Another installment of my odd hobby of collecting patches. Today I’m putting up my collection of flag patches, and the theme is state and national flags.
The most obvious place to start is with the U.S. national flag. I have a few of these, and I think the first one I ever had was off a Cub Scout uniform when I was but a wee lad. The BSA is probably where most people acquire a patch fetish, but I didn’t care much for the Cub Scouts because they wouldn’t let us go camping. I have no idea what happened to any of my Cub Scout patches, neckerchiefs, or uniform, but that’s neither here nor there. It is entirely possible, nay, probable, that the U.S. flag patch from that uniform is the one that ended up glued to some velcro I pulled off an old pair of shoes and used to affix it to an old ball cap. I suppose that I was ahead of my time, since velcro patch ball caps are apparently all the rage with U.S. forces operating in Western Asia right now.
So yeah, here is a U.S. flag patch I probably took off one of my old sets of B.D.U.s:
(It seems after typing all that I’ve misplaced the picture. I’ll get back to that later…)
You have to have a back patch, and I have two. One is a screen-printed affair that a friend gave to me, and another I bought to go on the back of a riding jacket I no longer own (it has some nice reflective qualitites, not to mention being large):
When I first started putting together a “patch jacket” (it would take too long to explain here) I was obsessed with getting a Kansas State Flag patch. Now, I really don’t like the Kansas State Flag. It looks as if it were designed specifically to show which principles shouldn’t be used in proper flag design. I think the only flag I find more aesthetically horrific is the 2001 – 2003 Georgia State Flag. But there you go, I lived in Kansas and had to have one. At the time they were wicked hard to find, however. There is a merchant who travels from PX to PX on posts across the nation, and he sells all kinds of patches, but it’s like some real life Nintendo RPG where the mysterious merchant appears randomly or according to arcane celestial conditions, and I could never find the guy when I had cash on me. Then eBay got hugely popular and the shops in Asia that make patches started selling directly to U.S. individual customers, which accounts for many of my patches after a certain date. So, I finally found the Kansas Flag patch that I wanted. Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever actually sewn this one on anything, but hey, I finally got the bleeding thing:
Here is the shield design that was more popular with IRL vendors, and what I actually wore for the longest time:
And here is the first patch I actually found, and grudgingly wore for a very short time. I found it in the gift shop of the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. The museum is pretty neat, but this patch was only the Great Seal of Kansas, which itself is very boring (the for the record Kansas has a boss motto):
Speaking of hard to find patches… Nearly everywhere you look if you want a Scotland patch you find the Rampant Lion flag instead of the St. Andrew’s Cross. The Rampant Lion is the heraldic emblem of the House of Stuart, which is not the same thing as the country of Scotland. The Rampant Lion is much more popular, however, and tends to be more readily available than the St. Andrew’s Cross flag. Despite not being entirely happy about it, I wore a Rampant Lion patch for a short time before finding the appropriate St. Andrews flag:
That was all part of my “heritage collection” impulse. My surname and ancestry is Scottish, while my Mother’s side is German. Here is the correct St. Andrew’s flag for Scotland, and a rather iffy German Imperial flag for the German part of me. There really was no such thing as a German nation-state until relatively recently, so it would be more accurate to try and figure out what part of Germany my folks immigrated from and do that, but I’m not sure how to go about that. The red, white, and black Imperial flag is more appealing to me than the red, gold, and black German nationalist flag. Fun fact: Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that he despised the Imperial flag and supported the tri-color of the current German state, though in all fairness the flag is historical and was also taken up by various other contemporary political movements who were anti-Imperial. Yet neo-Nazis in Germany sometimes fly the Imperial colors because they are by law prohibited from using NSDAP flags or designs derived therefrom. Politics is a strange thing, which is why I endeavor to avoid it.
Continuing the theme of historical, ancestral, and potential controversial flags, I here present flags of the State of Georgia. I collected and wore patches from the Old World where my ancestors immigrated from, but wanted U.S. state flags to represent the parts of the country where those ancestors immigrated to, and where my own two parents are from. These are Alabama on my Mother’s side, and Georgia on my Father’s side. I am also originally from Georgia, having been born in Savannah. A Georgia flag patch was an interesting thing to look for, considering the political controversy over the design was happening during the time I was looking. Which flag design would be represented? Me? I wanted the flag design that was flying over the capitol when I was born in 1975, which is the controversial “Confederate Battle Flag” design. I am a big fan of heritage and neat design, so it pains me that this interesting and aesthetically pleasing design was disinterred from an honorable grave and put to use for the dishonorable purpose of defying the Civil Rights movement. But there you go, politics again. I just like the design and am from Georgia, so prefer to be judged on that if I have any say about it. Here is the “old” version of the Georgia flag with the current “retro” design underneath it. We will not mention the abomination that was in between these two designs again…
And, of course, the first one I managed to find was the ubiquitous shield design:
Speaking of historical flags (and political co-opting again, unfortunately), here are some more that I’ve collected but might cause people to look at me funny if I wore them:
The top flag is one of the official C.S.A. flags, the bottom one a modern invention based on the Confederate Naval Jack. When I was a young thing the only thing the bottom flag stood for to me (and many people in popular Southern culture) was the general idea of being Southron. I look at it apolitically now, trying to understand the different sides of the issue. I still find the design itself appealing, and while I try to be sensitive to the perceptions and feelings of others, cannot but help associate it with my own good feelings and memories of being a young child living in the South.
Here is a Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a U.S. Army Flag. If I wore a Gadsen flag today people might think I’m a Tea Party supporter, but I am not. After my brief dalliance with the GOP shortly after the last election I have returned to my “anti-party moderate swing voter” stance. The U.S. Army flag I collected because I served in the U.S. Army. At least that one is simple to explain…
Flags being representative of peoples, politics, and governments, it’s very difficult to separate these things and approach a flag objectively. The more I write in this blog post the more I am conscious of this. I feel compelled to defend my collection and explain my actions, but as I do I feel a rising resentment, because I really just like flags. I have collected flags I am connected with somehow or anther, or at least feel connected to, and while they sit in my collection box they are as innocuous as I feel about them. Bring them out into the open reminds me that they mean different things to different people, and that my own internal thoughts and motives behind collecting or even wearing a certain flag or design are by-passed by the function of the flag because they are unknown unless you ask me about it or perhaps read this website, and I might be negatively labeled for possessing or displaying some of these. That is an inherent function of a flag, however. It is a symbol that identifies and sums up a person/people in one swift, colorful display. It’s what a flag does, so I understand that these collections have popularly negative connotations for some of my collected flags and designs. Displaying that makes me prone to these identifications I don’t intend. I accept that, I have no choice, but in sharing my collection and talking about it I hope to stimulate some thought on the subject of symbols and identity in anyone who reads this.
Moving right along from all that, or maybe not, here is another flag I collected due to my personal connection to it. I find it strange that this flag elicits strong emotions from people, but it has. I used to wear it on my patch jacket, and I suppose I figured if it bothered anybody it would have been a WWII veteran. This was not the case, and I actually caught a lot of racist/nationalist flak from people my own age and younger over it. It’s the State Flag of Japan (not even the War Flag with the rays coming from the Rising Sun), and I collected and displayed it because of my personal ties to Japan and Japanese people. Two things helped turn my life around when I down enough that I was in danger of not getting back up: the Japanese language and kendo. I have met some very fine people in the pursuit of these two subjects, and the practice and required discipline to pursue these subjects have helped me meet positive people, move away from negative people, and get my drinking problem under control. I wore the Japanese flag proudly on my patch jacket, and will never apologize to anyone over it.
Now we’re moving into the oddball stuff.
The so-called “Vinland Flag” design was, according to Wikipedia, designed by the lead singer of the band Type O Negative. I’m not really sure about all that, but I like the flag. It’s based on the Scandinavian Cross design that, funny enough, Scandinavian countries base their flag designs on. I think the idea is that Vinland was the name Leif the Lucky’s crew called North America, and if the colonization hadn’t failed this would have been a good flag for it. Different groups use this design with different variations. I found it because I am Asatru, and it pops up here and there because Asatru is a “Viking religion” and North American heathens wanted something to identify with. Unfortunately the usual collection of extremists latched on to it, so there is some political ambiguity surrounding it. I think that as a symbol it is not really in the public’s consciousness so much, so in that respect it is nowhere near effective for the shock value the extremist groups desperately crave. But here it is, the Vinland Flag:
Sometimes I buy flags on pure impulse, then look at them later and have no idea what I was thinking when I did it. These two flags fall into that category, being a very tiny German Imperial tri-color and a glittery “Union Jack” that I think I got at a Wal*Mart:
I… have no excuses for these last two…
But that’s my state and national flag patch collection so far. One more page to my odd hobby section in the “Rec Room”.
EDIT: I have another picture to add!
I picked these up last year after I wrote the original article, mostly because I’m a completist, I like to have full sets of a thing. I was in Brit’s in Lawrence buying some Burdock & Dandelion flavored soda, and these were like $2 a piece or whatever, so I picked them up to go with my Scottish National Flag up at the top there. I suppose Welsh and Northern Irish flags would actually complete the set, but I’ve never been to either of those places or have any other connection to them, so probably won’t add them.
3 responses to “State & National Flag Patches”
I know how you may feel about wearing “problematic” flags. It’s obvious that wearing a swastika for “aesthetic reasons” is something really impossible since some symbols and flags have a very strong historical meaning for the worst in many cases. I am not capable of wearing a swastika, for example, because I don’t like it, but also I know what that symbol means and I don’t share anything with what it means, so I don’t want to be connected in any way to it. I’m talking about an extreme example to show clearly what I mean.
I have a flight jacket imitation of II WW Japanese Air Force and it has the old Japanese flag, one kanji meaning “spirit”, kamikaze themes and other things. I like Japanese culture (most of things), and you know, kamikazes are usually seen as heroes by most of foreign people around the world (incredibly not so for the actual Japanese, though) but I wonder what Chinese people may think of this jacket, see Nanking Incident, for example, really terrible. Once, I got into a shop ran by chinese people with this jacket, unaware of everything and totally unwise, and perhaps it was just my imagination but when they looked at me I noticed a sudden and self-contained expression of weirdness in their faces, and then I realized about it. I felt so ashamed, because I really like Chinese too (and probably nothing against any nation).
I feel a little reluctant to wear this jacket since then, although for me it is a cool and beautiful jacket, but I keep in mind
what I am wearing depending on the places where I go, for example, not for going to a Chinese Restaurant with it.
It’s all about context. The problem is that context is harder to control the more “in public” you are.
Taking your swastika example, there are very legitimate reasons to display a swastika that have nothing to do with being a Nazi or any other sort of supremacist politics. As a symbol it is pre-historic, and has religious and cultural uses throughout history. But the use of it by Nazi Germany is still strong enough in the minds of most people that it becomes difficult for some people to use it. For instance, I’m Asatru, and when I posted pictures of a Midsummer festival I went to a couple years ago there was included in them a photo of the Sunwheel we burnt (it included a swastika image). Myspace deleted the image and sent me a warning about extremism on their site. I sent them a letter explaining the religious (and non-racist and apolitical) context of the symbol, which was completely ignored. I know several Asatruar who have swastika tattoos for religious reasons, and I can only admire their willingness to deal with the issues that may arise from that.
Symbols are shorthand for ideas, and when one symbol has many ideas attached to it things can be very tricky. You mean one thing by your use, but people see what they believe it means and react accordingly. Some people react so strongly that no amount of provided context will help you avert their hysterical reactions. Others simply refuse to believe you, for whatever reasons of their own. It can be frustrating, but what can you do?
If by “old Japanese flag” you mean the “Rising Sun Flag”, it is still in use: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rising_Sun_Flag