Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mad Rant: Mistreating Flags

As most long-time readers know, I have a bit of interest in what educated people call vexillology (a fancy word for things to do with flags). One of the things that really chaps my hide is the misuse of flags or people who ascribe certain character traits to flags. Of course, it speaks to the immense power of symbols (something monarchists should appreciate) but we must also be careful when it comes to calling something like a flag “evil”. At the end of the day it is a piece of colored cloth on a bit of stick -it cannot speak, it cannot toil nor spin and it certainly cannot hurt anyone. A flag has meaning only insofar as the meaning we, the public, choose to attach to it. I know I am going a little out of the way here, but I am coming to a point eventually I promise. It seems that almost every “First World” country has a problem related to this. In almost every country there are flags that are deemed politically incorrect or even “evil” because the nation or government they represent did something wrong. In some countries this has even resulted in certain flags being banned.

Being born and raised in Texas, I learned in high school what a controversial symbol the Confederate flag was in the United States. The argument over what it ‘means’ still flares up occasionally, though for the most part it is regarded as politically incorrect at the very least and is increasingly scarce. At first, I thought this was a unique situation, but it is not. It turns out that almost every North American and European country have a similar flag. Japan as well, which is really a problem for them as they have only ever had one national flag and it would be hard to imagine anything different. Up in Canada it has lately become the Canadian Red Ensign that has the bad reputation. In Great Britain it is the St George Cross of England and of course in Germany the Nazi German flag is strictly forbidden. Here is where my blood starts to come to a boil. Do you notice anything really wrong with the examples I just gave? Such as, why the hell would the Canadian Red Ensign, the English St George Cross and the flag of Nazi Germany be in any circumstances grouped together? The St George Cross originated in a different era of history and the brave boys from Canada fought under the Red Ensign in wiping out the Nazi German menace.

The problem is the misuse of flags and it seems to be becoming more and more widespread and really, really infuriates me. The most infuriating thing about it is that the regular people and the civic authorities let these malcontents who misuse flags get away with it! Let me calm down and explain: Nazi Germany was an evil regime and pretty much everyone on earth by now agrees on that point. So, the Federal Republic of Germany banned the Nazi flag, which was not and never had been a symbol of Germany or the Germans prior to Hitler gaining power. So, what were the modern, neo-Nazi malcontents to do since their beloved swastika was forbidden? They decided to misuse older flags such as the flag of the old German Empire and in particular the Imperial German Ensign. Now, because of that, many associate the symbols of Imperial Germany with the neo-Nazis. Such an association should be viewed as just as criminal as the flying of the swastika. It is outrageous that this has been allowed to happen. It is beyond contemptible that many now view the Imperial German flags as racist. These flags represented a German Empire in which Jews served in every level of government, the military and achieved great success in society. In some cases, these flags were carried by armies made up almost entirely of Africans, who won great fame, during the First World War. They are NOT symbols of racism.

And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Only recently a Dutch politician was forced to remove the old, orange-white-blue flag from his office because those colors had been used by the Dutch Nazi Party in World War II and it is now associated with racism and political extremism. Just to be clear, this is the original Dutch flag, used by the old Dutch Republic and known as the “Prince’s Flag” because it bore the colors of the House of Orange. The Princes of Orange were the primary leaders of the Dutch Republic and, of course, later became the Royal Family of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The modern, red-white-blue design of the Dutch flag became popular because of the influence of the French Revolution but the orange-white-blue design (chosen because they were the colors on the arms of the House of Orange) long predated that design. Just because some Nazis misused the Prince’s Flag is no reason to hand them the victory by considering it to be thus forever tarnished.

I find it even more ludicrous that the St George Cross, the English flag, should be considered politically incorrect today. It dates back to Medieval times as the English national symbol and is meant to represent, for crying out loud, a saint! St George, the gallant, brave knight who killed the dragon and saved the princess (or something like that, I’m sure others know the legend better than I). It is also a very widespread flag design used by people all over the world, English and non-English alike. I am not entirely sure how the English flag ever came to have negative connotations. Such a thing is rather rare for non-historical flags and the St George Cross is still, just as it has always been, the flag of England. Yet, evidently, in these hyper-sensitive times, some people who have been labeled as racist make use of the St George Cross and so it too has become guilty by association. As stated, I am not entirely sure how this association came about or who is responsible for it. It is true, though most would not believe it, that one can be opposed to multiculturalism without being a racist. This seems to be a mostly “First World” problem as it does not ever seem to apply to anyone else. No one views the former colonial peoples of the Third World as racists for wanting to “take back” their country for their own people and drive out all the Europeans -they are viewed as freedom fighters, not racists.

Speaking to that, one could, of course, make the argument that the English flag is evil because as times the Kingdom of England was involved in some rather unsavory undertakings. However, that could be applied to virtually any flag because no nation or government on earth has ever been perfect. Such is why we usually do not allow anyone to expropriate flags currently in use. The United States flag, for example, flew from slave ships, was carried by troops who wiped out the Indians and was carried by the Ku Klux Klan in their mass rallies and parades at the height of their power in the 1920’s. Yet, for most Americans, this changes nothing. They still view the “Stars and Stripes” as a symbol of liberty, freedom and all the best qualities of America. Another, perhaps more interesting, example is the French tricolor. It was the flag of the Revolution (Boo! Hiss!), the Reign of Terror but was also the flag of the First Empire, the July Monarchy, the Second Empire and is still the flag of the French Republic today. Most in France (who are sadly not monarchists) still view it in the best possible light as the symbol of “liberty, equality and fraternity” and, in a wider context, it has been used by so many different sorts of governments that most view it as simply “French” and nothing more, neither good nor bad in itself. If the most vile of racists do or were to wave the French tricolor, I doubt they would be allowed to change the perception of the flag to represent themselves alone.

Yet, when it comes to a flag not in official use, villains can get away with co-opting the colors. The Canadian Red Ensign is, evidently, another example. Again, I know of no formal groups that do so, but apparently some unsavory individuals have taken to adopting the Canadian Red Ensign as their own and have aided in the flag acquiring a rather bad reputation. I have heard it described as the Canadian version of flying the Confederate flag in the United States. In other words, politically incorrect and used by people the mainstream regard as rather villainous. This is particularly outrageous because the Canadian Red Ensign has long been a flag favored by many Canadian monarchists, United Empire Loyalists and those (with whom I am certainly in sympathy) who look back on Canada’s place in the British Empire with great pride and nostalgia.

Without getting into a debate on the reputation of the Confederate flag, to compare the Red Ensign to the colors of the Confederacy seems absolutely ludicrous. There never really was any slavery in Canada at all. The Canadian Red Ensign only came into widespread use after the American Civil War was over, it was never a flag of rebellion or dissent but was the flag of a country which developed and came to independence peacefully with (originally) no animosity but pride and respect for the British Empire it sprang from. The Canadian troops who came charging to the rescue of Great Britain and the other Allies in World War I and World War II carried the Canadian Red Ensign with them and for such people as in The Netherlands for example, the Canadian Red Ensign should be seen as a flag of liberation recalling the Canadian troops who marched in to free them from Nazi subjugation. Some, of course, do and always have objected to it because it is, well, just “too British” what with the Union Jack being on it and all. It’s too “colonial” and reminds them too much of the British Empire. Well, if the truth hurts I am sorry for you, but Canada would not exist today had it not been for the colonial era and the British Empire. That is just a simple fact of history. To allow a few undesirables to tarnish the Canadian Red Ensign is as despicable as their own misuse of it and it is an insult to the proud history of that flag and all who lived, fought and died under it to do so.

To get back to where we started, I am not big on making flags “good” or “bad”. I tend to assume the best as that goes. There are some I dislike of course, the obvious examples as well as others which annoy my monarchist sensibilities. Yet, I also see no point in holding a grudge against an inanimate object like a flag. For instance, I am (as most readers know) a patriotic Texan. When I see the flag of Mexico, I don’t see the flag of the perpetrators of the Goliad massacre or such things, I just see the flag of Mexico, the flag of a neighboring country and a flag that is part of our own history. One of my favorite local flags is the “Alamo flag” which is basically a defaced Mexican tricolor. Today many historians doubt it was the real Alamo flag (we cannot know for sure if it was or even if they had one, primary flag) and I know some who dislike it because it is “too Mexican”. All I see when I look at it is the flag most associated with the Alamo, a critical and heroic page in Texas history and the fact that it is of the same basic design as the flag of Mexico does not bother me in the least. Mexico was where Texas came from, not the United States, and it would be ridiculous as well as futile to try to cover up that fact. It is part of our uniqueness. My simple point is that we should not judge people simply by the flag they fly and we should certainly not judge a flag solely by the people who use or misuse it. Evil people (who are invariably revolutionary republicans by the way) who misuse and tarnish the flags of great kingdoms, royals and empires of the past make me a very, very … Mad Monarchist.

1 comment:

  1. The problem lies in modern society's preoccupation with creating professional victims and the fact that merely offending someone has evidently become a worse crime than high treason. The obsessive political correctness crowd rarely bothers to let facts get in the way of their determination to be offended. Right thinking, patriotic Canadian, Dutch, British, and even German monarchists (if there is such a thing as the latter) need to make a bigger priority out of reclaiming their symbols. If enough people start using these flags the way they were intended in bigger, public ways, eventually whatever other unseemly groups that have co-opted them will be drowned out.

    On another note, although I consider myself a fan of the current Canadian flag, the Red Ensign was such a handsome design, its a shame it couldn't have been retained in at least a semi-official context. Oh well, at least the country is still a monarchy, and a fairly robust one at that, so I guess you pick your battles.


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