for the very best among us.
It stands for the people of our country and belongs to all of us equally -- veterans and conscientious objectors, firefighters and carpenters, nurses and small-business owners.
It also stands for sacrifice, especially those of the fallen warriors and the families and other loved ones they left behind.
It stands for tradition. With the number of stars increasing but always there, it has been the principal banner at every engagement involving our armed forces.
A sergeant once remarked, as he stationed a main battle tank at an intersection in Vietnam: "This plot of ground belongs to the United States of America."
Our flag also stands for decency, for the democratic ideals upon which this country stands.
Our laws provided something unusual at the time they were adopted -- a presumption of innocence.
This is not a trial, of course.
But it would seem that the critics of this mistake might do better to examine their own lives. Faultless? Then every one of them must be a straight-A student, never have gone 66 mph in a 65 mph zone and never, ever worn white after Labor Day.
Which brings us to our final point about what we think the flag of the United States symbolizes.
We should be generous with each other. We do not think alike on very many things.
But at least one thing we all learned somewhere along the way, most likely at our mother's knee:
Everybody makes mistakes.