The Bland Old Flag

I applaud the South Carolina legislature for voting to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome where it has flown for 38 years. There can be no question: the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery which no civilized society will tolerate. If I have a criticism of South Carolina, it is this: the legislature did not go far enough.

It targeted only the battle flag of the Confederacy – the familiar blue bars crisscrossing a red background – which was a flag of convenience only. The First Official Flag of the Confederacy (1861-1863) is a more fitting symbol for protest. This flag called the Stars and Bars – white and red bars with seven stars representing the original Confederate States – receded into obscurity for pragmatic reasons. It was not sufficiently distinct from the Stars and Stripes to prevent confusion on the battlefield. Equally, the Bonnie Blue should be removed from sight. This flag – a single star on a blue background, signifying the South united as one – became the first unofficial symbol of the Confederacy.

Of course, these flags and symbols signified slavery for four years only, during the War of Secession. A far more egregious symbol is the Stars and Stripes. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved,that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." It was this flag that flew during the infamous 3/5ths compromise within the Constitution by which a slave counted as 3/5ths of a human being for purposes of the political representation of Southern whites. Article IV Section 2, established the right of slave owners to pursue fugitive slaves, "No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." The Stars and Stripes not only presided as slavery was cemented into the fabric of American government and society, it flew over that slave nation for almost a century.

The Stars and Stripes symbolize an abomination that cannot be tolerated. It must be stripped from public buildings across the nation. Fortunately, the government has provided us with the correct procedure by which to dispose of erring flags. Section 4 (k) of the Federal Flag Code (Public Law 94-344) declares, "The flag, when…it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way preferably by burning." The American Legion also recommends disposing of a flag by burning it.

I am indebted to the historian Joseph R. Stromberg for pointing out an obvious problem with my proposal. The United States clearly needs a flag now and then – e.g. for the commencement of ball games, for NASA to plant should it ever land anywhere again.

The Union Jack, which flapped over the thirteen colonies, would be a natural contender were it not for the fact that Britain was largely responsible for the world's African slave trade to begin with. The rest of Europe offers few satisfactory substitutes. The Portuguese and Spanish jointly devastated much of the population of South America. The French are French. Germany…enough said. The Italians brutalized Ethiopia during World War II. Russia…enough said. And the who knows how much longer the nations of the former Soviet Union will survive. Only the Swiss, Finnish and Danes are left, and they seem determined to survive through maintaining a low-profile. The Far East is no better and African nations change too quickly. Australia began as a land of thugs, thieves and prostitutes.

There are only three nations in the world that are both politically correct and likely to accept the honor of having their flag adopted by the United States: Iceland, Greenland and Canada. Of these three, the obvious choice is Canada – my place of birth and residence – because we are all Americans up here anyway. Indeed, some years ago, a major magazine ran a contest meant to capture the essence of being Canadian. The contestants were asked to complete the sentence "As Canadian as…" along the lines of "As American as apple pie." The winner was "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances."

Canada has other obvious advantages. It never colonized or wiped out its Indian population. When Quebec threatens to secede, it holds a referendum, not a civil war. No one dislikes us; people even forget that Canadians served in Vietnam and remember instead our open border policy for draft dodgers. Indeed, spies around the world use fake Canadian passports to cross borders. Because Canada prides itself on being an ethnic mosaic, the flag will not offend minorities. Yet, since most Canadians are indistinguishable from ordinary boring white people, it will be welcomed by the majority as well. Even the songs that often accompany flag ceremonies won't need to be rewritten since the words "Stars and Stripes" and the "Maple Leaf" scan in much the same manner. The words "Grand Old Flag" can easily be replaced by "Bland Old Flag."

In short, there is no better symbol to flutter over the White House than the Maple Leaf – two vertical red stripes bordering a red maple leaf on a white background. The stem points down.

June 22, 2000

Wendy McElroy is author of The Reasonable Woman. See more of her work at and at her personal website.

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