Monday, February 21, 2011

The Conspiracy of Standardizing Flags

What should a Flag Look Like?

Utah House Concurrent Resolution 2 (HCR2) "urges manufacturers to . . . accurately reflect the description of the [Utah State Flag]." That seems simple enough, make the flag correctly. Yet some see sinister motives even in simple things. A newspaper article reporting the passage of the HCR 2 brought the following reader comment, "One step closer to socialism where the state government tells the private sector what to do."

Actually, the United States Government has been telling flag makers exactly how to make the United States Flag since 1912. Before that time U.S. flags had stars and stripes, but flags were made displaying a bewildering assortment of detail.

When Congress passed the law describing the United States flag, wording was remarkably vague. The flag only needed thirteen red and white stripes with a blue field of white stars. That left a lot of details to the imagination. How many points should each star have? How were the stars to be arranged? Must the stars all be the same size? How big was the field of blue? Was it seven red and six white stripes or six red and seven white stripes? For the first one hundred and thirty five years, these details were pretty much up to individual flag makers. The Navy might have a version that they preferred, while the Army would use another pattern. Did a flag have stars and stripes? Was it red white and blue? Well, that was usually close enough.

When Utah joined the Union in 1896, the Army and the Navy—for the first time—agreed on one pattern of stars, and the President, as the commander-in-chief, agreed. Nevertheless, the agreement failed to answer many questions.

With the admission of New Mexico and Arizona on the horizon, President William Howard Taft decided it was time to standardize the other details. He issued an Executive Order specifying them. How did Taft determine proportions, colors and the arrangement of the stars? I have always imagined Taft's huge frame propped up with pillows in the White House's Lincoln bed with a yellow legal pad and a stubby pencil figuring the flag's correct proportions. Let's see, if the flag's width has a ratio of one, the length will be one and nine tenths. The width of the union would be seven thirteenths or .054, and each stripe would be one thirteenth or .076923 of the hoist. Although that is an interesting image, Taft did not figure it out himself. He did what presidents often do. He appointed a committee. Chaired by Spanish American War Hero, Admiral Dewey, the committee produced an Executive Order for Taft's signature which spelled out the details of the forty-eight star flag. In 1959 and 1960 when Alaska and Hawaii joined the union, President Eisenhower signed updated executive orders which increased the stars first from forty-eight to forty-nine and finally to fifty. Eisenhower approved the new pattern for stars but the details from the Taft order remained almost unchanged.

So, if HCR 2 discloses the Utah State Government sliding toward socialism, that slide could be said to have began in 1912 with President William Howard Taft, who served not only as President but also on the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of the United States. Eisenhower, who signed the most recent flag executive orders, served as President and as one of the nation's few five star generals. Neither they nor the Utah Legislature strike me as flaming socialists. Seems more like consumers telling the private sector what they want to purchase. Information that, I believe, the manufacturers want to have.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

1847 and Three Drops of Blood

The Utah Legislature is considering a Resolution to correct the manufacturing of Utah State Flags. For eighty-nine years examples of the Utah State Flag have been made with a flaw in the design. The correction is a small one; return the numerals for the year 1847 to their correct position immediately below the word Utah and the Beehive. The colors will also be returned to those used when the flag's symbols were first shown in color. Are Utahns the only ones to get excited about small detail in their state's flag.

The Louisiana State Flag, dating from 1912, displays a "pelican in her piety."  This charge from heraldry depicts a mother pelican wounding herself by plunging her bill into her breast to obtain blood to feed her young.   Over the years the drops of blood, which were originally shown on Louisiana State flags, disappeared, until an eighth grade student noticed the error and brought it to the attention of state legislators.  In April 2006, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a bill requiring that three drops of blood be shown on the pelican's breast when depicted on the Louisiana State Flag and Seal. On the 23rd of November of 2010 Louisiana officials unveiled a new state flag at the swearing in ceremonies of the Secretary of State and one of his aides. Required by the 2006 law, the flag presented a more sophisticated illustration of the pelican which included the three drops of blood.

A great story with great parallels.  The placement of 1847 on the Utah State Flag is indeed a small matter, but so are three drops of blood on a pelican's breast.

Curtis Haring, a self appointed Watchdog of the Utah Legislature, at first thought it a waste of legislative time and effort. On reflection, he felt differently. He summed it up well in his blog "Blue in a Red Zion":

"Yes, this is a minor thing . . . . Big deal in reality? No, but it is a symbolic thing and it is important to get things right."