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Run It Up the Flagpole
Flags have been in the news a lot this year. I’m thinking about the American flag in particular and the taking of a knee during the national anthem. Some folks get pretty het up about that kind of thing, finding disrespect even if the protest is done in a sad and solemn way. They take flags very seriously, so much so that some are willing to lay down their lives for their flag.

So I don’t want to start any fights here. I honor the sensitivity of flag worshippers, but full disclosure: I don’t care that much about flag reverence. It seems extreme to me, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to pieces of cloth versus flesh and blood humans. I am here to examine flags as a broad concept, okay? I am simply exploring my own vexillophilia, not rattling your cage.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that there are a lot of near duplications in flag design. Three simple stripes is a popular motif. The stripes might run either horizontally or vertically, and in most cases they are of equal size. The French, the Russians, and the Dutch, for example, feature different arrangements of this pattern in red, white, and blue. I can’t help wondering if these nationalities are just as willing to die for their flags as some Americans are. If one isn’t paying attention, one might end up dying for another country’s flag.

There are also some geographical themes that stand out. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland all display simple crosses with one vertical and one horizontal element. Georgia and Switzerland are also in this group, but the Norse connection is what catches your eye. It’s unanimous up there, and even England (an unofficial member of the Norse club) uses the St. George’s Cross flag (which predates the Union Jack) as its standard in sporting events. We could call this similarity a coincidence or evidence of a some dark, menacing conspiracy. I’ll let you decide.

Africa is heavy on red, green, and gold in its color schemes, and suns are a regular feature across the tropics. Five-pointed stars are everywhere (with some accompanied by crescents), but there is only one six-pointed version. While the three-equal-stripes pattern is dominant, many of these feature the addition of crests or emblems. Mexico’s, for instance, is an Italian flag with the eagle-on-a-cactus-with-a-snake coat of arms in the middle. There are many examples of this design style, but I confess that I find it a little disappointing. It’s like the flag designers gave up on fundamental symbolism and just went with something they had lying around the studio. Again, I’m not looking to start a fight.

I must say that I like the American flag. It’s homemade, according to the story, and it has a pretty clear layer of symbology. The red, white, and blue scheme is a nice one, though perhaps I am showing a color prejudice for that combination that seems common in the northern latitudes. I also like the fact that it changes every time a state is added. We may see Puerto Rico get shuffled in any time now, bringing us to a total of 51 stars. It’s an unusual design, too, so I give it points for originality. This could be national pride speaking, but I think that it’s an unusually attractive banner.

I am not alone in my admiration. Old Glory seems to have spawned its share of, if not imitators, then derivative designs. Chile, Cuba, and Liberia all have nice flags that seem to have sprung directly from Betsy Ross’ creation. Malawi’s flag takes ours and puts an Islamic star and crescent where the field of stars sits on ours. That’s a nice touch.

That said, the Stars and Stripes is not my favorite. It’s in the top ten (which is not hard given the large number of banners that fall into the “godawful” category), but not in the top three. My preferences for that honor are strictly a matter of taste, of course, and I try not to let politics (or racism, for that matter) play a part in my choices.

I put Morocco’s flag near the top because it is simple and potent. That green-on-red color combination gives me a mainline buzz, and the Seal of Solomon pentagram at dead center is an anchor of credibility. Class all the way.

Yemen (poor Yemen) is also high on my list. It features the classic three-equal-stripes pattern I’ve mentioned (it’s a classic for a reason), but it gets that basic design absolutely perfect. For starters, the stripes run horizontally rather than vertically. To my eye, that arrangement is the more stable and pleasing of the two — the way you’d want your country to be. Most important, though, they got the very best colors and sequence for this beauty. Red, white, black. Clean, strong, gorgeous.

I’d be proud to have either of those two as the symbol of my country (although I wouldn’t die for either). My choice for number one, though, has got to be Sri Lanka. It is unique in practically every category: design, color, symbology, goofiness. It’s got a lion (somehow holding a sword!). It’s got bo leaves on it, and they represent the Buddhist principles of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The color choices are meant (I am told) to include other religions and ethnicities.

Better yet, it doesn’t really look like a flag. More like a wall-hanging designed to encourage contemplation. I can’t find any nationalism in it either, unless it’s pride in their yearning for gentle inclusiveness. I might not die for such things, but I could be talked into living for them.

Sri Lanka, I salute you!
Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon