How To Fly Old Glory With Respect

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 22, 2008 · 82 comments

in Manly Skills

Photo by k_d90805

I always knew it was summertime when my old man took our American flag out of the closet and displayed it outside our house. Other dads in the neighborhood would do the
same. All down my neighborhood street, flags of red, white, and blue flapped in the humid Oklahoma air.

With summer right around the corner and all the patriotic holidays that come along with it, here’s a brief rundown on the United States Flag Code so you’ll know how to fly Old Glory with respect.

History of the Flag Code

The Flag Code was passed on June 14, 1923. Before that date, there was no federal regulation on how to display the United States flag. Both the American Legion and the VFW worked to promote flag etiquette before the passage of the Flag Code.

The Flag Code is found in several sections of the U.S. Code. 4 U.S.C. 1 pertains to the flag. 36 U.S.C. 3 covers patriotic customs and observances. The code is merely a guideline. It does not impose penalties for misuse of the American flag or for not following the guidelines.

There previously was a section in the Flag Code that contained criminal penalties for certain acts of desecration to the flag. That section was struck down as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson. Congress then amended the section with the Flag Protection Act of 1989. The statute imposed a fine and/or one year of prison for knowingly mutilating or physically defiling an American flag. This statute was also struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court decision, this time in U.S. v. Eichman. You can read the case here. Many will be surprised that Justice Anton Scalia, an extremely conservative Supreme Court Justice, sided with majority opinion on the unconstitutionality of the statute.

Anatomy of the United States Flag

The U.S. Flag consists of a blue rectangle in the canton bearing 50 white stars representing each state. This is called the Union. The Union is offset by 13 alternating red and white stripes representing the 13 original colonies.

There isn’t a legally defined symbolism of the flag and its colors. It is said that George Washington said the following about the symbolisim of the flag:

We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.

When to Fly the Flag

Which Days. The flag should be displayed on all days. However, the Flag Code sets out days that it is particularly appropriate to display the flag:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Inauguration Day, January 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
  • Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
  • Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
  • Easter Sunday (variable)
  • Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
  • Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
  • Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • Labor Day, first Monday in September
  • Constitution Day, September 17
  • Columbus Day, second Monday in October
  • Navy Day, October 27
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day, December 25
  • and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
  • the birthdays of states (date of admission)
  • and on state holidays.

Time of day. According to the Code, it’s “custom to display the flag outside only from sunrise to sunset. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”

American flags at night that are not properly illuminated

Photo by WilliamHartz

How to properly display the flag

§ 7 of the Flag Code governs the position and manner of display of the United State flag.

Displaying the flag from a staff on a building. This is how most American’s display the flag from their homes. When you display the flag from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from a window sill, balcony, or front of building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half staff. 4 U.S.C 7(h).

Displaying the flag over the middle of the street. During patriotic holidays, many communities hang a flag over the middle of the street. If this is done, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union facing north on an east to west street or the east in a north and south street. 4 U.S.C 7(j).

Displaying the flag at half staff. The United States flag is flown at half staff to pay respect to fallen public figures or soldiers. When the flag is flown at half staff, it should be first hoisted to the peak of the staff for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff. The President or Governor of a state can order the flag to be flown at half staff in the event of the death of public officials, foreign dignitaries, or soldiers.

The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or former President; 10 days from the death of the Vice President the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress. 4 U.S.C. 7(m).

Displaying a flag without a staff. If you decide to display the flag without a staff, the flag should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically from the wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way. 4 U.S.C 7(i).

Flag Etiquette

Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag. One of my fondest memories is going to the annual Fourth of July parade in my hometown and watching people stand up from their lawn chairs with their right hand over their heart as the flag passed. It always gave me chills and still does.

During a ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes. 4 U.S.C. 9.

Retiring a flag. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to retire a United States flag if it has touched the ground. Just correct the situation immediately and if the flag has been dirtied, clean it by hand.

A tattered American flag in need of retirement

Photo by GoodSheila

A flag need only be retired if it “is in such a condition that is no longer a fitting emblem for display. ” 4 U.S.C. 8(k). Basically this means if your flag is old and tattered, it’s time to get a new one. When a flag is retired, “it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Id.

You can always take your old flag to your local VFW for help on disposing the flag appropriately.

VFW retired American flag deposit

Photo by PersonalSpaceInvader

How to Fold the Flag

Two soldiers folding an American flag.

Photo by airborne4christ

Learning how to fold the American flag was one of the first things I learned as a Cub Scout. It’s one of those things that left a lasting impression in my mind. You would always see a military honor guard fold the flag with such precision and grace. I felt pretty awesome folding the flag with the same respect they did.

1. Fold the flag in half width-wise twice.

2. Fold up a triangle, starting at the all-striped end and repeat until only the end of the union is exposed.

3. Fold the remaining square into the triangle and tuck inside the folds. A triangle of just the blue field of stars should be visible.

Flag Trivia

  • You’re not supposed to wear the flag. 4 U.S.C. 8(d).
  • Displaying those big ol’ flags horizontally at a football game violates the Flag Code. 4 U.S.C. 8(c)
  • You’re not supposed to use the American flag in advertisements. 4 U.S.C. 8(i). I wish more companies would follow this one. I hate when people use patriotism to sell me their crap.
  • United States flag napkins are in violation of the code. 4 U.S.C. 8(i).
  • Stamps with the American flag on it could possibly be violating the Flag Code. “The flag should not be printed or otherwise impressed on … anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.” 4 U.S.C. 8(i).
  • Why does the military wear a flag patch backwards on their arm? The field of stars is to be worn closest to your heart. Moreover, the flag should look like it’s advancing, not retreating. So, if a patch is worn on your right sleeve, you should apply it backwards.

American soccer fans with an American flag drapped over them.

Photo by azakeri

Giant American flag on a football field.

Photo by brother monk

Here’s one thing that should be added to the flag code: Only buy Made in America flags. Several times I’ve been looking at an American flag, usually the chintzy plastic variety, which shouldn’t even exist, and have seen a tag saying “Made in China.” It’s enough to make Betsy Ross roll over in her grave. Americans spend over 5.3 million dollars on imported flags each year, most of them made in China. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that during 2001, in the wave of patriotism that washed over America after 9/11, American bought $52 million dollars in imported flags. The flag should symbolize the blood, sweat, and tears of American men and women who brought this country into existence, not our indebtedness to China and the death of the American manufacturing sector. So have a little pride, cough of a few more bucks, and buy an American flag made by Americans in the U S of A.

{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter May 22, 2008 at 8:24 pm

There are men in countries other than yours. Approximately 190 other countries. Are you going to do a similar feature for the flag of even one other country, let alone 190?

2 Brett McKay May 22, 2008 at 8:36 pm

@ Peter- I knew I was going to get people to gripe about this. Here’s the deal. I’m an American. This is what I know. Since I’m American, some of the posts will have an American slant to them. Of course I’m aware that there are other countries in the world besides the United States and we welcome readers from around the globe. People in these countries can write a blog post about how to display their flag. Or, if a person would like to submit a guest post to the site about how to display the flag in their country, I’ll be happy to post it. So to answer your question: no, I don’t plan on me personally writing 190 features.

3 David Pepka May 22, 2008 at 9:16 pm

Very insightful about the proper display of our flag. With the 4th of July coming, could you possibly do the same as to behave during the national anthem? It drives me crazy when I go to a game and there is some funky jazzed up version. I vividly remember my high school band director saying it was inappropriate to applaud the national anthem. Supposedly when people applaud it, they are applauding the start of the game. I don’t think many people know this.

I love this blog.

4 Brett May 22, 2008 at 9:18 pm

@Pep-That’s a good idea. Americans would do well to learn national anthem etiquette. A lot of Americans wouldn’t even know the words if they were asked. I’m glad you like the blog. Hope to see you around here often.

5 dave May 22, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Obama should cite this one about not wearing a flag pin.

“You’re not supposed to wear the flag. 4 U.S.C. 8(d).”

6 Don May 22, 2008 at 10:44 pm

I think there’s a section on the proper wearing of flag pins. The section about not wearing one refers to wearing an actual flag. Although I’ve never been quite clear on whether having something like a flag on a t-shirt is okay.

7 Brain May 22, 2008 at 11:41 pm

This doesn’t make you more manly just more brainwashed.

8 fathersez May 22, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Our national TV stations should run a comparative story. We celebrated 50 years of independence last year and there were flags everywhere. Including on buses, lorries, cars and taxis. And after a while, some of these flags looked like disgusting car workshop rags.

I think we failed to accord our national flag the deserved dignity and respect.

Though every Monday morning, flags are raised in all schools as part of the weekly assembly, I don’t think we have any idea of the proper Code. In fact I don’t even know if there’s one.

9 Karl Fergins May 23, 2008 at 12:21 am

When the flag used to stand for something, I would gladly follow these rules.

Nowadays, the only proper way to “fly” the American flag is to roll it up, and jam it up your ass.

10 anon May 23, 2008 at 12:38 am

It’s a bit of fabric, people!

11 David May 23, 2008 at 12:44 am

Well that was a fascinating post. We don’t think much of our flag in the UK. It’s used for ‘fun’ and to represent things we like about our culture (music, sport, art, and so on). And it’s used by nationalists to support their violent and hateful causes.

I don’t know whether flag flying is really a ‘manly art’ or a way of adding a dignified veneer to some base instincts.

12 Captain Will May 23, 2008 at 12:56 am

If you think your country sucks, then do your best to change it. It’s far too easy to piss and moan than to take action these days. A real man stands up and fights injustice, just like the thousands of people who stood up and then died for that “bit of fabric” over the last 231 years.

And before some smartass decides to ask: No, I didn’t vote for Bush. No, I do not, nor ever have supported this awful war. But I support the troops, and honor them, because they took a vow to serve this country, and are carrying out their duty. It isn’t their fault that we’re stuck in this mess, the fault lies with the assholes handing out the orders.

13 George Mouse May 23, 2008 at 1:47 am

I must say I find US flag fetishism fascinating. I think it’s important however not to confuse nationalism with manliness.

14 Chad May 23, 2008 at 6:16 am

Thank you for posting this. I was not familiar with the VFW offer to dispose of flags or raising the flag to the top of the staff at noon on Memorial day.

15 ed May 23, 2008 at 6:58 am

Great post and fun website. I remember there was an issue of wearing the flag when Madonna was wrapped in Old Glory during an advertisement trying to get kids to vote.

16 Robbie Cooper May 23, 2008 at 7:21 am

“For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste that the protected will never know.”

It’s hard for me to separate that quote from my unapologetic “fetishism”, “jingoism”, and “nationalism” for my country’s Flag.

Close friends and family have died fighting for that Flag. Millions of brothers before me have done the same.

IF you can’t or don’t respect our Flag, then at least have the common decency to STFU.

17 Brett McKay May 23, 2008 at 7:57 am


Men Health’s had a little section about the flag this month. I thought this quote from historian Marc Leepson was pretty interesting:

“Americans have a unique and special feeling for their flag that’s unrivaled by any nation in the world. We don’t have a monarchy or state religion, so the flag fills that emotional void.”

18 Chris May 23, 2008 at 8:38 am

After 20 years active duty military service I’m all about respect for the flag. In fact I was glad to see the rule on illuminating the flag at night included. That one is a pet peeve of mine.

A smaller peeve of mine is when people state something along the lines of “men have died for the flag.” While many battle flags have been carried into the fray no one, officer or enlisted ever swore an oath to the american flag. We do however swear an oath to defend the constitution of the United States.

Makes me think that with my flag I’d like a copy of the constitution when I retire.

19 Chris May 23, 2008 at 8:39 am

Oh, I forgot. How about a link for a company that makes or sells american made flags?

20 Brett McKay May 23, 2008 at 9:20 am

@Chris-Happy to oblige. These guys look pretty cool:

They’ve been making flags in the US since 1847.

21 Bradly Fletchall May 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

I love this blog… This is one of those things that always bugs me in the back of my mind when I see the flag displayed wrong. Like on the car window things. Its only ok to put the flag on a car if you are diplomat or the president and then the flag can only fly if that person is in the car.

I think we would all be better off if we got back to many of the traditions and standards that have all but been forgotten.

22 Chris Aagesen May 23, 2008 at 3:00 pm

I really appreciate this post. I often see our nations flag displayed poorly by many people, even by my university. Another thing to add is that there is more to retiring an old flag than just burning it. If you have an old flag that needs to be retired consider taking it to a local Boy Scout troop who will retire it with proper respect.

23 Wrathbone May 23, 2008 at 4:04 pm

If protesters think it should be legal to burn the American flag, then it should also be legal to burn an American flag burner.

24 William Shears May 23, 2008 at 6:48 pm

I am all for the cheap little plastic flags. One of my most treasured memories of service in Israel was seeing a huge sea of Israeli flags EVERYWHERE, of all shapes and sizes. Like Israel or not, the people are very nationalistic.

Nationalism is healthy, especially if it can be done in a way that embraces the cultures of all the people in the country. Unfortunately people will be people.

25 joe May 24, 2008 at 2:25 am

great articleceremony can be an uplifting and inspiring thing. on the other hand: i cannot stand people who, in the name of their “partiotism”, wear flag shirts, of flag-themed ties. the same goes for flag pins. partiotism is not a fetish- it is genuine love for your country, and respect for other countries.
@William Shears:
if by nationalism you mean patriotism, i agree wholeheartedly. nationalism in and of itself forbids pluralism.
if you can’t make out the difference between free speech and murder, i feel sorry for you.

26 Curtis May 24, 2008 at 9:35 am

I must say, I enjoyed this particular post.
I’ve been involved with a boy scout troop for about eight years, am an eagle scout, and have been one of the many people involved in one of the largest private flag retirements in the nation.

Each June, for the past four years, we retire over 1,000 American flags in one large ceremony

flier here

It is always a pleasure to help out, and to see that other people want to be informed on how to properly display and maintain the flag.

27 Dan May 24, 2008 at 11:11 am

Seriously, what does this have to do with manliness? Did this slip out of an Americanism blog and land patritocially on this site?

28 Dan May 24, 2008 at 11:13 am


29 Brett McKay May 24, 2008 at 11:38 am

@Dan-Patriotism, love of country, is a trait found in almost every great man in history. When we properly display the flag, we show respect the values it symbolizes, values every man worth his salt should cherish. As we show respect for freedom and liberty, we honor, remember, and celebrate those that gave their lives to ensure that future generations could enjoy these great privileges. And there are few things more manly then serving one’s country and dying for it.

Clear now?

30 guy May 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm

maybe that opinion should have been mentioned in the article. the connection between your flag-care tips and manliness is a bit of a stretch, and this article just comes across as pointless nationalism. as a non-american, i really don’t see the value in this post at all.

you’ll note that the number on your subscriber counter has just dropped by one.

31 Brett McKay May 24, 2008 at 12:26 pm

@Guy-I’m sorry that a blog must be so narrowly aligned with all your interests, that you would unsubscribe after not liking one post. You should never pick up a newspaper or magazine, you might not like some of the articles. My wife and I are pretty much the only ones who write stuff for the blog, so I’ve never understood why people would think they would like everything we write.

I also don’t understand why people feel the need to announce when they unsubscribe. It’s so very self-important and childish. “I’m not playing with you anymore!” You didn’t pay anything to read the blog, and so it’s no loss to us. See ya.

32 guy May 24, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Funny- I knew there would be a self-assured ‘farewell comment’ in the works.
To expand on what I said before, I found this site and subscribed to the feed because the subject matter (men’s role in modern society) is interesting. When I read a post that has absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the site, whose weak link to that theme has to be pointed out in a comment by the author (as a response to another comment,) and just comes across as pointless nationalism, it makes me realize that my time could be better spent reading other material.

It’s not a matter of reading something that isn’t aligned with all of my interests, it’s a matter of me straining to find the value in this article but still coming up short- I’m obviously not an American, and I think nationalism does more harm than it could possibly do good.

And by the way, I felt the compulsion to mention my unsubscription because you feel the need to announce your subscription numbers in the RSS feed and at the top of every page- a pointless post like this affects your numbers, which are a lot more important to you than they are to me.

There were other articles that I fully appreciated, so I thank you for those and best of luck with your site in the future.

33 Matt May 24, 2008 at 2:19 pm

George Jean Nathan, an American drama critic once said of patriotism, “[Patriotism] is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.” Gladly, if I had lived during a different time when the flag stood for freedom, for liberty, and equality I would have gladly displayed my flag.

But to proudly display the flag during this time, a time of imperalistic foreign policy, senseless wars and perhaps one of the most freedom-ignorant Presidents of all-time is a horrendous crime to our origins.

Aside from my nationalist anti-sentiments, I wanted to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed many of your blog posts. I think my generation (the Y-generation, ironically enough) needs a good dose of manliness. I especially liked your barbershop piece, and likewise might I also suggest a cigar shop as a pseudo rite of passage.

Good blog, keep it up!

34 Shatt May 24, 2008 at 2:27 pm

I’ll happily violate the “flag code” and wear it, stitch letterings on it, and generally do as I see fit with my purchase.

35 Brett McKay May 24, 2008 at 4:23 pm

@Guy-I guess what I don’t understand is if you fully appreciated other posts, why not stick around? The great thing about a RSS feed is that you can subscribe to many blogs, and scroll through, only reading those posts you like. It’s much like a magazine…I subscribe each month and each month there are articles I like and articles I do not like. I read the ones I like, and skip the ones I don’t. If there are articles I don’t like, I don’t unsubscribe to the magazine.

I’m not trying to hold unto to you as a reader. You are free to go of course. I am just honestly confused when people don’t like one post and then announce their unsubscription.

36 Ethan May 24, 2008 at 6:59 pm

It never ceases to amaze me the ignorance of people on the internet. First off, I challenge any one of the trolling idiots to utter their comments face-to-face with any true American.
Of all the American propaganda, the flag is the one that all of us – every single one – should support. The flag represents the true America, and all of our freedoms, whether we actually still have them or not. When you insult the flag, you insult the very heart of America.
And you can’t hide behind the excuse that it’s just a “piece of cloth.” Because, while it is a mere piece of cloth, it is also the symbol of America. The real America. The America that’s laid out in our Constitution, that was the dream of our founding fathers and many who have followed them.
A country where all men (and women) can freely speak their mind.
A country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the state.
A country where everyone has a fair chance.
And if you don’t want in on that, then you can leave. Don’t let the door catch you on your way out.

I’ll clarify something here. I’m not an ultra-conservative, right-wing, wacked-out “patriot.”
I’m actually quite liberal. I’ve been against the war since day one, and will continue to be opposed to it, and pretty much any conflict.
And because I’m American, because many have laid down their lives to protect my freedom to be this way – because of the sacrifice, and the dream, I am patriotic. I believe in our country, and what we truly can be.
And our flag is a huge part of that. It flutters in the breeze, a constant reminder of our extraordinary good fortune to be American. It symbolizes everything we have, and everything we should have.
It is America.

37 Ethan May 24, 2008 at 7:04 pm

Great article Brett. I think it’s incredibly important that every American know at least the basics of flag etiquette, and you’ve laid them out very nicely. I think a good patriotic spirit is an essential quality for any man.
And I should think this would inspire those who are not Americans to do some research and brush up on their own national flag etiquette, instead of sitting around whining.

38 Brett McKay May 24, 2008 at 7:37 pm

@Ethan-Wonderful, fine words. Really excellent. I’m no right wing nut job either. I just love my country. The flag symbolizes our ideals, even when the country is not living up to them. We should look for ways to respect those who have sacrificed in the name of honor and freedom.

39 Shatt May 24, 2008 at 10:31 pm

The only time these days I am proud to have anything to do with the flag is during sporting events where politics are (usually) as far away as possible and it’s simply a way of supporting the people playing a game.

What would a “true american” say anyway? “Take back your goddamn beads and get the hell off our land.”

40 Innocent May 25, 2008 at 1:28 am

This post made me read up on the flag code of my country, since, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know it properly till now.

If anyone else is interested, here it is:

41 oldgloryluvr May 25, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Is there a proper way to display the confederate battle flag or is it always the flag of traitors against the Union?

42 Shatt May 25, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I think the Flag Code has a subsection that approves it being flown only at NASCAR events.

43 baxter May 25, 2008 at 3:06 pm

i don’t get it…
i’m an american and there’s a lot of things that i love about my country.
but the arbitrary arrangement of colors and shapes that constitute our flag isn’t one of them.

our friends, our families, our foods, our diverse heritage, our beautiful land, our gusto, our innovation, our tolerance, our progressiveness…

there are better ways to celebrate these things than to idol-worship a flag that doesn’t and never has represented those things.

by the way, serving your country is not manly. no form of servitude is. especially not one that involves death.

44 Dan May 26, 2008 at 6:16 am

“@Dan-Patriotism, love of country, is a trait found in almost every great man in history. When we properly display the flag, we show respect the values it symbolizes, values every man worth his salt should cherish. As we show respect for freedom and liberty, we honor, remember, and celebrate those that gave their
lives to ensure that future generations could enjoy these great privileges. And there are few things more manly then serving one’s country and dying for it.”

Thanks for the sensible reply!

I guess I can understand how this might loosely be perceived as a part of manliness by your compatriots. Hopefully you’ll forgive me (and not flame me) if I say I had assumed this was a case of the America’s predisposition towards hyper-nationalism, once again manifesting itself to spoil a perfectly good and informative site. There are many brilliant media items that come from the USA and I have to say that every time there’s a slowly waving stars n stripes in the background of the shot/photo I have to turn away for risk of gagging.

This apart, I can understand statements like “When you insult the flag, you insult the very heart of America.” but you have to understand that when my countrymen see an American flag we’re reminded of a century of mindless warfare sliding towards the 21st century on the oil of greed. Many wars (some ongoing) and almost global nuclear war, my countrymen braving an unjustified war we have no justified call to be part of.

As for: “by the way, serving your country is not manly. no form of servitude is. especially not one that involves death.” One of my country’s great poets said:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

I believe he might have agreed with you, but he would do so with rifle in hand, defending his homeland and that of his brothers.

That’s a man, and one I’m proud of. He had no need for symbolism nor one sided politics, he was there for his country, his family and in the defence of our freedom and I celebrate him, not some ‘piece of cloth’ or symbol of wealth. I have no need for such things and as your country has so well illustrated, these things have a nasty habit of becoming a propaganda tool, perpetuating your country’s’ equally nasty habit of selective truths and self delusion of magnanimity.

“Of all the American propaganda, the flag is the one that all of us – every single one – should support.”
I suggest that you, my ill-learned friend, should endeavour to understand the true meaning of the word ‘propaganda’. Comments like:

“A country where all men (and women) can freely speak their mind.
A country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the state.
A country where everyone has a fair chance.”

Are all fair and just, but when you end with such inherently stupid and contradictory remarks as “And if you don’t want in on that, then you can leave. Don’t let the door catch you on your way out.” immediately nullifies any respect I have, had or will ever hold for your thoughts on this matter.

Although I hope your stupidity does not stretch as far as to count me amongst your “trolling idiots” I would be more than happy to educate you ‘face-to-face” as to what my opinion is to be a true American. America is a great country, and hopefully will always be, with its respectfully proud and patriotic people I salute your country men for your beliefs. With that in mind it is grossly unfortunate that some of its inhabitants are like you, which makes it all too easy for your corrupt government to control, guide and use.

To that end I can honestly say that I can respect this article and your pride in what ‘Old Glory’ means to you, but please understand it symbolises something very, very different to me.

45 Dan May 26, 2008 at 6:20 am

Wow, that was a long post…. totally went into ‘rant’ mode there…..sorry :S

46 Brett McKay May 26, 2008 at 10:39 am


“but you have to understand that when my countrymen see an American flag we’re reminded of a century of mindless warfare sliding towards the 21st century on the oil of greed. Many wars (some ongoing) and almost global nuclear war, my countrymen braving an unjustified war we have no justified call to be part of.”

I appreciate your thoughts and can certainly respect where you are coming from. What is great about a symbol is that is can mean different things to different people. No one can force a symbol to mean just one thing. But I do think it is unfortunate when people choose to bring only negative connotations to something like the American flag. My country has done some terrible things under that flag, but some truly inspiring things as well. When I see the flag I don’t think of the current war and current administration; many, many Americans have never supported the current war or the policies of President Bush. It is thus unfair to say that our current foreign policies represent “America.” It is also unfair to say that when you see the American flag you think of a century of mindless warfare. The biggest wars of this century were not started by Americans but by Europeans, wars which Americans wished to stay out of and then had to fight to preserve democracy on that continent.

When I see the flag I choose to be reminded of the values the founding fathers put forth, not the corruption of those values by subsequent generations. My mind goes not to our current war but to my grandfather, and my wife’s grandfather who are still alive and have shared with us the stories of their service and sacrifices during World War II. I earnestly believe they are our greatest generation and I want to honor and respect them in any way I can. America’s current actions may be quite unfortunate, but the flag stands for far more than this brief moment in history. I would hope that when you see the American flag you wouldn’t only see the negative stuff, but might also think of the America that stood with Britain to defeat an evil regime, an America that sacrificed thousands of lives to help save the world from fascism.

47 Brett McKay May 26, 2008 at 10:45 am

I just came across this article. It’s exactly what I was talking about-even other countries give too much focus to the negative connotations of one’s flag:

48 Dan May 26, 2008 at 2:14 pm


Well said.

49 Mark May 26, 2008 at 3:28 pm

@ Brett: “Patriotism, love of country, is a trait found in almost every great man in history.”

History favors the victors, as always. Had the continental forces lost the war of independence, the founding fathers would be remembered as famous traitors, rather than patriots.

50 Ethan May 26, 2008 at 5:07 pm

@Dan –

My dictionary defines propaganda as “dissemination of ideas, information or rumor for the purpose of furthering or hindering an institution, cause or a person.”
While I am aware of the negative connotations the word “propaganda” carries in society today (usually it is associated with Nazis and other totalitarian regimes) I also know the realm definition, and that was what was in my mind when I chose to use this word. If that’s the best thing you can come up with to try to discredit my post, you should do the manly thing and back down.

I can see no way that you could honestly come to the conclusion that my “stupidity” makes it easy for me country to control me.
And I love how you manage to criticize me for being “stupid and contradictory” and then become arrogant and supercilious yourself.

51 David May 27, 2008 at 12:28 am

Wonderful post!

Nationalism is perhaps one of the manliest feelings a people can have: a love for your country, it’s people and it’s rich history and culture.. These are the things men USED to believe in, but unfortunately in our increasingly feminized world, nationalism is demonized as being “brain-washed” for having an intense love for your people and their heritage.

Fortunately though, our brothers in Europe (If you’re a white American, that is) are slowly returning to nationalism, which gives me great hope for the future.

That said, I am certainly AGAINST our war in the middle east right now whole-heartedly – It is completely un-nationalistic, patriotic, American, etc. Hopefully, REAL nationalists, not these neo-con traitors, can one day get America back on the right track.

52 Jeffrey Reynolds May 27, 2008 at 5:43 am

Thanks for including the paragraph about purchasing flags made in America. So many little fly-by-night websites offer mass-produced flags made in China, undercutting legitimate sites such as ours offering only AMERICAN FLAGS MADE IN AMERICA! Demonstrating pride in your country means supporting American companies employing American workers producing top-quality products at a fair price. If you buy nothing else made in America, your flag certainly should be made in this country.

Jeffrey Reynolds

53 James May 27, 2008 at 6:50 am

Great Post!


“i don’t get it…
i’m an american and there’s a lot of things that i love about my country.
but the arbitrary arrangement of colors and shapes that constitute our flag isn’t one of them.”

This is bogus. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people suggest that symbols are just ‘arbitrary’. I’ve heard this argument to justify swearing as well, with the suggestion that curse words are “just sounds.” Using like logic, the words on this page are just ‘arbitrary’ collections of symbols, just lines arranged in some meaningless fashion. However, the fact that we all can read this page, and recognize an American flag when we see it, demonstrates that symbols are, by definition, not arbitrary. They convey meaning. Human beings communicate via meaning-laden sounds and symbols. Human experience is drenched in symbols. Symbols by definition are not arbitrary. The American flag means something. What that meaning is and whether you like that meaning or not is an entirely different discussion. One thing the flag is NOT is ‘arbitrary.’

“by the way, serving your country is not manly. no form of servitude is. especially not one that involves death.”

No form of servitude is manly? Look up “humility” in a dictionary. Or see Brett’s post on it, its pretty good. I hope you aren’t married, or I feel sorry for your wife and family.

54 Matt May 27, 2008 at 11:08 am

Question: Why would we be better off to have Americans manufacture cheap plastic flags, instead of the Chinese doing so? Is it really a tragedy that our manufacturing industry does not count among its products single-use trinket flags? Is this type of misguided national pride more important than designing fuel-efficient cars or finding a cure for cancer?

Whether or not the flag should be reduced to a trinket is a legitimate question, and could have done without the spiteful, ill-informed, and ignorant “buy American” rant.

55 Brett McKay May 27, 2008 at 11:16 am

Flags made by Americans=jobs for Americans
Flags made by Chinese=jobs for the Chinese

I’m not sure why my hope to keep America’s manufacturing sector alive is “spiteful, ill-informed, and ignorant.” If anything your disregard for the working class comes off as all of those things. I actually think you should try to buy made in America products whenever you can. It’s not always possible, so I’m simply saying one should try to draw the line at buying an imported flag.

I’m also not sure how you made the leap from my argument to buy made in America flags to saying I think it’s more important than finding a cure for cancer and making fuel efficient cars. Can’t we create those jobs and keep some manufacturing jobs?

56 NoPeanutz May 28, 2008 at 7:31 am

If you write or email your representative in Congress (find their contact information online) all of them have resources readily available where you can get genuine and official American flags through their office. It is part of their job.
Usually, this information is on their website.

57 Bill May 28, 2008 at 7:44 am

Thank you for writing this… It has ALWAYS been a huge pet peeve of mine when places, usually high school gyms in my experiences, hang the flag vertically with the union on the flag’s left.

Good tip, in addition to your note I interned for a U.S. Senator and I know that if you’re willing to pay a price you can actually get a flag that was flown above one of the legislative chambers while in session… When I say “pay a price” don’t think corruption, I don’t know where the money goes but I’m 100% sure it didn’t go into your representatives pocket. This may not be something that everyone legislator can swing however, especially in the house where there’s more members than days in a year.

58 Art Williams May 29, 2008 at 5:23 am


Great, informative post! The discussion that has ensued from this post is indicative of a greater manliness issue than just treating the flag (which represents the values & ideologies of Americans and the sacrifice of those who gave us the right to have this discussion) with respect. The greater issue of manliness is how so many men have kowtowed to this false idea that it is WRONG to have pride in and treat with respect any institution, nation, group, or the symbols that represent that group, on the basis that the institution is flawed and therefor deserves to be chastised and verbally flogged. This is a modern idea put forth by those who have never sacrificed anything to earn the freedoms they have been given. Our manly grandfathers know the sacrifice. What is their example?

I would make the case that the manly thing to do is to have respect and honor for those institutions that were FOUNDED on ideals like freedom, equal opportunity, and the protection of the innocent. Those institutions that, at their core, are still trying to push forward toward those ideals, even if sometimes flawed in the method or manner, also should be respected or honored by true men.

Those institutions who AT THEIR CORE are focused on removing liberties and harming the innocent should be rejected and fought with every fiber of our being. And each has the inalienable right and RESPONSIBILITY to weigh the evidence and decide what is evil and what endeavors to do good at the core.

Those institutions that lose their way or begin to trounce upon the innocent, despite their pure foundation need to be changed from within by men who are up for the hard task. Men who only complain and criticize have no solid foundation from which to wield their influence. We must put our heads down and plunge forward into the battle with honor and respect for the institution and hope and willingness to fight for that which the institution is based upon.

It seems to me that this post has brought out the least manly side in many of us. The part that complains, yet provides no solutions. The part that “shudders” at patriotism because they have no understanding of the sacrifice of freedom. The part that tries to tear down a flawed institution, founded on good ideals, simply because they don’t have the strength or honor to help a “friend” find their way again.

In conclusion, men, patriotism is not blind devotion and obedience, but respect and honor for the ideals underlying our great country, and reverence for those who sacrificed life and limb to give us the opportunity to uphold those ideals!

59 baxter May 29, 2008 at 10:01 am


First off, how presumptuous of you to say something like “I hope you aren’t married or I feel sorry for your wife and family.” You sure know a lot about my character from the 50 or so words I posted in a blog comment.

Secondly, the flag IS arbitrary as are all words and symbols. Meaning is only prescribed to these things through shared cultural experiences. The fact that a symbol can mean something to a person or a group of people and something entirely different to someone else proves this. We choose to accept or rejected culturally prescribed meanings for symbols. If you think that the flag represents something it’s because you’ve accepted what the cultural in which you’ve grown up has told you it means. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s something we should recognize.

Lastly, completely subjecting yourself to the will of someone else is not manly. Real manliness comes through thinking critically about orders you’re given and subsequently rejecting or accepting those orders in accordance with your beliefs about what is right and wrong. Blindly following orders (which is synonymous with servitude) is not manly. Questioning authority is manly.

60 Brett May 29, 2008 at 10:36 am


“The greater issue of manliness is how so many men have kowtowed to this false idea that it is WRONG to have pride in and treat with respect any institution, nation, group, or the symbols that represent that group, on the basis that the institution is flawed and therefor deserves to be chastised and verbally flogged. This is a modern idea put forth by those who have never sacrificed anything to earn the freedoms they have been given.”

Man, Art, I really appreciate your thoughts. You put it so well. Truly, truly superb. I hope many readers take the time to read your comments. Some of the comments on this post have been quite depressing, but others like yours give me hope.

61 Brain May 31, 2008 at 4:29 am

There is no duty to protect by the so called state. Since there is a contractual obligation by states and citizens one to protect and one to as alliegiance. If one doesn’t hold up there end of the bargin the contract is broken.

Quote from the declaration of independance:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

For more information please read No Treason by Lysander Spooner

The goverment would be great if it held up its obligation to protect but unfortunately it doesn’t.

Google “USA no duty to protect” if you need more convincing.

62 Annie Cassity June 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Hello ALL!

Haven’t been able to read through all the post but thought I would mention
this. Please excuse me if someone has already posted this topic.

We live in Eastern Kansas and have seen MANY Mexican flags flying ALONE here. These are not private business, they are government sponsored/funded projects. Please check some of these out. One is at a former military base
in Missouri off 150 Hwy. Another is in an area in Kansas City Missouri. An area between Southwest Blvd. and 31st street that was given to MEXICO as sovereign ground (this is a fact-protected by armed Mexican military). The Mexican flag is flying there as well. Google: Kansas City Smart Port. It would seem in 2005 that while we were watching the game George Bush, Vesenta Fox of Mexico and Martin from Canada signed away our national sovereignty. A plan that would erase our national borders to unite Mexico, The United States and Canada. This would remove our Constitution and our protection under the Bill of Rights. That will include Old Glory since in this brave new union our new masters would not welcome it. Many other sovereignty invasive projects like the North American Union, The Trans-American Corridor or NAFA Super Highway are well underway. These projects are not mythical. There are contractors who are being paid for them now. And ownership of this massive country gutting project has been sold to Spanish owned Centra. American families are being run off their property by the thousands. Please check this out BEFORE replying. Start with:

So given this information would this qualify as America in Distress? Would this qualify as extreme danger to life, liberty and property? Would this qualify as America under attack? I believe it does. But who would fly this patriot sign of distress in these times of hostility toward any message of danger to America by Americans when the meaning of the symbolism, the meaning of this communication and its REAL intention is lost to most Americans? It would be seen by most Americans OUT OF HAND as a radical disrespectful act and not given ANOTHER THOUGHT. Since we’ve learned of this treason toward our nation we’ve asked what greater danger than the demise our of great country would warrant this last brave display communicating of our country in distress? This seems to be the reason and the time to display this honorable symbol to liberty loving Americans.

63 Shane June 26, 2008 at 7:34 pm

American flags made in china…..what is this world coming to?

64 Lisa June 30, 2008 at 5:56 am

Does anyone know if there is a proper way to display the flag during the time of war? My cousin has the flag in her store window displayed horizontally on the wall with the union to the right and the stripes to the left. She says that is proper in the time of war. I’ve never heard of this.
Thank you.

65 Darren July 24, 2008 at 4:53 am

Hi, Great site and post, regardless of what the whiners, haters and bare-bulb screed writers living in mommy’s basement think. They will always be of no consequence as they rarely make it to the polls in meaningful numbers. On another note; Section 9 of title 4 United States Code states: “Members of the Armed Forces and Veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the Military Salute.”

66 washingtoncougar September 4, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Sorry late post just found the site.
@ Baxter
You stated that you didn’t like servitude of any type especially if it meant laying your life on the line. Well I guess when the time ever comes that your house or vehicle is broken into, or you are being held at knife or gun point and have that little voice in the back of your head telling you this is the end, be sure to tell the law inforcement officer thank you for putting his or her life on the line for your rear.
I for one liked the article, Old Glory is do it respect. Now if people would open their eyes and stop acting like sheep and show just as much respect to the constitution of this nation maybe we wouldn’t have some of the problems we’re have now.

67 Brittany September 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Is is okay to fly the flag at night, if you have a light shining on it?

68 Gordon October 3, 2008 at 4:59 am

Im british and was in the army so know a thing or two about flags and would like to add that when a flag is at half mast it actually shouldnt be half way up the pole but one third from the top. Traditionally and particulary in the military a flag at half mast is flow exacly one flag width from the top of the mast. I believe though that exactly half way up the pole is aceptable in the US.

The other thing I would like to add is when ever the US are having a UK dignitary to visit you display something that looks like the Union Flag (correct name for Union Jack) but is not coz it has this gold braided tassels shit arround the edge. Our flag does not have this and I find it mildy offensive, if you want to honour some one get it right. How would like us to emblish your flag?

One last thing is that people often put the union flag upside down, it may not look like it but just like the US flag the UK flag has a top and bottom a left and right, and i have seen it displayed incorrectly quite often. The flag has diagonal red and white crosses and if you have it up the right way the broader white stripe must be at the top of the pole where it is attached to the pole or if it is a sticker the broader white stripe must be in the top left hand corner.

69 Gordon October 3, 2008 at 5:31 am

Oh and one more thing it is a offence to fly the union flag from civilian/merchant boats/ships in british territorial waters. But other then that you can do what you want with it coz there are no laws pertaining to desecration or disposal of union flags, there isnt even a law that makes the union flag the offical british flag.

70 D-Roc October 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm

I am an Eagle Scout and one of the things I do hate is the use of flags in advertising. I can see and accept people using it as political protest, but it is not meant to be used in advertising.

71 Shayne May 15, 2009 at 10:32 am

somebody tell me WHAT is the ORIGINAL meaning of the US Flag.


72 D. Midgette November 1, 2009 at 1:39 am

Please explain the meaning of what the gold tassel stands for. If you know what year it changed, would be nice to know. I know when I was a kid in school the flag did not have this, now it’s everywhere. Thanks

73 Jeff Tomczak February 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

As the owner of a flag company for 25 years, I am well aware of the US Flag Code and the proper respect required by the code, but I find myself “bending the rules” when I see fit.

I wholehearted agree that the flag should not touch the ground and it should be illuminated at night, however I am all for the display of the American flag whenever and wherever possible. Some people get upset at the “likeness” of the American flag when the colors Red, White & Blue come together to form what appears to be the American flag–but it’s NOT! How are people supposed to dress on patriotic holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day and 4th of July if they can’t wear R/W/B? I don’t see the harm, as long as it’s not the ACTUAL flag. If Michael Phelps wins Olympic Gold and wants to wrap his wet body in the American Flag, I draw the line and say “NO!”

Let’s pass an Amendment that requires the U.S. Flags to be Made In The USA! The Chinese make our toys and they’re toxic chemical are poisoning our kids; they’re defective Toyota cars are endangering our citizens with their crap; LET’S NOT LET THE AMERICAN FLAG SINK TO THE SAME STANDARDS!!

Buy American – Show Your Colors Flag Company

74 Bruce Williamson June 13, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I don’t think the paper plates and cups are against the flag code as they do not have a representation of the flag. They have stars and stripes on them. IMHO it has to be a complete flag to be considered a flag.

75 joe July 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I read an article reported by the, what seems to be the anti-american news network we call fox.
In that article was a poll ” should we ban the American flag in our country for our kids safety?”
If we are worried about our kids safety’ we should get rid of all the people who hate our country and beliefs that are here prospering from what a great nation we are .THIS IS America, NO FLAG SHOULD EVER BE FLOWN HIGHER THAN OURS IN THIS COUNTRY!!!!! (no argument) Great men and women died for this country and still do to protect our way of life, we should all show respect for that and our FLAG. The pledge of allegiance was written with “GOD” in it, and it should still be there, if you do not believe in god YOU do not have to say that word in OUR country, but we should RESPECT what was written and instilled upon our ancestors over 200 yrs ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

76 Michael Richardson July 29, 2010 at 7:30 am

Haters gonna hate… Despite people who have these strange artificial politically correct filters in their brains that make them hate an article or churlishly unsubscribe because you didn’t bother to look up 190 other ways to display someone else’s flag, I’d say this was more than a good article. People need to respect the flag, and its mother; the constitution. When all people forget the flag; when they glibly talk smack about a country they sacrificed nothing to have the freedom they have to treat it bad and vote it down into the ground… Then the death knell of our country must have rung long prior to that forsaken day.

Keep being a winner.

77 Steve August 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm


That is incorrect, “under God” was instituted in the 1950s, before then the Pledge was without such a mention.

I’m not even sure why you brought up God in your rant, except to antagonize those men who are atheists. We already have enough trouble as it is being identified as patriotic, we don’t need this historical revisionism.

Great article, Brett, first time writing a comment to Art of Manliness, but I love this site, and your articles are usually spot on.

One nation, indivisible!

78 Bob September 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm

To anon I guess if all you can think of is yourself then I suppose the flag would only be a piece of fabric.

To Karl Fergins You are rude and disgusting unless you decide to grow up that is all you will ever be

I say God Bless America the greatest country in the world I salute her flag.

79 Gwen October 2, 2012 at 4:14 am

Thank you so much for this article! I’m an expat living in a small city flat, I’m glad to have figured out how to properly display my flag in the window – I think I’ll put it up for the presidential debates!

80 Ben May 30, 2013 at 12:08 am

Though i may be mistaken. i recently read that anyone that has served or is serving in the U.S. Military to salute during the national anthem or as a flag passes.

81 Jessica July 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I might have missed this in the article, but do you know where in the code it states that no flag shall fly higher or equal to Ol’ Glory? I have seen several locations that have multiple flags on poles and they are all at the same level and it really gets under my skin.

82 dean March 19, 2014 at 8:48 am

Wearing a flag patch backwards or sticking a flag sticker on backwards to something is demonstrating that you are for the opposite of what America stands for. It’s UNPATRIOTIC to display the AmericanFlag Backwards. It is a symbol of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, backwards it stands for, well, the opposite plain and simple, the viral story about it blowing in the wind is true when on a pole or guidon but the backwards patch is symbolic of the direction America is headed, backwards, ask anyone. Don’t fall for the blowing in the wind gag, we’re talking about patch design and meaning of mission patches as well as Nations flags. Anyone who displays an American flag backwards is either ignorant to what the flag stands for or you simply believe the wind blowing story applies to patches as well. Display your country’s flag Correctly and respect!

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