A New Flag for Iraq

The Iraqi governing council had an "artistic competition" for the design of a new flag. (Parenthetically, asking for artistic advice in such matters is dangerous, or just plain foolish. Remember when Ford Motor Company asked poet Marianne Moore to suggest some names for the car they would eventually name Edsel? Her recommendations: Utopian Turtletop, Andante con Moto, Mongoose Civique. Thank God she was a bona-fide artist, or she might have come up with something absurd!) The flag they adopted is unpopular, although I must admit that no matter what flag they adopted, some would have objected. Flags symbolize things, and to some Iraqis, the blue stripes on the flag reminded them of the Israeli flag. Horrors!

What it reminded me of is boxing, and a possible means of preventing wars in the future. Huh?

OK, so what’s the connection? Well, a flag, however ugly or beautiful, signifies that the person or group or ship or whatever flying it belongs to, works for, or represents a particular government. In battle, your flag is a rallying ground. It also serves to show your enemies where you are, just as their flag tells you where to aim. In other words, it shows your enemies where to point their weapons. A ship of war, for example, flying its national flag, is a prime target for an enemy. So why fly the flag?

There’s a sort of gentlemen’s agreement here. You don’t sneak up on your enemy under the guise of a neutral flag, or, heaven forbid, under HIS flag. That just isn’t done! It’s like those silly rules in boxing: no hitting below the belt, no kneeing, or kicking. No gouging. Why not?

The aim of the boxer is to give his opponent a concussion. A knockout is a concussion of the brain, and every boxer who enters the ring wishes this for his opponent, although he may settle for a broken or bloodied nose, black eye, multiple bruises, etc. A concussion is a serious neurological trauma, yet in striving to inflict it upon your enemy you carefully avoid hitting below the belt, kicking, gouging, etc. Whatever for? Do you want to hurt the guy or not? Of course you do! You want to give him a concussion, for Pete’s sake!

So in warfare, you want to kill as many of the enemy as possible. That’s why you shoot at him and drop bombs on him. Yet you carefully do so under your flag, so he will be able to spot you and shoot at you and drop bombs on you. Your soldiers wear an identifiable uniform; so do his. Yes, of course, you want him dead, but you certainly don’t want to be ignoble about it, or ungentlemanly! A ruthless killer, by all means, but a good sport!

My unsolicited, and no doubt unwelcome, advice for the Iraqis — and everyone else: forget about the flag. Forget about the "rules" of warfare. If an enemy wants to shoot you, make him find you. Wear a uniform identical to his; give weapons to little children and old ladies; station the troops in a barracks marked "hospital." In war, unlike boxing, where even the loser can earn millions, coming in second isn’t so great, even if everyone hails your nobility of spirit and sense of fair play. You know: if soldiers refused to wear uniforms, and carry flags, war could become so confusing and deadly that it just might be impossible to wage! Enlistments might drop off when potential enlistees learned that, on the battlefield, they wouldn’t be able to tell friend from foe.

Listen, Iraqis: if your new flag offends you because it (remotely) resembles that of Israel, scrap it, and, if you just must have a flag, adopt the Israeli flag! Wear Israeli uniforms! Apply, as Israel, to the U.S. for some of that multi-billion dollar aid! Are the people who made the rules standing shoulder to shoulder with you, getting shot at? Then forget about their rules. All’s fair, isn’t it?

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.