The American Flag in Popular Culture


The American flag is a powerful symbol, frequently used to act as shorthand for American ideals and to reflect concepts associated with the country. It has appeared in countless movies and television shows to color one idea or another. Not all of its appearances are positive, of course; symbols work on many layers.
A brief overview of some of its more significant appearances and the methodology of its manipulations would take some time, so let’s get started.
Probably one of the easiest associations the American flag can be given is patriotism. Not jingoism – we’ll get to that – but the traditional feeling that your country is a good one, doing things as best it can. War movies are chockablock full of this sort of use.

Patton, 1970

from the IMDB

A biopic of General George S. Patton, the movie covers his military career during World War II. Obviously imagery is important in rallying the troops, and the general was a master of motivation. The speech George C. Scott delivers in front of the massive backdrop of Old Glory is amazing, but the movie is no hagiography. It is a well-regarded film, carefully researched and masterfully acted.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942

from the IMDB

Another biopic, but a very different one, this is a musical about the composer of the songs “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There,” George M. Cohan. Since it’s a musical, props are vitally important in providing exposition as quickly as possible. The flag makes numerous triumphant appearances, although not in color.

Superman II, 1980


Here is a great scene featuring the flag, as Superman, self-proclaimed proponent of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” returns the White House’s flag.
We’ll come back to Superman in pop culture later; he’s associated with the flag very frequently.


The Rocketeer, 1991

from the IMDB

This movie is set just before American involvement in World War II. Hotshot pilot Cliff Secord protects an experimental rocket-pack from the Nazis who want to steal it in order to have jet-propelled Stormtroopers razing Europe and America. It contains strong iconography and great photography, although just after this frame Cliff activates his rocket-pack and accidentally ignites the flag. Though it makes for a good scene cut, it’s an odd juxtaposition.

Captain America, 2011

from the IMDB

The iconography and patriotic impact of the Stars and Stripes doesn’t get more on point than this. America’s only Super-Soldier is used as a shill for selling war bonds, using his immense physical prowess and the proud colors of the flag to do so during the USO show he’s touring with. It’s for a good cause, sure, but he feels he’s not doing enough to move the war effort along as a public relations flak. At this place in the film, though, he’s doing it and doing his best at it, because that’s what the guy who represents all the little guys who want to help would do. Nothing is more American than that.

Rocky IV, 1985

from the IMDB

This is a blatant attempt to manipulate emotions in moviegoers, and it’s pretty effective in some ways. Unfortunately, Rocky Balboa is wearing the flag’s components as shorts, which is bad enough, but is also using an actual flag as a towel, undercutting the sentiment rather sharply.

Tootsie, 1982

from the IMDB

At this point, the flag is just a backdrop to help make the red dress more visually dramatic. It’s almost an afterthought, albeit a carefully crafted one.

Easy Rider, 1969

from the IMDB

Here the flag is being used ironically, in a movie that has a very cynical view of what late 60s America had to offer. The rider of the motorcycle pictured in the poster is even nicknamed Captain America, but his search for the true freedom America represents is punctuated by violence, larceny, smuggling, and eventually disillusionment and death. The freedom to follow your own dreams clashes with what the movie depicts as typical Americans, and no one, in the end, wins.

The Stars and Stripes also feature prominently in songs. Country-western songs tend to celebrate the flag and those who love it, while other styles may lean more toward expressing the sentiments the flag stands for; that is, freedom of expression. Several protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s reference the flag in lyrics or while being performed on stage, and the tradition continues today.

Art gives the flag a prominent place, sometimes to celebrate, sometimes to question. Many famous paintings have the flag as a significant element, if not the focal point.

One of the most famous paintings depicting the flag is Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, painted in 1851.


A beautiful image, although with an inaccurate flag; the one shown here is a contemporary version that wasn’t designed at the time of the crossing. Still, there are many more artistic licenses taken with this subject, so we’ll let it slide.

The Surrender of General Cornwallis, by John Trumbull in 1820, seems to have a similar issue with its flag.


It looks like the same “Betsy Ross” style flag, but the star in the center verifies that it is actually the Cowpens flag, which was designed in 1781, before the war ended, so at least it has the advantage of being chronologically accurate.


Flagpoles are a popular way of incorporating art and a living flag.


The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia is an iconic example of this. Based on the famous photograph of the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, this massive installation sports a sixty-foot flagpole being planted by six thirty-two-foot tall Marines. It is one of a very few sites where the flag is flown twenty-four hours a day, per special order of President John F. Kennedy.

One of the most enduring places the flag has been utilized is in that quintessential American art form, the comic book.

Early comics were not at all shy about displaying the flag, perhaps unsurprisingly since they debuted largely around the beginning of World War II. Many of the early artists and writers of the new publications were immigrants from Europe, where they had witnessed Hitler’s rise to power, and they were eager to present their insights. Superman and Batman personally made a point to sell war bonds when they weren’t punching the Axis powers back across the ocean.


Or, in this case, hitting them with baseballs.

Of course, as mentioned previously, Captain America was literally wearing the flag’s colors and using its iconography, so he would definitely leap at the chance to knock Hitler on his backside, as seen on this comic cover.


from the Grand Comics Database

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Superman has long been strongly associated with American values. He represents something of the idealized immigrant: Someone who comes to America (less specifically, Earth) to make a new life for themselves, who works hard and adopts his new country’s (planet’s) ways, and who becomes a role model for what the American Dream can be for everyone.

In recent years, this has been explored more thoroughly than in the past. Superman has delved into his prior heritage and integrated aspects of his ancestry into his life and work, reflecting the cultural diversity becoming so ubiquitous in American life today. Still, through it all, he remains a Midwestern farm boy, raised with middle-class American values of hard work and honesty.


Captain America is a different kind of American success story. A sickly youth who wanted to join the war effort, he volunteered for an experiment that transformed him into a physically perfect human specimen. The triumph of science and ingenuity was a common theme in superhero comics, but this origin explicitly placed Steve Rogers as the recipient of the greatest medical and military technology America could offer.

from Best of Marvel Comics

image19But Captain America is specifically a symbol of America, and Steve Rogers hasn’t always agreed with what he’s told that means. From time to time he has even given up the uniform to rediscover what the American spirit actually is.

Because, for Steve Rogers, the representation of America isn’t inherent in the flag, or the uniform, or the devotion to duty. America is freedom and compassion, simple and straightforward. If he has to go against what the rules say, to do the right thing, the rules are wrong. Captain America: Civil War has a great speech which clearly expresses that philosophy:

[…]”Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, *you* move’.”

An excellent sentiment to wrap up our brief overview. More specialized investigations may lie ahead.




City Flags of Note – And Why You Should Note Them

Just like countries, many cities across the world sport flags. Some of these are resplendent banners that portray an aspect of their city with dignity and clarity. Some of these are dreadful errors. A few examples of intriguing city flags follow.

We’ll start with some of the better ones, in no particular order.

Buffalo, New York


Now that’s a flag! Stars you can see on any number of flags, but lightning bolts are awesome. Throw in a pleasant old-style ship and lighthouse on the seal, and everyone in Buffalo has more to be proud of than just wings.

Nantucket, Massachusetts


Any flag with an animal on it is automatically pretty good. An animal that is also a giant whale is automatically even better, even if it is representing the city’s former reliance on the whaling industry. Clearly this whale is so over that, you guys. Look at his happy smile. Plus, the nonstandard flag shape demonstrates that Nantucket doesn’t feel they need to conform to The Man’s old-fashioned dependence on rectangles.

Jacksonville, Florida


Ordinarily, words on flags are a big design flaw, but Jacksonville makes up for it by the completely awesome Andrew Jackson on horseback in front of the rising sun. The colors are great, and very evocative of Florida, so we’ll give the “you are here” branding a pass. You do you, Jacksonville.

Baltimore, Maryland


Check that out. A great combination of colors in a fantastic pattern (the coat of arms of Baron Baltimore) with a blazon of the Battle Monument in the center. One hundred percent class; Baltimore doesn’t have to prove anything to any of you.

Easton, Pennsylvania


Fantastic! An inversion of the Stars and Stripes, this flag supposedly dates back to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Easton on July 8th. It may be one of the early designs of the United States flag, although it has been pointed out that those designs at the time generally had fifteen stripes and stars. Also, eight-pointed stars instead of the more common five. Still, it’s a great design.

Richmond, Virginia


Good use of the red, white, and blue; nice circle of stars; dramatic silhouette of a man poling a bateau down the James River. Simple and effective. Everyone is happy.

Wichita, Kansas


Simple and symbolic: The blue circle represents happiness and contentment, with the Hogan symbol in the center representing a permanent home. The red and white rays alternating represent the freedom to come and go as you please, reflective of Wichita’s status as the Air Capital of the World. You didn’t know that? The city hosts several aircraft design and production facilities.

St. Louis, Missouri


Strikingly different from most flags with its wavy lines (representing the joining of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers) and bold red field, plus an attractive fleur-di-lis representing the state’s French heritage. Simple and effective, like a flag ought to be. St. Louis could be giving lessons to some of the following cities.

Bridgeport, Connecticut


This is pretty nearly the laziest possible design for a flag. You already have a seal, so just throw it on a background. Done. Oh, wait, put the name of the city on there. Yes, it’s already on the seal, but trust us, no one who sees a seal on a flag is going to look at it even a little bit. May as well use some of that vast expanse of blue for something. Stitch on the name of the state, too, and you can ensure that schoolchildren who come visit the city council buildings on their field trips will be too dazed to run around and shriek at everything.

Gainesville, Florida


All right, we apologize. This is the laziest possible design. It’s even a white flag, so as little effort went into this as could be. Sorry, Bridgeport, we were lashing out.

At least it’s a pretty neat train?

Tampa, Florida


The other approach isn’t always successful, either. Clearly the Tampa Flag Commission made an effort, but after what we’re guessing were twenty-two months of debate and discussion and “donations,” they would up with this extremely busy banner.

We like the fact that it’s not rectangular … always nice, but so many colors! So many little strips of color! Stars on stripes! A seal managing to somehow break up any bit of flair the flag itself might have eked out!

Let’s see what they tried to evoke with the symbolism: hmm, well … designed by one F. Grant Whitney, so, no committee … okay, includes an “H” and a “T” for Hillsborough County and Tampa, respectively; nothing about a “K”―although there is clearly one there if we’re playing that game.

Colors and elements are derived from the various countries that helped settle and establish the area: United States (red, white, blue, stars, stripes); United Kingdom (um, red, white, blue, stars, stripes―but angled ones this time); France (red, white … some kind of pattern seems to be developing … blue); Spain (gold, red, vertical stripes); and Italy (red, white, green). Very inclusionary, Mr. Whitney, but … ugh.

Detroit, Michigan


We feel a little bad for picking on Detroit, here, because―again―so much effort clearly went into it. Maybe too much effort. Four quadrants, all with their own device, plus a seal in the center. Well, let’s sort it out.

The seal is actually a pretty nice one, representing the city’s nearly complete destruction in the fire of 1805, with the Latin inscriptions “Spearamus Meliora,” meaning “We Hope for Better Things,” and “Resurget Cineribus,” meaning “It Will Rise From the Ashes.” The figure on the left is weeping over the devastation, while the one on the right is gesturing to the rebuilt city. Powerful and meaningful, and apparently the seal was redesigned in 2000 to be less busy, so they were trying, we will give them that.

The quadrants are for France (lower-left corner), England (upper-right corner), and the United States (upper-left and lower-right), all representing countries that controlled the fort that became Detroit in the past. A good sentiment, but more a coat of arms than a flag, really.

We’re feeling generous after breaking it down; feel free to copy and paste this section back into the top part under the better examples. But, let that be a lesson to future city flag designers: If you need to have a guide explain each part of your flag to onlookers, you might want to pare it down a bit.

Something Different, Perhaps?

Flags are easy, right? A couple of colors on a rectangle, maybe a quick symbol … call it a day and hit the links. Sure, if all you’re looking for is to disappoint everyone in your entire country. Why not shake things up a little, like these visionaries did?

We’re actually going to limit this a bit to just the most unique symbols on flags, rather than the most striking designs, like, say, Nepal’s.


(That’s the whole thing, by the way. There’s no white beyond the blue. It’s the only non-quadrilateral flag of a country in the world.)

Instead, we’ll just take a look at a few flags sporting unique symbols. We’ll start with Albania, because, well, look at it:


A two-headed eagle? Yeah, nobody’s going to kick Albania around the schoolyard with that for a flag. Technically, it’s not quite unique―it’s a common heraldry motif denoting an empire, Ivan the Terrible had it on his coat of arms, the Principality of Montenegro has it on its flag―but it’s so awesome we’ll allow it here.

How about Bhutan?


Druk the thunder dragon! Yeah! Note, the dragon is holding a jewel in each of its claws. These symbolize the wealth and security of its people. The orange is for the Buddhist founders, and the yellow is civil and temporal authority as embodied by the Dragon King. Druk is technically supposed to be green in early renditions, but it was apparently a very pale green; he’s now white, symbolizing purity of thought.

Kenya also celebrates its heritage with its flag:


Very striking and a great use of iconography. The black is for the people of Kenya, the red for the blood spilled in their battles for independence, and the green is for the country’s natural wealth and beauty. Weaponry is not uncommon on flags, but the traditional Maasai weapons of short spear and cowhide shield are seen nowhere else.

Weaponry, as mentioned, is on other flags. Here’s a very distinct use on Mozambique’s flag:


Here the colors are similar in use to Kenya’s, with the addition of yellow for the country’s mineral wealth. The Marxist star is for, well, Marxism, but also internationalism. The book is to signify the importance of education, and the hoe symbolizes the country’s agriculture. The AK-47 signifies defense and vigilance.

Gibraltar is really more of a state flag, but despite our getting all technical with Albania, we’re going to include it and the next one purely on the strength of the design. We don’t think you’ll be too upset.


Pretty boss, right? Two-thirds white bar, one-third red bar, red castle, and a gold key overlapping the bottom red bar. Signifying, naturally, the British territory’s status as the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. The castle is a symbolic representation of a fortress, but doesn’t actually resemble any in the area.

Not quite a British territory―the term is Crown Dependency, which means it’s basically self-ruling, but the British government is ultimately responsible for them―the Isle of Man:


Now, that’s how you do a flag. Giant swath of color so as to not distract from the triskelion running across it. An old, old symbol used by the Norse, Celts, and Mycenaeans, among others, it’s not entirely clear why it’s on the Isle of Man’s flag. But, while it’s there, the three legs represent the Sun, the Seat of Power, and Life.

The island nation of Sri Lanka didn’t have any hesitation when it came to deciding what goes on their flag: Pure Awesomeness in the form of a lion wielding a sword.


Easy choice. There’s more symbolism here, naturally: the two stripes to the lion’s left represent the Muslim population (green) and the Buddhist population (orange), while the four leaves surrounding the lion represent the four Buddhist concepts of benevolence, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

We’ll finish off here with a thematically related flag, even though we’re sort of backsliding into non-country flags. An Orblast is an area in Russia sort of equivalent to a province or region: larger than a state, but not independent. This flag is for Yaroslavl Orblast:


And it just doesn’t get any better than that. We like to think of this bear and Sri Lanka’s lion as being best friends.

The Thin Blue Line

thin-blue-line-flagYou’ve seen it cropping up the past few months on everything from flags and garden banners to hats and license plates – thin blue line merchandise has flooded the marketplace as people scramble to show our brave law enforcement officers their respect and pride for their service and sacrifices in the wake of the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers this past July.

But what is the thin blue line? The emblem, which features a black horizontal top stripe, a single blue line running horizontally through the center and a bottom black horizontal stripe is representative of three things: the public (the black stripe on top), the criminal element (the bottom black stripe) and law enforcement (the blue stripe in the middle). The phrase is analogous to the term the Thin Red Line, which was a military action by the British Sutherland Highlanders 93rd (Highland) Regiment at the Battle of Balaklava on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War. During this particular battle, a correspondent for the British newspaper, the Times, wrote that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British regiment’s base of operations at Balaklava but the “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” of the 93rd. This was condensed into “the thin red line”, and the phrase became symbolic of British composure during battle.

Simply put, law enforcement is the barrier, or thin blue line, that protects law-abiding civilians from lawless criminals. is honored to support the men and women of law enforcement by offering a wide variety of Thin Blue Line merchandise.

Nice Try, Early American Flag Designers

You can’t say they didn’t make any effort. There are plenty of designs that didn’t make the official cut, although even the official flag has been modified twenty-six different times. Mostly, of course, to denote new states added to the canton as stars, which always necessitates a redesign of the pattern, some more successful than others.

Rather than a step-by-step showcase of how the field has changed and how it’s likely to change again if new states are ratified, let’s take a look at some of the more exotic offerings our forefathers were planning on for the flag.

We’ll start with a classic: the original “Grand Union” flag, called the “Continental Colors” as well. It has the basic elements: thirteen alternating red and white stripes, and a canton in the upper left hand corner at the hoist, but the star field is not yet a feature. The Union Jack resides there instead, as this was a common feature for Great Britain’s colonies to sport.

Other similar variations on the theme include the “Betsy Ross” flag, although, honestly it’s not clear that she ever had anything to do with the flag––the story that she had sewn it wasn’t presented until nearly a century later.

Definitely great, though. The Cowpens flag is almost the same thing, except with twelve stars in the circle and one in the center; it was carried over the Battle of Cowpens by the 3rd Maryland Regiment and is depicted in the famous painting The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald MacNeal Willard.

The Great Star Flag has twenty stars, arranged in a star shape:


Which is awesome, but didn’t last long, only flying over the Capitol Dome for six months or so, before more states came in so it had to change again. A later attempt to arrange the stars in a star used different-sized stars and looks, arguably, even cooler:


Fitting twenty-six stars in an inverted star shape, it lasted eight years.

It should be pointed out that none of these designs were technically ever federally-mandated designs: Congress didn’t designate an actual pattern to the stars on the canton until the forty-eight star flag in 1912. In fact, the colors of the flag weren’t standardized until 1934, which is something you would think even Congress would have gotten around to sooner.

While those are interesting, today’s blog consumer demands more. What about some of the flags that never even made it to non-official status? Glad you asked, straw reader! Let’s look at some now!

Here’s the Brandywine flag, named for Captain Robert Wilson’s company in the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment, after it was carried in the Battle of Brandywine in 1777:


Yes, it’s square with an entire other flag in the canton. Bold, indeed!

The Green Mountain Boys flag, now being used by the Vermont National Guard regimental unit:


The stars are arranged in a “natural pattern,” not in a “sewn on while on horseback” pattern like you might have first thought.

George Rogers Clark, the “Conqueror of the Northwest,” had his own flag that was a contender:


Pretty striking, but perhaps a bit of an eyestrain? It’s probably not even actually the colors he marched under. Some scholars say the red and green may represent the wampum presented by a Piankeshaw chief, symbolic of the local Wabash River.

How about the Guilford Courthouse flag?

Well, it’s probably not even really a flag, technically speaking; at least, never meant to be presented as an actual consideration for a national flag. It was common practice for soldiers and sailors to make a flag that was evocative of the nation’s flag but distinct enough to use as a regimental or company flag. The reversed colors, the shape, the elongated canton, the eight-pointed stars―all point to this being exactly what was going on here. Too bad, too; it’s definitely a memorable design.

The Easton flag, now being used to represent the city of Easton, Pennsylvania:


A very classy, inverted design. This was used as the company flag for Captain Abraham Horn during the War of 1812, and some think it might date from that era rather than the frequently claimed 1776, hoisted at the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8th.

There was no shortage of fascinating designs provided by the vexillologists of our past. As the country’s needs evolve, perhaps the flags of our future will be just as intriguing.

I Claim This Land … The Flags of Global Colonization

The world as we know it today is astonishingly different from what it was over five hundred years ago. The Age of Colonization was a groundbreaking time of discovery, one where unexpected, dramatic (and occasionally traumatic) voyages changed cultures and ecology across the globe.


Main sea trade routes discovered during the Age of Exploration.

Starting with the largest naval powers of Europe (Portugal, Spain, and England), explorers set out to discover valuable assets. Spices, furs, timber, rich fabrics, rare scents, and more unusual goods were sought all over the world. There was a race, so to speak, to seek out and claim the most valuable territories and their treasures. These colonies enriched and lent value to their conquering empires.

Throughout the Age of Exploration, the globe was marked with the flags of European occupation, some firmly held, others hotly disputed.

The Spread of Empires

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the map of the world was a pattern of Imperial and Royal flags. Some of these can still be seen in the standards of now independent countries or states. Indeed, it did not matter if a place was already inhabited. As long as it was unclaimed by a European power, the land was fair game.

The energy, curiosity, and rampant greed of the time makes for fascinating storytelling. Anyone who got hooked on the Showtime television series “The Tudors” can attest to this fact.

Ambition and Early Invention: The Portuguese


The modern Portuguese flag.

The Portuguese were great traders and merchants, and were always seeking intriguing and exotic merchandise. Some of the most valuable commodities were caravanned across the Sahara Desert at great expense––salt and gold, as well as ivory, rich cloth, and slaves.

Desert travel was dangerous, expensive, and time consuming, so the Portuguese began exploring alternate routes––less harrowing ones––in order to make better profits. With the Sahara covering 3.629 million square miles, the option to go around it by land was impractical, but a sea route was highly desirable.

Exploring Africa under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese established lucrative trading ports along the Atlantic coast. Small pockets of Portuguese influence began appearing on the Arabian Peninsula, India, and, later, Brazil. They also invented an elegant new cargo ship, one that was nimble, swift, and elegant: the caravel.

It was through these travels that they discovered the Azores and Madeira, destinations that are still exotic and beautiful to this day.


The Azores: A Portuguese colony.

Spain: Gold, Silver, and Conquest


The modern Spanish flag.

Christopher Columbus’ famous journey marked the emergence of Spain as a major sea power. It is arguably one of the single most important journeys ever made, because it marks the discovery of the New World. Others had reached there beforehand, but none had planted a flag and claimed the land in the name of their sovereign. Spain was the first, starting with that initial landing in the Bahamas. From there, it claimed the lion’s share of South America (excluding Brazil, of course).

Spain kept a tight grip on its overseas colonies for their vast riches of gold and silver. It is for this reason that the Age of Exploration and the Age of Piracy have considerable overlap, especially in the Caribbean. While they each jealously guarded their colonies, there were considerable clashes between the Spanish, French, and English, and much dispute over ownership, taxation, and jurisdiction in these areas.

In red, Spanish colonies claimed during the Age of Discovery.

The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age

After repelling the Spanish Armada and its failed attempt at invasion in 1588, England emerged as the greatest sea power of its time. Great riches poured into the coffers of King Henry VII, allowing him to set up great economic and political stability. The New World––North America, this time––furnished the empire with timber, fish, and rare furs. India was a wellspring of lush fabrics and rare spices.

Though this collection is from a later time, the evidence of British colonization is reflected in numerous flags around the world. The echoes of colonial history still linger to this day.

The rule and excess of the court of King Henry VIII is partially due to the ready availability of so much wealth. And, while his reign makes for interesting reading for both his scandalous love life and religious reforms, he also set the stage for his successor, one of the most powerful women ever to rule England.

Elizabeth I never married, yet was not deterred by her single status. She singlehandedly guided her country into a new age of enlightenment, fueled by colonial riches and bolstered by the growth of intellectualism. It is peculiar to think that the availability of pepper and beaver pelts allowed for the emergence of Shakespeare, but, without these foreign riches, it is unlikely that he would have achieved the immortality he has in the literary world.

Antiquity vs. the Modern World

Today you can see how the marks of older inhabitation have molded former colonies into modern independent nations. Some still carry badges of their former colony flags in their own heraldry. Others display distinct attitudes and political systems that hearken back to their original colonial status.

Either way, the flags of colonization have transformed their locations and have been reinvented in fascinating new ways. Though new ways thrive in these places, the flags planted in their soil have left indelible marks in history and in the modern cultures that thrive there today.

The First Official National Flag: A Historical Debate

It seems like a simple quest, searching for the oldest national flag in existence. In reality, the actual historical trail gets much murkier. Legends, national heroes, personal standards, and religious visions all figure into a much more complex picture.

Just to make everything more interesting, the ancient tradition of heraldry, both personal and family, complicates the issue. From the foggiest scraps of historical records emerge the usage of flags and symbols to identify people and tribes. Official adoption of those symbols by larger groups comes much later, and it is harder to trace the actual beginning of a flag as national identity.


Contender #1: The Dannebrog

One version of history is easy enough to accept. The Dannebrog, the national flag of Denmark, has been in continuous usage since a battle in 1219 AD.

The legend is a little richer in romantic details. On June 15th, King Waldemar II defeated a force of Estonians with a banner that descended from heaven above (or so the story goes). It is interesting to see this legend falls into the formulaic vision of “under this flag you shall be victorious,” which was a common religious metaphor of the age. With a strange twist, though: “cross from the sky” type miracles were much more common in the Iberian peninsula, where clashes between Christians and Moors were not unusual.

This was the Dannebrog, the flag of the Danes, or simply “the red flag.” Simple and elegant in appearance, it features a brilliant white cross against a red background. Through the course of history, this particular design was also used by the Portuguese Order of Christ and by the Knights Hospitaller from the Baltic states (both crusading orders).


Contender #2: The Saltire of Scotland

The white-on-blue X-shaped cross of Scotland is intensely familiar to most people, if only as part of the combined heraldry that makes up the modern Union Jack. It can also be seen in the provincial flag of Nova Scotia (a.k.a. New Scotland) in Canada.

Much like the Scots themselves, the history of the Saltire itself is contentious and contrary. What is documentable and historically accurate is that the Saltire has been in continuous usage since 832 AD, in one way or another. And, much like the Dannebrog, the Saltire has its roots in an ecstatic vision.

The night before a huge battle in 832 AD , the Pictish King Angus II was preparing for a clash with the English King Aethelstan. In the midst of planning and strategy, Angus was struck by a vision of St. Andrew (soon to become the patron saint of Scotland). The martyred saint promised victory for the outnumbered Picts, and the dream bolstered King Angus II’s faith and hope in the coming battle.

The next day, Angus’ troops were struck by the vision on a massive white Saltire blazoned against a brilliant blue sky. Heartened by the omen, the Picts vanquished their enemies, and the Cross of St. Andrew began its association with Scotland.

Which One Is Older?

The difference here is subtle. The Saltire simply is older. But, with its inclusion in the Union Jack in 1603, with the union of England and Scotland, Scotland is no longer its own independent territory. Inclusion has done nothing to nullify the rich, bloody, and fascinating history of Scotland, but its inclusion means that it is not an independent state. The Danish flag has been used continuously to represent a single, discrete national entity for over 700 years.

Either way, both flags have impressive and heroic pedigrees. But there are other contenders with equally impressive historical lines.


An Interesting Contender …

The flag of Austria.

Though its roots are in a dynastic family and not an ecstatic vision, the flag of Austria is both very old and very rich with its own legend. Medieval times were brutal to say the least, and the origin of this banner is nothing short of gory.

The tale begins in 1189 AD during the Siege of Acre (in modern Israel today). Duke Leopold V of Austria was entrenched in a particularly vicious and bloody series of conflicts. When he finally could lay down his sword, his pristine white surcoat was completely drenched in the blood of his foes. On removing his sword belt, a single wide white swathe was revealed: a design so striking that Leopold adopted it as his personal heraldry.

Though used continuously in one form or another (mostly as a family crest), it was finally adopted as the national flag of Austria in 1230 AD. So, while being extremely old in its inception, its official usage came much later than both the flags of Denmark and Scotland.

Old Flags, Older Traditions

Simple designs last the longest and remain the clearest in people’s memories. It makes sense for a couple reasons. Clear color blocking schemes like straight lines and crosses are rudimentary enough for even illiterate peasants to recognize and replicate.

It is for this reason that the legends––the spoken tales––of these flags stretch further back through time than the written records we use to authenticate true historical records. Regardless of their origin story, each flag has an intriguing past with both practical and mystical aspects flavoring the tale.

Remembering September 11, 2001

9-11The world as we knew it was forever shattered on the morning of September 11, 2001, when three commercial airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda members struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC in coordinated terror attacks. Another hijacked airliner crashed in a Pennsylvania field after the flight’s crew and passengers attacked the terrorists in an attempt to take back the plane. All on board each plane were killed that day, along with thousands of innocent civilians and emergency responders on the ground and in the buildings.

Fifteen years later, our hearts and prayers continue to go out to those who perished and those who were affected on that fateful day. Below is a list of broadcasts commemorating the 15th Anniversary of September 11, 2001. All times are Eastern. We will never forget.

9/11 Memorial Livestream — The livestream will begin at 8:40 a.m. on Sept. 11 at Stay connected and join others in sharing how you are commemorating the 15th anniversary by using #Honor911 on social media.

FOX News Channel 9/11 15th Anniversary coverage — Full-day coverage beginning at 6 am.

Washington Journal: Remembering 9/11 — Sept. 11 at 7am on CSPAN.

Sunday TODAY on NBC— Sept. 11 at 8am

White House Moment of Silence for 9/11 — Sept. 11 at 8:30am on CSPAN.

9/11 Ceremony in New York City — Live — Sept. 11 at 8:35am on CSPAN.

9/11 Ceremony at the Pentagon — Live — Sept. 11 at 9:30am on CSPAN.

9/11 Ceremony in Shanksville, PA — Live — Sept. 11 at 10am on CSPAN.

9/11 Ceremony in New York City — Live — Sept. 11 at 10:30am on CSPAN.

2016 National Anthem Sing Along – Friday, September 9, 2016

Patriots, mark your calendars – and warm up those vocal cords! Join the American Public Education Foundation from your home, school, or business for the 2016 National Anthem Sing Along on Friday, September 9, 2016 at 10 a.m. PST and 1 p.m. EST.

This is the largest National Anthem sing-a-long in the country and the third annual simultaneous sing-a-long event created by the APEF-9/12 Generation Project, whose focus is to bring students together in the same way the world came together on September 12, 2001. Students from across our great nation will learn about the words and meaning of the flag and sing the first stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

The organization is hoping to beat its record of over 277,000 singers so make sure to sign up now with all of your family, friends, classmates, and colleagues to participate in this historic event! Registration is free at

And just in case you want to brush up on the lyrics before the sing-a-long, here’s the first stanza, so you can practice!

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Why Being Patriotic Means So Much

Orson Welles once said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”


Such a truth exists in that statement, as it is only by choosing to connect with the people around us that we are able to experience a fulfilling existence. In America, that is done by expressing a deep affection for our country, by being patriotic.

There are certain times, particularly when tragedy strikes, that we see people come together in support of America. It is during these times that their patriotism shines through. The question is, why are people proud of where they come from and, as it pertains to America, why does being patriotic matter to people in the first place?

Let’s go deeper into what makes patriotism such a necessity for so many people.


A Sense of Belonging

On the surface, needing to belong may sound ugly, but the truth is, it’s human nature to long for social interaction, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. The reason that we need this is because it’s the only way to achieve personal growth, to advance past where we are. Having a sense of belonging involves more than just being acquainted with other people. It is being accepted and supported by other members of a group.

How Being Patriotic Is Instilled at an Early Age

When those who grew up in the United States think about their younger days, one of the memories that inevitably comes to mind is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This was often done before many of us knew what it meant or why we were saying it in the first place. As we grew up and learned more, we gradually became aware of what it meant to salute our flag and be an American citizen.


Growing in Our Patriotism

Everything we learned, from how our country came to exist, how our freedom was fought for and won, and the significance of the Founding Fathers, to how current events play into that history, made us more enlightened about patriotism. Eventually, we knew that we were saluting a flag with 13 stripes representing our original 13 colonies and 50 stripes representing each state in our union. The red, white, and blue became more than just colors – they were symbols of what we should strive to be.

Why We Need to Be Patriotic

“United we stand, divided we fall.” This phrase and variations of it have been attributed to many sources, from the ancient Greek fable-weaver Aesop, to Founding Father John Dickinson, to the New Testament of the Bible (Matthew 12:25 and Luke 11:17). While it may be difficult to pin down the original source of this quote, its meaning is abundantly clear – not only our failure, but our very survival, depends on working together. Failing to do so will inevitably lead to us paying the ultimate price.

So, being patriotic is more than just something we should do on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veteran’s Day. In fact, few of us take those days as seriously as we should, but patriotism is something we all need year-round. Together we will accomplish more, and America will be more successful. Patriotism gives us a sense of belonging, a place where can all fit, regardless of our individual backgrounds.

Patriotism All the Time

Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of being patriotic, never wavering from their belief in what they envisioned for our country. We tend to cling to our patriotism in times of great need – after 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings, and other acts of violence. It is during these times that being patriotic crosses all political, racial, and cultural lines, bringing us together as one people. However, if we are to fulfill our potential as a free nation, patriotism should be a part of our everyday lives.


Too often we are divided based on small differences among ourselves rather than coming together based on what we have in common. The American flag is the ultimate symbol of patriotism and is a great representation of what are. The 13 stripes represent all 13 original colonies. Each individual colony was different from the next, but, ultimately, they all became unified to become part of something greater than what they were by themselves.