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Nations and Flags – the story behind these national symbols

         by Martin Ederer
          lag Day and Independence Day
      Fcelebrations in the United
      States provide a good occasion to
      explore what national flags mean.
      They are obviously important sym-
      bols, so much so that any attempts
      to demean or desecrate them gener-
      ate anger, controversy, and in some  The flags of Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein.
      countries prison time. We simply  problem of gunpowder smoke that  Revolutions to expel rulers  co) or horizontal (Hungary, Nether- I, and also the flags of both West
      assume that flags have always ex-
                                     made it all too easy to fire at one’s  and establish republics  lands and Germany). That’s not to  Germany and East Germany (the
      isted as national symbols. As usual,  own forces by mistake. While                          say that all tricolors were necessari- latter with the added communist
      the story is a bit more complicated.                           made tricolor flags popular
                                     Americans like to make fun of the                            ly anti-monarchy. The old German  insignia in the center) after World
         The earliest use of flags in most                          – and eventually ubiquitous.
                                     British with their red uniforms dur-                         imperial flag (black – white – red)  War II.
      places was military. In the Middle
                                     ing the Revolutionary War, the col-                          was a tricolor flag.              The Swiss flag with its cross
      Ages, flags usually bore the colors
                                     or choice actually made some                                    That brings us to current nation- has medieval origins. Liechtenstein
      and insignias of various units                                the famous Union Jack, which went
                                     sense. Imagine the possibility of                            al flags of the German-speaking  is a horizontal bicolor with an in-
      and/or their rulers and/or their com-
                                     shooting the wrong guys if one side  on to become the flag of all Great  world. Only Germany has a tricolor  signia.
      manders. They served as identifiers                           Britain. It combined the crosses of
                                     had blue uniforms and the other                              flag. Its horizontal black-red-yel-  Austria has a bicolor flag – but
      for troop movements on the battle-
                                     had green uniforms and thick   England, Scotland and Ireland.  low colors were based on resistance with a layout of three panels – and
      field. Consider as well that before                             For a long time only officially
                                     smoke was everywhere. The smoke                              movements to fight Napoleon’s  with a legend attached to it. The
      the gradual consolidation of mod-
                                     issue only started to subside with  authorized parties were allowed to  dominance over central Europe af-  red-white-red dates to Duke Leo-
      ern nation states under single mon-                           fly flags. This owed, at least in
                                     the advent of smokeless powder in                            ter 1806 and therefore became the  pold V’s crusading in the Third
      archs in the 1700s how many
                                     the late 19th century.         part, to the fact that flags represent-  symbol of German nationalist  Crusade. After the Siege of Acre in
      different flags might have been on  Flags also became important for  ed the ruling family more than they  movements.       1191, Leopold removed his belt
      the battlefield.
                                     identifying ships in naval opera-  represented the state.       After Napoleon’s final exile in  from his blood-besotted white coat,
         Another good reason for flags  tions. The British Navy pioneered  Revolutions to expel rulers and  1815, however, these colors were  revealing a white stripe.
      in battle (after the 1400s) was the                           establish republics made tricolor  very unwelcome to the kings of  These became Austria’s colors
                                                                    flags popular – and eventually  Prussia who didn’t want to have  until Napoleon dismembered the
                                                                    ubiquitous. The Dutch Republic  their power limited by liberal con-  Holy Roman Empire in 1805. The
                                                                    was the first to establish a simple  stitutions advocated by nationalists.  new flag of the Austrian Empire
                                                                    three-color flag divided evenly into  Austria, loath to encourage any  that replaced the Holy Roman Em-
                                                                    horizontal thirds as they declared  kind of nationalism which would  pire was a simple black and yellow
                                                                    their independence from the Span-  only destroy its multiethnic state,  horizontal bicolor. The old medi-
                                                                    ish Habsburgs. The most famous  was similarly hostile.       eval Austrian colors re-emerged
                                                                    (vertical) tricolor, of course, was  The black-red-yellow tricolor  (briefly) after World War I until
                                                                    the flag adopted by the French  became the new national flag of  1938 and then again after World
                                                                    Revolution.                   Weimar Germany after World War  War II.
                                                                      Tricolor flags had a double ap-
                                                                    peal. First, they were purposely
                                                                    simple in order to show that the
                                                                    revolutionaries and their new re-
                                                                    publics were done with the nobility
                                                                    and their ornate flags. Second, they
                                                                    were easy to make under fire. Only         Since 1970 the Buffalo Standard Printing Booster Club
                                                                    bicolors – or white surrender flags       has raised funds to support our family of publications. Donors
                                                                                                    to the Press Fund will be thanked in the last issue of the year, unless
                                                                    – were easier to make.
                                                                      Here is where we need to pause  otherwise instructed by the donor.
                                                                    to consider how the 13 American      MAIL TO: Buffalo Standard Printing Press Fund
                                                                    colonies ever won their revolution    3620 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, NY 14215
                                                                    with all those complicated stars and  I want to make sure the German Citizen continues its service
                                                                      Tricolor flags can be vertical           To the German-American Community.
                                                                    (France – Belgium – Italy – Mexi-          Enclosed is my contribution of $ _____
                                                                                                     City, State, Zip___________________________________
                                                                                                                       Please { } Include
                                                                                                       { }do not include my name in your
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