Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 05-15-2019, 05:16 AM
psychonaut is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Europe
Posts: 5,811

Modern use of inverted flags for distress


It's common knowledge that flying a flag upside-down is supposed to be reserved for cases of distress. The US flag code even spells this out, saying that "[t]he flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property".* I can well imagine that inverted flags were commonly used as distress signals in the maritime world back in the pre-radio days. But are there any documented modern-day cases of someone hoisting a flag upside-down in order to signal an urgent and life-threatening emergency, and of someone coming to the rescue because of that signal? Bonus points if the emergency doesn't involve watercraft. For example, has anyone been kidnapped and successfully alerted the police or passersby by flying an inverted flag from their place of confinement?

*Yes, I know that this code is not binding on most civilians. My question isn't about the legality of the practice; only whether it's actually been used recently to communicate genuine dire distress.
  #2  
Old 05-15-2019, 05:56 AM
Banksiaman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Australia
Posts: 916
Borderline contribution at best ...

I first heard of the upside down flag = distress signal in the early 90s. An Australian flag postage stamp had been issued, and a political campaign began to stick them upside down on envelopes to show that people were really, really, REALLY upset about some particular issue involving the government of the day.

I cannot remember the particular issue as it was not central to my life, but I'm sure it fits the OP's 'urgent and life-threatening emergency' criterion.

Don't know but I feel deep down that the cause was well served, government took heed of the consistently upside post they received and realised that they were one step short of societal collapse and stopped doing that thing forthwith. Huzzah for postage!
  #3  
Old 05-15-2019, 06:55 AM
Bert Nobbins is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 309
The inverted flag was certainly a convention:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distre...Inverted_flags

though I wonder how much it was actually used.

You would have to be pretty close to the union jack to see if it was upside down.

If of course you're from France, Belgium, Nigeria, Japan, Ireland, or Italy etc you're never going to get rescued because those flags are vertically symmetrical.
  #4  
Old 05-15-2019, 07:50 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 82,695
And the flag of Thailand is specifically designed to be symmetrical. Supposedly, there was a case where the King was coming to visit a village, and one of the villagers, in a show of patriotism, was flying the flag, but accidentally flew it upside down, and so to spare any such future embarrassment, the King ordered the flag to be re-designed so that any way it was displayed would always be correct.
  #5  
Old 05-15-2019, 07:56 AM
ticker is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: London
Posts: 2,035
The British union flag is flown upside down almost as often as it is right side up, mainly because far too many Brits are entirely ignorant of the fact that there is a right and a wrong way.
  #6  
Old 05-15-2019, 08:08 AM
carnivorousplant is offline
KB not found. Press any key
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Central Arkansas
Posts: 58,456
Quote:
Originally Posted by ticker View Post
The British union flag is flown upside down almost as often as it is right side up, mainly because far too many Brits are entirely ignorant of the fact that there is a right and a wrong way.
Surely you jest.
  #7  
Old 05-15-2019, 08:13 AM
naita is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Norway
Posts: 6,254
I think the ubiquity of using the upside down flag to signal political "distress" means that any hypothetical kidnap victims with access to windows/flag poles and flags are still languishing in captivity.
  #8  
Old 05-15-2019, 08:36 AM
psychonaut is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Europe
Posts: 5,811
Quote:
Originally Posted by naita View Post
I think the ubiquity of using the upside down flag to signal political "distress" means that any hypothetical kidnap victims with access to windows/flag poles and flags are still languishing in captivity.
Yeah, its use as a political statement has probably long eclipsed its use as a bona fide SOS. Still, I'd be interested to know if anyone in modern times (maybe before the political "distress" thing got popular) ever got rescued from harm by flying an inverted flag.
  #9  
Old 05-15-2019, 09:22 AM
ticker is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: London
Posts: 2,035
Quote:
Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ticker
The British union flag is flown upside down almost as often as it is right side up, mainly because far too many Brits are entirely ignorant of the fact that there is a right and a wrong way.
Surely you jest.
What part do you think I am joking about? That there is a right and wrong way up, or that many Brits don't know that? Either way I stand by what I said.
  #10  
Old 05-15-2019, 09:25 AM
Si Amigo is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: North of 8 Mile
Posts: 4,117
Quote:
Originally Posted by ticker View Post
What part do you think I am joking about? That there is a right and wrong way up, or that many Brits don't know that? Either way I stand by what I said.
I think he wants you to explain the difference between the right and wrong way, not just state that there is a right and wrong way. This is GQ, please provide a cite.

Last edited by Si Amigo; 05-15-2019 at 09:25 AM.
  #11  
Old 05-15-2019, 09:34 AM
naita is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Norway
Posts: 6,254
Quote:
Originally Posted by Si Amigo View Post
I think he wants you to explain the difference between the right and wrong way, not just state that there is a right and wrong way. This is GQ, please provide a cite.
Really? It's not exactly a secret, and "Surely you jest?" seems like a weird way to express the desire for a cite.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Jack#Flying
Quote:
The flag does not have reflection symmetry due to the slight pinwheeling of the St Patrick's and St Andrew's crosses, technically the counterchange of saltires. Thus, there is a right side up. The original specification of the Union Flag in the Royal Proclamation of 1 January 1801 did not contain a drawn pattern or express which way the saltires should lie; they were simply "counterchanged" and the red saltire fimbriated. Nevertheless, a convention was soon established which accords most closely with the description.
Quote:
It is often stated that a flag upside down is a form of distress signal or even a deliberate insult. In the case of the Union Flag, the difference is subtle and is easily missed by the uninformed. It is often displayed upside down inadvertently—even on commercially-made hand waving flags.

On 3 February 2009, the BBC reported that the flag had been inadvertently flown upside-down by the UK government at the signing of a trade agreement with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The error had been spotted by readers of the BBC news website who had contacted the BBC after seeing a photograph of the event.
  #12  
Old 05-15-2019, 11:06 AM
Si Amigo is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: North of 8 Mile
Posts: 4,117
Quote:
Originally Posted by naita View Post
Really? It's not exactly a secret, and "Surely you jest?" seems like a weird way to express the desire for a cite.
No it's not. But it is kind of understood in GQ that facts to back up statements are preferred over IMHO statements or go look up my statement for proof responses.

See GQ Rules and Facts #7.

And I quote "If you post a factual claim, be prepared to back it up with a citation. If someone asks for a citation, don't take it personally, we're trying to get to the facts here, and that's how it's done."

Last edited by Si Amigo; 05-15-2019 at 11:07 AM.
  #13  
Old 05-15-2019, 11:55 AM
naita is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Norway
Posts: 6,254
Quote:
Originally Posted by Si Amigo View Post
No it's not. But it is kind of understood in GQ that facts to back up statements are preferred over IMHO statements or go look up my statement for proof responses.

See GQ Rules and Facts #7.

And I quote "If you post a factual claim, be prepared to back it up with a citation. If someone asks for a citation, don't take it personally, we're trying to get to the facts here, and that's how it's done."
Let me rephrase my previous response to make it clearer what I intended to convey, and why I find this harping on the rules absurd. When I wrote:

Quote:
Really? It's not exactly a secret, and "Surely you jest?" seems like a weird way to express the desire for a cite.
What I meant wasn't "It's dumb to ask for a cite", it was:

How do you come to the conclusion that "Surely you jest?" was a request for a cite for it being possible to fly the Union Jack upside down, and not for a cite that it often is, or even not a request for a cite at all, but a joke that fell flat, or a reference to obscure Scottish comedy, or something other, as to me at least, "Surely you jest?" is not a request for a citation.

Last edited by naita; 05-15-2019 at 11:56 AM.
  #14  
Old 05-15-2019, 12:03 PM
Colibri's Avatar
Colibri is offline
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 42,201
Quote:
Originally Posted by Si Amigo View Post
No it's not. But it is kind of understood in GQ that facts to back up statements are preferred over IMHO statements or go look up my statement for proof responses.

See GQ Rules and Facts #7.

And I quote "If you post a factual claim, be prepared to back it up with a citation. If someone asks for a citation, don't take it personally, we're trying to get to the facts here, and that's how it's done."
carnivorousplant did not ask for a cite (and even if it was, what was being asked for was unclear). That's your speculation, not backed up by facts.

Last edited by Colibri; 05-15-2019 at 12:04 PM.
  #15  
Old 05-15-2019, 01:11 PM
carnivorousplant is offline
KB not found. Press any key
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Central Arkansas
Posts: 58,456
The flag looks symmetrical to me. The cross is offset, but it looks to me that if it is rotated, the offset remains the same. Perhaps I am mistaken.
  #16  
Old 05-15-2019, 01:44 PM
dtilque is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: My own private Nogero
Posts: 6,675
Quote:
Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
The flag looks symmetrical to me. The cross is offset, but it looks to me that if it is rotated, the offset remains the same. Perhaps I am mistaken.
It depends on which way you rotate the flag. If rotated 'horizontally', i.e. in the plane of the flag, it doesn't change. But if rotated top to bottom, it will. The red and white saltires (X-shaped crosses) will be switched. But this is real subtle and not very obvious.

As far as the OP, flying the flag upside down to indicate distress has been a trope in at least one TV show. In particular, I remember an episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep where they used it to trick some Japanese who supposedly were sufficiently unfamiliar with the US flag that they didn't notice it being upside down. How plausible that is is questionable. And it was not based on any actual events, as far as I know.
  #17  
Old 05-15-2019, 01:47 PM
yabob is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Posts: 7,936
Quote:
Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
The flag looks symmetrical to me. The cross is offset, but it looks to me that if it is rotated, the offset remains the same. Perhaps I am mistaken.
Rotated, yes, but there are only grommets for attaching the flag to the pole on one side - you can't rotate it. You can, however, flip it, and switch the bottom grommet with the top one. It will then be upside down.
__________________
... and with these words
we parted each feeling
superior to the other and is not that
feeling after all one of the great
desiderata of social intercourse
archy
  #18  
Old 05-15-2019, 02:05 PM
carnivorousplant is offline
KB not found. Press any key
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Central Arkansas
Posts: 58,456
I wonder why the cross is offset.
  #19  
Old 05-15-2019, 02:23 PM
naita is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Norway
Posts: 6,254
Quote:
Originally Posted by carnivorousplant View Post
I wonder why the cross is offset.
My WAG would be that it's to make it clearer that unlike the horizontal/vertical white, which is the white background of the red on white cross of St. George, the white diagonal cross is the white on blue cross of St. Andrew and not just a white background for the red on white cross of St. Patrick.
  #20  
Old 05-15-2019, 02:28 PM
yabob is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Posts: 7,936
Quote:
Originally Posted by naita View Post
My WAG would be that it's to make it clearer that unlike the horizontal/vertical white, which is the white background of the red on white cross of St. George, the white diagonal cross is the white on blue cross of St. Andrew and not just a white background for the red on white cross of St. Patrick.
Yes, this is it. If the cross of St Patrick weren't offset, the cross of St Andrew would be interpreted as simply an outline to keep from displaying the dark red color directly on the dark blue. The white around the cross of St George is just such an outline, and is not offset. You call such outlines on flags "fimbriations", BTW.
__________________
... and with these words
we parted each feeling
superior to the other and is not that
feeling after all one of the great
desiderata of social intercourse
archy
  #21  
Old 05-15-2019, 02:38 PM
KneadToKnow is offline
Voodoo Adult (Slight Return)
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Charlotte, NC, USA
Posts: 25,878
Obligatory Sheldon Cooper reference.
  #22  
Old 05-15-2019, 02:58 PM
Saint Cad is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: N of Denver & S of Sanity
Posts: 13,168
Quote:
Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
As far as the OP, flying the flag upside down to indicate distress has been a trope in at least one TV show. In particular, I remember an episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep where they used it to trick some Japanese who supposedly were sufficiently unfamiliar with the US flag that they didn't notice it being upside down. How plausible that is is questionable. And it was not based on any actual events, as far as I know.
I bet that if the Japanese tried the same trick, Americans wouldn't have been fooled.
  #23  
Old 05-15-2019, 03:00 PM
Tim@T-Bonham.net is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 14,750
To answer the OP, the use of an upside-down flag to indicate distress is pretty rare in modern times. Mostly because it
1) isn't very well recognized, and
2) isn't much needed.

Many (most?) flags are symmetrical, or nearly so, and unlikely to be recognized as a sign of distress. And you'd have to be quite close to even see a flag, and notice it -- ships in distress are usually more isolated than that.

And in modern times, there are so many other, easier, unambiguous forms of communication available to people than the upside-down flag. Everything from a bullhorn or sending SOS via a flashlight if there's a ship within sight, to radio, cellphone, signal flags, even sending SOS via ships radar or sonar. Many of these allow speech communication, to give more specific details of the 'distress' and what aid is needed.

So there is very little use for this old tradition in modern times.

Last edited by Tim@T-Bonham.net; 05-15-2019 at 03:01 PM.
  #24  
Old 05-15-2019, 03:09 PM
SCAdian is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 6,538
If St Patrick's cross were simply superimposed over St Andrew's, with the latter sufficiently wide to show that was a saltire, not just fimbriation, it would appear that Ireland was being given superiority. Superimposing Andrew's over Patrick's would give the opposite impression -- that Scotland was being given superiority -- and would also break the heraldic colour-on-colour rule. As it is, on two arms of the saltire the red portion is closer to the top of the strip, but on the other two it's closer to the bottom.
  #25  
Old 05-16-2019, 03:46 AM
Asuka is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 1,147
Quote:
Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
It depends on which way you rotate the flag. If rotated 'horizontally', i.e. in the plane of the flag, it doesn't change. But if rotated top to bottom, it will. The red and white saltires (X-shaped crosses) will be switched. But this is real subtle and not very obvious.

As far as the OP, flying the flag upside down to indicate distress has been a trope in at least one TV show. In particular, I remember an episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep where they used it to trick some Japanese who supposedly were sufficiently unfamiliar with the US flag that they didn't notice it being upside down. How plausible that is is questionable. And it was not based on any actual events, as far as I know.
It was also oddly enough used in two different Japanese video games, which makes me think maybe over in Japan they assume it's a lot more common in the US than it actually is.

In Resident Evil 2 the Police Station press room American flag is upside down, while in Metal Gear Solid 2 the place where the US President was going to give a speech also has its flag upside down, presumably to illustrate the great distress of zombie apocalypse in the former and terrorist takeover in the latter.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:17 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017