Grand Old Flag?
If I see one more drawing of a flag like the one to the right I think I'm going to have a stroke.
In a publication from my very own town of League City, the town elders advertised a Veteran's Day ceremony with the flag of ... uh ... well, approximately, The United States of America.
In the beautiful field of loyal blue are five rows of ten stars. At least they got the numbers of stars right, and they're even staggered. But the fold in the flag that's in the proximity of the right side of the field hides a multitude of sins. With an equal number of stars in an odd number of rows, I believe even the artist of this flag would have found that the configuration of the stars on the right side of the field looked a bit odd. And well, the artist just wasn't quite sure about the number of stripes that fall below the field of stars. So, in a method having little to do with perspective, he goes with the average: five rows below the left side of the field, six below the right. Perhaps if the fold wasn't placed where it was, the artist would have been forced to get off his lazy butt and visit an encyclopedia.
I wish I could say that this was the first oddball flag I've seen since 9-11. I've seen similar "designs" in advertisements, on t-shirts, in paintings, and even on a Christmas card I received last year. Gotta get those cards printed quickly for the Christmas bonanza!
I even saw an inspirational watercolor painting (commemorating 9-11) that had five rows of unstaggered stars, with each row containing stars numbering 1-2-3-4-5-7-8-9-10-11-12-13 ... and on and on.
I didn't realize what a problem this was until I showed the above flag to some quite intelligent patriots — they couldn't immediately tell me what was wrong with it.
(With awful irony, at the moment I'm writing this, up pops the Wrangler television ad I've seen for the umpteenth time, but never ceases to get my ire up. The music that sells the jeans is the great anti-state song by John Fogerty (of which he no longer has the rights), "Fortunate Son." As the stars and stripes wave, the lyrics are heard, "Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they're red white and blue." End of commercial. The whole story is:
Some folks are born made to wave the flag,
Ooh, they're red, white and blue.
And when the band plays "Hail to the chief."
Ooh, they point the cannon at you,
It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son.
It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no.
The song could have edited by the White House.)
This is what the flag of the United States of America looks like.
Seriously, the fifty stars are arranged in nine staggered rows: 6-5-6-5-6-5-6-5-6. And if you hadn't looked closely, and someone asked, you would be inclined to say the field is about half the height of the flag, and guessing, knowing that there is an odd number of stripes, you might be inclined to answer that the field is slightly less than half the height, that is, six stripes. Not knowing, that would be my inclination. It's an interesting optical illusion — it looks as though the field is exactly half the height of the flag. But, the field is actually more than half the height — seven stripes: four red and three white.
I suppose what bothers me about these ersatz flags is their "approximate" nature. Surely those that carelessly display these corrupt images are often the same folks that rarely visit their own heritage, or their own law.
An amorphous flag for an amorphous heritage, an amorphous constitution, and an amorphous faith.
I continually ask myself, "Where were all these flag-wavers before 9-11?" The Houston Grand Opera now opens each opera with a giant flag displayed over the stage, and with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Something about the avant-garde HGO conducting this liturgy I find a little hypocritical.
Fear is a miserable motivator for patriotism, which isn't patriotism at all. Fear protects neither ancestry nor progeny, only one's own cowardly skin.
Perhaps I'm overly sensitive to all of this. I learned how to fold and otherwise handle a flag as far back as I can remember. I was one of two "flag guards" for my two remaining years in grade school. My Dad was a scoutmaster, and my older brother and I were both Eagle Scouts. And if possible, my respect for what the flag stood for increased as I entered my twenties.
I would never presume to know the heart of any flag-waver, whether it's displayed out of patriotism, nationalism, or some admixture. Flags certainly mean many different things to many different folks. But it now saddens me that every time I see the United States flag I only see United States imperialism. I genuinely hope I don't always feel that way.
Our current flag reminds me of the Imperial State from which we fought so hard to free ourselves. The flag of the United Kingdom seen to the left was an effort to symbolize the "solidarity" of the English, Scottish, and Irish peoples by including the crosses of their respective national patron saints: George, Andrew, and Patrick. But to be sure, the bold red cross of St. George lies atop the diagonal crosses of St. Andrew and St. Patrick. (In 1801 King George III added the cross of St. Patrick to the Union Jack, and the flag has remained the same since.)
But as I consider the Union Jack, I think of its constituents. The Irish and Scottish have been fighting for centuries to be free of the yoke of the English. And even many of the English people themselves, weary of empire, and jealous of the freedoms that their own elected "representatives" seem to be throwing away with both hands (to the EU and to deep space), are bringing back the old English flag. (The English and Scottish national flags are shown to the right.)
Well if the members of the UK can revert to their own colors, how about us? Are we so married to the idea of the Imperial State we can fly no other flag?
Fortunately, I believe I can fairly say that I live in a state that is more proud of their flag than any other. Visiting relatives from other states remark how one is more likely to see a Texas flag flying, alone, than the Stars and Stripes.
To the left are the flags that currently have the most meaning to me, in chronological order: the Betsy Ross, the Lone Star, and the Third National of the Confederate States of America. (I'm still looking for a sewn cloth Third National for less than $200!)
Houstonians were recently (13 January through 28 April 2002) afforded a wonderful display of thirty-two historic Texas flags at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) entitled "Texas Flags: 1836—1945." My expectations were high, but the display was even much better than I expected, in part due to their great size (on the order of 5' x 8').
One of the display's cocurators was Robert Maberry, Jr., author of
Texas Flags, a great companion to the display. Mr. Maberry was present on opening night, so I acquired my signed copy of the book, of course.
Because of the many flags on display that contained the dreaded cross of St. Andrew (around half of the total, it seems), I expected some kind of controversy. But, I am aware of none. However, I did find it odd that the MFAH supplement to The Houston Chronicle included images of fourteen of the flags from the exhibit, but not one with St. Andrew's cross.
Similarly, in Texas Journey (the magazine of AAA Texas), there are ten images, only one of which is based on St. Andrew's cross.
Nevertheless, Mr. Maberry seems to get his point across in this picture that appears at the end of the Texas Journey article.
Texas Flags was fittingly published by the Texas A&M University Press.
Oh, but even Texas A&M is not immune to the PC that floods our culture. I was told last week by an Aggie alumnus that, as the result of a student complaint, a picture of a former University president was removed from an out-of-the-way building because in the picture's background could be seen a painting of Robert E. Lee. I'm not easily surprised, but I was astonished that in one of the most reflexively patriotic campuses of the South, a picture not the subject of a painting of one the most respected men in human history (not an exaggeration) was removed because some idiot found it offensive. But I digress.
Two of the flags from the exhibit are among my favorites because of their unabashed slogans for the preservation of faith and family. And both are variants of the Stars and Bars (First National). (Not to be confused with the Southern Cross (the field of the Third National above), which almost invariably is incorrectly called the Stars and Bars.) The flag above contains the slogan, "STRIKE.FOR.YOUR.ALTARS & YOUR.HOMES," which pretty much says it all. The ten stars orbiting the Texas star each represent a state in the Confederacy, and the stars in the four corners each represent one of the four "civilized" nations of the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to which the Confederacy was allied by treaty. (This and subsequent images from Texas Flags.)
Unlike the previous flag with its homemade quality, the flag on the right is a work of art. The slogan on this flag of the Twentieth Texas is "OUR HOMES and OUR RIGHTS."
One flag that reminded me of good times was the U.S. flag that was flown aboard the U.S.S. Texas (below), which was in service during both World Wars. The Battleship Texas is next to the San Jacinto monument in Houston. (It recently underwent a very expensive renovation.) The good captain of the ship occasionally allowed our Scout troop to "camp out" on the ship. We had the run of just about every inch of it — we were able to see far more than the tourists did, and unsupervised to boot.
We explored the engine room, sick bay, and galley.
A buddy of mine and I found officer's quarters to bunk in (we were Patrol Leaders, after all). When I pulled the drawer open next to the bed, the drawer was lined with an "ancient" (to an eleven-year-old) newspaper. I carefully removed it from the drawer; it said "Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor." My jaw dropped. (A masochistic game I like to play involves time perspective — more time has passed from the moment of that discovery 'til now (32 years) than from the bombing of Pearl Harbor 'til that moment (29 years).)
Some of the flags that were at the MFAH exhibit can be seen at the Museum of Southern History in Sugar Land. (Alas, I heard on the radio today that for the first time since 1843, the Imperial Sugar plant in Sugar Land will be no more .)
From the Museum of Southern History's web site:
On display through June, 2003 can be seen twenty Confederate and Union flags that touch upon Texas history during the War Between the States. Provided by the generosity of the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, these flags are unique both as to design and as to what they convey about the character of the units themselves. Included are the flags of illustrious units like the 4th Texas Infantry, 8th Texas Cavalry and Good's-Douglas' Texas Battery. Other, unusual types, or those having extraordinary artistic flair reveal the significance such emblems played in the lives of those serving under them.
Several variations of First through Third National flags vie with those of Bonnie Blue, several non-descript types, and even a homemade U.S. flag an Austin family displayed in the latter stages of the war. Accompanying the tastefully arranged flags are cases displaying artifacts and memorabilia that relate to the "Lone Star" State, or its neighbors prior to, during or after that conflict. All in all the exhibit presents a striking look at the part of how flags have served as patriotic symbols in American history.
A closing note: as we send our fathers, brothers, and sons to fight in some Godforsaken place on the other side of the planet, perhaps the least we can do is fly the right flag.
December 7, 2002
Brian Dunaway [send him mail] is a chemical engineer and a native Texan.
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com