There's a downside to flags and such trappings

KEVIN FOLEY
Last updated 08:09 10/02/2014

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OPINION: The flag debate, the flag debate! Every now and then someone gets it into their head to debate the New Zealand flag and whether or not it should be changed.

The usual suspects emerge, the imperialists, the radicals, the politicos and uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. There is very little consensus as to what the New Zealand flag should be if it were to be changed.

All sorts of cant gets trotted out in defence of a particular type of flag. The worst example is that our brave young men fought for and died for our current flag. I have always thought this was particularly specious argument as I don't recall any of my uncles or relatives ever saying that they fought for the flag.

One, who was at Gallipoli, said he joined up "for a bit of a lark. We all did". It makes us feel good to say and believe that our soldiers fought for the flag.

Flags come to their fore in war and New Zealand History on Line says that our current flag, "was adopted in 1902 amidst the pomp and patriotism of the South African war"; before that we had the Union Jack, another imperialist symbol.

It is nice when travelling to come across the New Zealand flag and to see the koru on an Air New Zealand plane at a huge international airport can give one a wee surge of pride.

But these are just symbols as is the fern and the kiwi. The kiwi, when you think of it, is a strange symbol to feel pride about. It has poor eyesight, is vulnerable to all sorts of predators, and usually mates for life. There is not a lot there to which the human kiwi can relate.

The answer to the flag debate is clear - don't have one. We could be the only country in the world that does not have a flag and hence by this exception would be instantly recognisable.

At official ceremonies there would be just a flag pole with perhaps on special occasions, an empty rectangle being hoisted. "Flag" bearers at games' opening ceremonies would just carry a flag pole flying a blank rectangle and this "symbol" would truly stand out.

An empty rectangle shows that we have the courage to strike out on our own, it's "emptiness" symbolises unlimited potential while its four borders symbolise strength, bravery, peace and wisdom though there could be referendum on this last quality. This national symbol would have to be patented as many other countries would wish to emulate it.

There is no need to stop at not having a flag. We don't need a national anthem, especially our current one which is full of archaic beliefs and yearnings. It has a God which most don't believe in to defend us, mentions "men" not women and wants our mountains to be ramparts. It is slightly better in Maori as most people do not know the words, which in any case are not a translation of the English version.

What to have in its place? Nothing. Let other countries play or sing their national anthem and when it is time for ours there would be silence. This period of silence would allow our team to concentrate on the game ahead and thus they would not be criticised for not singing our anthem.

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It would probably make the opposition angry and less focused and turn the crowds against us; again, an advantage to us as we do better when our backs are against the wall. Being flagless and anthem-free need not be permanent and after a decent period we may be able to choose both a flag and anthem without being cluttered and distracted by the present ones.

Flags and similar trappings have a downside and many evils can be allowed and excused by using them, in fact hiding behind them. They can give vent to an ugly side of patriotism, a patriotism which as Oscar Wilde said, is "the last refuge of a scoundrel".

- The Timaru Herald

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