June 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 4
Oh say can you see Any changes in me?
Wake up, Aniei ica, bel’orc it’s too late! Rally round the (lag while we still have the chance! The threat to Old Glory has never been greater, even in the darkest days of the Republic’s history, and even though today the American (lag flies—albeit a bit shakily—all around the world. The threat conies not, as you might expect, from a foreign power; it comes from within, for slowly and almost imperceptibly the American (lag is changing color, right before our eyes. It’s still red, white, and blue, but it’s no longer the red, white, and blue that we used to know. The flag I originally pledged my allegiance to had stripes of a crisp but subdued red and a field of fine dark blue. A glance at the (lags displayed anywhere around the country—at parades, at schools, at shopping centers, over your alderman’s barbecue pit, along Fifth Avenue in New York, or wherever a number of flags Hy together—will show that these colors have been transformed into Disneyland or pop-art colors. The blue (which is supposed to stand for loyalty) is often what the garment clisiiict would tall electric: blue, and sometimes it leaves America altogether to become French blue or even, sad to say, royal blue. The red (for the blood shed by patriots) looks sometimes like a stop light, sometimes like a pizza, sometimes like artificially flavored cherry Jello. Hoth the red and the blue seem to be more suited to a drum majorette’s tmilorm than to a flag.
What has caused the alarming change in color? Are the flag makers taking undue liberties? Xo, it’s all just part of the march of progress, for nowadays about one in live American flags is made from synthetic fibers like nylon or acrylic, instead of cotton or wool bunting—which is what Retsy Ross used when (if the story is true) she sewed the first flag in 1776.
A flag made of nylon or acrylic—we might call it “Young Glory”—tan indeed be attractive. The material is glossy and slick and durable; it reHects light with great brilliance; and the manufacturers are very scientific, about it. It is possible to specify exact spectrographic wave lengths for the colors the United States flag is supposed to have. The Color Association of the United States, a quasi-official organi/ation based in New York, has simplified the problem, reducing the specifications to a colorimetric code and assigning a cable number to each color, thus facilitating orders from big textile firms.
The cable numbers of the colors of the United States Hag, under this system, 70180 (Old Glory Red). 70001 (white), and 70075 (Old Glory Klue). They add up 210.256, a very mystic number which will not be mentioned again. (Americans will be pleased to know that Old Glory Red also appears on the national flags of France and England and even Cuba. The Russian flag is a color called, ironically, US. Army Scarlet, wall the hammer and sickle a shade known as Lemon Yellow.)
But Old Glory Red and Klue are considered absolutely necessary only in flags that arc purchased by the government and made in accordance with Federal Specifications DDD-F-416c fine, twenty-four-page brochure that is short on poetry but filled with technical drawings and even more technical language. When it comes to flags that are not made for official use. there are no rigid requirements.
Beyond that, however, the synthetic fibers have introduced a new difficulty with which science, so far, is unprepared to tope, it seems that 70180, Old Glory Red, and 70075, Old Glory Blue, strike the eye of the beholder rather dilferently in nylon or acrylic than they do in good old wool or cotton, since the human mind, irritatingly enough, is more complicated than a spectroscope. They’re the same colors, as far as scientific measurement of wave length goes; but, by golly, they don’t look the same.
Americans have traditionally heen profoundly concerned with the way they treat the Hag. The law goes to great and almost tiresome pains to regulate both its display and Us proportions. The national ensign is supposed to be hoisted briskly, lor instance, and lowered ceremoniously: if anyone should make (he mistake of hoisting it ceremoniously and lowering it briskly, he is breaking the law. And according to presidential order breadth of the stars should be 6.16 per cent of the entire width of the flag. In this case, the widtu means the distance from top to bottom, not (as one might expect) from one side to the other. The order was issued by President Eiscnhower, who is not noted for precision of speech.
Not long a Ko, when a very enterprising manufacturer of ladies’ undergarments tried to market a girdle overprinted with stars and stripes, the Daughters of the American Revolution attacked in force until the unmentionables were withdrawn. What happened to those already sold? They were, one hopes, lowered—with ceremony. Hut so far nobody lias confronted the new threat that Young Glory, or Pop Art Glory, presents to Old Glory. Many hearts may still heat true for the red. white, and blue; but just which red, white, and blue they arc beating for is now a moot point. It is to be hoped that we’ll still be able not only to see, by the dawn s early light, but to recognize what so proudly we hailed, etc. And:
May the service, united, ne’er sever, But hold to their colors so true; The Army and Navy forever, Three Cheers for the 70180, 70001, and 70057!