#109 Flags, Nation, and Nationalism

Published on November 7, 2006

=> Introduction: Flags, Nation, and Nationalism
=> “Flag Questions”
=> Einstein on Nationalism
=> The Origin of the Russian Flag: Research Project
=> In the Next Issues

Introduction: Flags, Nation, and Nationalism

This issue we’ve got some critical thinking acitvities. We will think about what flags mean exactly, and how they should be treated, and if there should be laws to ensure respectful treatment.

I recently taught Japanese students in Washington, DC. I asked what surprised them about America. One student remarked that there were so many flags. In Japan, he said, people don’t have flags at home, in their windows, or in their cars.

In Vladivostok on the water front, I saw a girl wearing a short skirt in the design of a Russian flag. (Fortunately, I got a photo if you’d like to see it!) Is this respectful or not?

How about someone wearing an American flag, a Ukrainian flag? Is carrying a flag different than have a flag designed into your clothing? Do you love your country’s flag? Are their laws against disrespecting the flag?

All this raises some fascinating questions about who we are. Do we have the freedom to choose our nationality, our allegiance to a country, or is it our duty to support the country in which we were born no matter what?

Below you’ll find questions. Discuss them in small groups first, then as a class. Choose any of the following questions to begin your discussion and, if you get stuck, go to another. You don’t have to discuss them in order.

1. Is it legal to burn the Russian flag as a sign of protest?

2. What would you think of people who burned your country’s flag?

3. What do you think of a girl wearing a short skirt of your country’s flag? Is she respectful or not? Do you think it’s cool or boring?

4. Do you own any flags or flag pins of your country? How many? Do you own any flags of other countries? Describe them to your group or partner?

5. The U.S. Flag Code states, “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” Nor should the flag be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper.” Do you think that’s a good law? Why or why not?

6. In Denmark, it is illegal to desecrate flags from other nations. But it is legal to burn the Danish flag itself? Why do you think Denmark made the law this way?

7. Is flag burning illegal in the United States? It’s hard to answer. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme court declared (Texas v. Johnson) that it was unconstitutional for states to have laws against flag burning. Burning the U.S. flag is considered an act of free speech. But some states still have laws against flag desecration. What is the best law regarding treatment of flags?

(A) No law against flag desecration
(B) Laws protecting only the governing nation’s flag
(C) laws protecting only other nations’ flags
(D) laws protecting all flags against desecration.

Support your opinion.

8. Love of one’s country is a tricky thing. Does one love one’s country all the time, no matter what? Does the citizen have the right to criticize his or her country?

9. What about state flags? Is it okay to honor more than one flag? Let’s say you live in Texas. Is the Texas flag as important, or even more important than the national flag? What if you live in the Republic of Tuva, where the Tuvan flag flies next to the Russian flag?

10. In Arizona, House Bill 2583 will require all schoolrooms–kindergarten through college–to display a U.S. flag. What do you think of this law? Do you think something similar should be adopted in your country?

For an opinion on Flag Burning, read the legal editor at Pravda.ru

Einstein on Naionalism

Albert Einstein described nationalism as the the measels (Russian = kor’) of humanity. What did he mean? Do you think nationalism has both good and bad sides? Write about this topic. Be sure to provide specific examples from history.

The Origin of the Russian Flag: Research Project

The flag of the Russian Federation, a tricolor featuring horizontal stripes of white, blue, and red, is said to have been created by Peter I. Peter admired Holland, so he simply changed the order of the colors. The Dutch flag is red over white over blue. (Source: Leonid Parfenov’s series The Russian Empire.)

Various sources on the Internet disagree to an extent.

Ask student groups to research the origins of the Russian flag. They may do this research in Russian, but they should report their findings in English.

An interesting discussion should develop afterwards.

Learning More about Flags

For teachers: go to a flag web site and print up–in color if possible–a paper with 40 or so flag designs. They can be used for an excellent describing activity.

Put students in pairs. One student holds a copy of a flag. The other has a blank piece of paper and a pen. The one student describes exactly what is on the flag, and the colors. Naturally, flags should be a little more complicated than just three colors. Look for flags like that of Brazil, Bermuda, etc.

In the next Issues

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