My brother Doug posted this essay last Saturday, and I liked it so much I asked for permission to reprint it:
I’m not a fan of the American flag. Let me tell you what I’d like to do with it. But first, a brief history of national flags:
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the color and design of national flags can be traced to common origins, and each “flag family” is usually linked not only by geography but by tradition. For example, the oldest European flags, such as the British, Norwegian, Swedish, Finish, Danish, Greek and Swiss flags, often display a Christian cross which was prevalent during the Crusades.
The flags of Poland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, and Monaco all use the colors of heraldic coats of arms of 12th and 13th century European royalty, and a few countries still fly the heraldic emblems themselves.
The red-white-and blue flag of the Netherlands became associated with the concept of liberty after Netherland’s long war for independence from Spain. France copied the colors but used vertical stripes instead of horizontal ones after the French Revolution of 1789. The US’ choice of colors was based on Britain’s Union Jack and was influenced by the colors’ association with liberty. Similarly, throughout the rest of the world you find regional flag families.
National flags not only signify geographic boundaries, they symbolize a shared sense of ideology, culture and heritage - a form of identity - for a nation’s inhabitants. A national flag provides a context inside of which thought and action occur. Under the auspices of a banner, national leaders unify, organize and galvanize their people. Citizens are inspired and impelled to achieve the common aims set forth within the context of “nation.”
The problem I have with national flags is that they are relics. Flags point more to a regional past than to a global future. Given our growing need for interdependence, our shared reliance on this small, fragile planet and our newly acquired ability to destroy ourselves in an afternoon, our identities can no longer be defined solely by regional history.
What happens when our provincial aims collide with those of other nations? The result is often war. Or what happens when our sphere of influence exceeds our sphere of control? The result is often needless impoverishment and ecological destruction. Both scenarios are inevitable if we can’t see the big picture and reconcile our national interests with global health.
Even our mundane, daily habits now have global consequences. While our own survival and growth can and should remain our first priorities, personal survival is now linked to global survival.
So, I have a proposition: let’s choose a “global flag” and start flying it above every national flag in the world, starting with the US. Here’s a possible global flag held by Kathy Kelly with an Iraqi family in Baghdad:
I proposed flying this flag above national flags to over a hundred audiences on a US speaking tour after I came back from Iraq and found that the idea resonates with many Americans. There’s nothing to lose. Each country retains its culture, heritage and religion while keeping one eye on the global consequences of its actions. The global flag may also open our eyes and hearts to the commonality of all humans and inspire a common fight to survive, grow, build and explore.
This is what it would look like in the US:
It’s a paradigm shift in the blink of an eye, brought about by a colored piece of cloth. Who says revolutions must be bloody?