A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power And Politics Of National Symbols, by Tim Marshall
I cannot help but think that this book is not nearly as clever as the author thinks it is. That does not make it a bad book, by any means. The author has some insights to share about geography and in his beat as a jorno he clearly was able to come up with enough material that he thought it was well worth sharing. As the author claims, a detailed discussion of every flag that exists or has ever existed would be a large reference book that few people would want to read and that the author probably does not want to write. Be that as it may, the author finds himself dealing with areas that seem to be beyond his level of competence and his level of fairness as a writer. On the one hand, the author clearly wants to be seen as someone who is fair-minded, but he is so clearly biased and his bias shines through at all levels of this book (and, as I have seen, his other works as well), that this is a book that is mainly written for those who would be part of the author’s own tribe of secular globalists as a means of better understanding the divisions that exist in the world and to avoid pitfalls of believing as if liberalism is destined to triumph.
This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and is divided into nine chapters. The book begins with an introduction. After that comes a discussion of American flags, including the changing shape and organization of America’s flag over time, its likely antecedents from the British flag, and the battles over other American flags like the Southern Cross and the Gadsden flag (1). After this comes a discussion of the Union Jack and the complicated nature of British and English nationalism and the relationship among the various parts of Great Britain (2). After this comes a discussion of the cross and the historical relationship of the crusades and the flags of various European nations that relate to matters of Christian religion, however poorly understood (3). Unsurprisingly, this leads to a look at flags of the Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa (4) and their longings for unity as well as divided state, as well as flags of fear of various terrorist and piratical groups (5). The author then looks at regional and group flags in various areas, from the flags of Asia (other than the Middle East) (6), to the flags of “freedom” in the Caribbean as well as Africa (7) that express the hopes of black people for free nations which have largely proven to be terrible failures, the flags of revolutionary Latin America (8), which have long failed to fulfill their intended promise, and then various good, bad, and ugly flags that the author likes from non-national representatives that have their own stories (9).
How many flags are worth dying for? That depends on who one is. A great many flags have complicated histories, and are cases where meaning is added later on to the flag, and where they attach a great deal of strong feelings because of the way that they serve as symbols for the groups and societies that they represent. In reading this book I felt particularly upset at the grandstanding among anti-American radicals about the way that they felt that destroying a peace of silk was a means of dishonoring the United States, and by the author’s pussyfooting when it came to offering a clear defense of the use of the Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag by those who are hostile to government overreach and of liberal elites in general but who cannot be dismissed so quickly for being racists. Likewise, the author’s evident pleasure in the pride flag indicates his own appreciation of the fact that tribal identities are not only a matter of the right, and his inability to view flags with fairness demonstrates his own identity commitments and alliances and makes him a less than honorable commentator where his sympathies do not lie.