Discussions like this unfortunately tend to devolve into flamewars, and it seems other comments on this article has already gone that way. That is sad, because it would be really interesting to get to the bottom of why there is this cultural difference in how the flag is perceived in EU and US.
So what are military personnel?
I think we might be on to something here.
In America, the flag is culturally bound to the military as a whole and personal military service, right? So "disrespecting the flag" is seen as the same as disrespecting the sacrifice and service of both current and past members of the military?
In Europe, the flag does not hold that kind of position culturally, and I think it has to do with WWII. Imagine being born in Germany after 1945. Imagine what coming to terms with what your country did would do to post-war culture and the attitudes it would create towards the kind of imagery used by Germany leading up to, and during WWII. The flag was an important part of that imagery.
I think that is the reason why we see the flag so differently, but I would appreciate comments or corrections.
So, for someone with a US culture the flag is something to be proud of and a symbol of military service and personal sacrifice for the country. For someone with an EU culture, a flag is a symbol for one's country but it is also a symbol of something horrible that happened in Europe's recent past.
Heh, no wonder this leads to flamewars.