July 21, 2016

It isn't a grand old Flag

A nation's flag is important. It represents the nation, it leads men into battle. Men have died for flags, not just rhetorically, but literally. The raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi is one of the most iconic news photographs of the last century, and it's especially poignant since some of those men didn't live out the day.

A flag should mean something; it should represent the country. The US flag's meaning is well known: 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies of the revolution, and a star in the upper left corner for every state. Which means that every time we add states, the flag changes, which last happened in 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became states.

A flag doesn't have to be complex to be meaningful. The flag of Japan is a simple red circle on a white background, but it represents the rising sun, which has always been Japan's identity as the Land of the Rising Sun. And it's a noble flag.

I like the Union Jack. It is made up of the Flag of St. George representing England and Wales, the flag of St. Andrew representing Scotland, and the flag of St. Patrick representing Ireland. (Which could have become a sick joke in 1921, but isn't because Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.)

These are flags with meaning, symbols that are symbolic. I've never felt that way about a lot of the flags of Europe; too many of them look like they were stitched out of spare rags from the nearest tailor shop and if they have any kind of symbolic meaning I never figured out what it was. This has bothered me my whole life!

So let's try a quiz, shall we: What countries are these flags?

/images/Germany.png

/images/Belgium.png

/images/Hungary.png

/images/Ireland.png

/images/Italy.png

/images/Netherlands.png

/images/Luxembourg.png

/images/Russia.png

/images/France.png

How many millions of men have died for these prosaic rags? And if they do have any kind of meaning, it's probably something like "Habsburgs Forever!"

(I've left the nation names as filenames on those pictures.)

Why is it that so many national flags in Europe are just two or three panels of solid colors, horizontal or vertical? Seems like there's a bunch of "...well, they're doing it!" going on here, and that's a hell of a reason for creating a symbol that men will die for. Pfeh.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Rants at 04:04 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
Post contains 389 words, total size 3 kb.

1

And if they do have any kind of meaning, it's probably something like "Habsburgs Forever!"

In the case of Austria-Hungary, the Habsburg emperors were essentially the only thing keeping the Dual Monarchy together.  In fact, the phrase 'For God and Kaiser" was always used in the same way a country's name was used elsewhere.

It is also hard to imagine that until the unification of the German states, it was the post-revolutionary French flag that was guaranteed to bring bad memories when it appeared in other European nations.

Posted by: cxt217 at July 21, 2016 05:14 PM (EvxH9)

2 I can't speak for most of the flags, but orange, being rarely used in flags, tends to have a very important meaning.  It's odd that the Irish flag despite being the three vertical stripe pattern thus has some recognizable meaning to it.

There are also cases where the people that designed the flag tried to create some fancy symbolic meaning and ended up with something ugly.  Take the South African flag, for example.

Posted by: Civilis at July 21, 2016 05:38 PM (KlrGc)

3

A flag doesn't have to be complicated in order to be worthwhile. The Canadian flag is relatively simple, with only two colors, but it's very memorable and there isn't any confusion at all about what it means and which country it's from.

On the other hand, the flag of Ivory Coast is the same as the flag of Ireland except flipped horizontally. Why?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 21, 2016 06:24 PM (+rSRq)

4 The former Soviet Union's was distinctive. It seems the new Russian flag wanted to go the opposite direction.

Posted by: muon at July 21, 2016 11:51 PM (IUHrD)

5 I think the reason is that many countries in Europe are traditionally monarchies, so the flags will just be the colours of the royal family. Also I think a lot of them are old enough that they weren't really designed the way more modern flags are. In relatively modern times it would be unthinkable to have a design that doesn't mean something, but this was likely less the case many centuries ago. For instance, Wikipedia says that the origin of the Dutch flag may date back as far as the 9th century, when that region of Charlemagne's empire was associated with cloth in those colours.

Posted by: Jordi Vermeulen at July 22, 2016 01:29 AM (9BWts)

6

I think prefer a simple design (I admit to not even liking the maple leaf on the Canadian flag.) over complex designs.  If every nation in Europe that still had a monarchy adopted the royal house's arms on their flag, it would make the different designs a veritable nightmare of squinting at what is on the flag when there is an international event.

That said, the simple red and white stripe of the Polish flag needs no other complexity.  Straight and to the point - and if you ever need to see it on a battlefield, there will be no mistaking for it.

Posted by: cxt217 at July 22, 2016 01:04 PM (EvxH9)

7 The current flag of Russian Federation is not in a sense new. It was invented by Peter The Great when he saw that every European nation had a flag, and so he came up with this. Originally it was purely for naval purposes, to be flown from ships. Oddly enough, it was quickly adopted as a general flag of Russian state in all departments, but the Russian Navy somehow migrated to so-called "St. Andrey", which has an X-shaped design. Versions of that are specifically associated with combat or least armed forces. You could see a ton of them in Novorossia flown from vehicles for ForF identification.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at July 22, 2016 02:38 PM (XOPVE)

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