Timberwoof Essays flagetiquette
International Charter of Flag Etiquette

According to Michelle Konieczny,

The International Charter of Flag Etiquette states that a flag may be flown upside down in cases of extreme distress. We fly our flag upside down to call out to fellow Americans, and to make them aware that our country is in distress. We seek to inform our fellow citizens and spread word of the changes that are needed to ensure our Liberty.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the second and third sentences, the first is bullshit. If you do a Google search on the phrase "International Charter of Flag Etiquette", all you ever find is a zillion copies of the article. There is no International Charter of Flag Etiquette; it's a fabrication. (However, I agree with the remainder of her article.)

Heraldically, the idea that flying a flag upside down as a sign of distress makes no sense at all. There are 43 flags which are the same when flown upside down:

Strictly Invertible
Algeria Austria Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Belgium Botswana Chad Cuba Denmark
Finland France Guatemala Guinea Guyana Honduras Iceland Ireland Israel Italy
Ivory Coast Jamaica Japan Laos Latvia Lybia Macedonia Maldives Mali Micronesia
Nigeria North Korea Norway Palau Qatar Romania Saotome Senegal Surinam Sweden
Thailand Tunisia Turkey              

There are 40 flags which at a distance look pretty much the same when flown upside down. On a foggy day on a tossing ocean, could you recognize these as right side up or up side down? (Three of them would also need a left-right flip as well as an upside-down flip to remain the same. Horizontal flips are not normally considered enough to differentiate a flag. The US Flag is still the US Flag when flipped horizontally. In fact, on the right side of airplanes, cars, and US soldiers, the flag is reversed from its normal aspect so that it flies in the proper direction for going forward.)

Heraldically Invertible
Albania Barbados Belize Bosnia-Herzegovina Brazil Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde
China Costa Rica Cyprus Dominica Dominican Republic El Salvador Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Lebanon Malta
Mexico Moldova Mongolia Morocco Nicaragua Pakistan Panama Peru Portugal Rwanda
Saudi Arabia Somalia South Korea Sri Lanka St. Vincent & Grenadines Trinidad & Tobago Uganda United Kingdom



There are four flags which, when inverted, become the flags of other countries, and eighteen which are already the same as other countries' flags or, when inverted, become the flags of other countries.

Mutually Inverse   Heraldically-Similar and Mutually-Inverse      
Uzbekistan Sierra Leone   Croatia Netherlands Luxembourg Yugoslavia      
Haiti Lichtenstein   Venezuela Columbia Ecuador Armenia      
      Singapore Indonesia Monaco Poland      
        Ghana Bolivia Ethiopia      
        Tajikistan Old Hungary Iran      

While I don't dispute the rest of Konieczny's article, I want to point out that fabricating "facts" to bolster one's political opinions is not good debating form. There is no "International Charter of Flag Etiquette" and one cannot depend on any particular interpretation of hanging a flag upside down. It can be a distress signal, an insult, or a mistake.

Flag images source: WWWeb Factory International Flags.

Addendum, October 11, 2005

I published my article in August, 2005. Today Michelle Konieczny wrote me this rebuttal:

Found: Search on your name...
Message: On your Timberwoof site you have posted an article stating that I fabricated the "International Charter of Flag Etiquette". Although it is impossible for me to prove at this point (some 4 years later) I assure you that I did not fabricate this term.

From what I can recall I used a website to obtain the information presented in my essay regarding the flag - one which may not be available any longer after this length of time (or may be hidden beneath the numerous copies of my article which have permeated the internet at this point).

I will definitely continue my search for my original source as I take charges of this nature very seriously - especially as it relates to forwarding political ideas. I agree with you that it is NEVER acceptable to lie or fabricate in any way support for political or other ideas in order to gain support.

I also agree with you that it's rather amusing to see that some flags upside-down turn into other countries' flags. Had I done better research perhaps I would've chosen a better source. As it stands now I can't change the original article, at least not on websites I have no editorial control over.

I will point out to you that it IS written in the U.S. Flag Code (4 US Code 1) that a flag may be flown upside-down in cases of distress.
U.S. Flag Code (4 US Code 1)
Sec. 8. - Respect for flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

(a) The 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.

SOURCE: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode04/usc_sec_04_00000008----000-.html

Also, I would like to comment that it has since come to my attention that this symbol is used by the anti-war activists. I was unaware that it was previously used by anti-war activists during the Vietnam War Era. (I was born in 1972). I do not agree with, nor do I support the anti-war movement.

I respectfully request that you change or add to your essay the information regarding the US Flag Code that I have included in this message. I also respectfully request that this rebuttal is added to your site.

Most Sincerely,
Michelle Konieczny

Found: Previously accessed through a search of your name on Google. Name found on your Timberwoof website.
Message: Dear Michael,

After doing some more research of my own this morning I though you would be interested to know that the inverted ensign is a historical, and INTERNATIONAL signal for distress.

There are numerous sources for this - most found when researching international maritime codes.

Again, this was so long ago it's hard to know exactly where I got the term from, but perhaps it should've read CODE and not Charter? There is an off chance that this term was given to me by Rick Stanley whom I was working for at the time the essay was written. (I no longer support him - you can see my resignation letter using your handy link for Googling my name on your essay page).

Columbia Encyclopedia

Signaling and Communication
The International Code flags and pennants enable mariners to communicate regardless of differences of language. In the armies and navies of the various nations of the world, flags are used for signaling. The white flag is used universally for truce; the black in early times was a symbol for piracy; the red symbolizes mutiny or revolution; the yellow is a sign of infectious diseases. Shipping lines have their own flags. Striking a flag signifies surrender, and the flag of a victor is hoisted above that of the vanquished. A flag flown at half-mast is the symbol of mourning. The inverted national ensign is a signal of distress.


In any event, I thought in light of some of this information you may wish to edit your comments regarding it "heraldicly" making no sense.

While I agree that with all the flags being flown nowadays it is amusing, historically this was not the case. Also, please note that the inverted ensign as a sign of distress is no longer used (due to the problems you point out on your webpage) and instead the "International Code of Signals" which governs use of signal flags for maritime purposes dedicates a specific flag for this purpose.

At this point I will no longer attempt to find the website I referenced (if it was indeed a website I got the term from it is not in use at this time). As I stated I could've also been told to use this term by Rick Stanley... (long story).

By the way, I was curious if you ever attempted to contact me regarding this whole situation. Usually if one is going to write such an inflammatory piece one would attempt to get a statement from the person themselves. To do otherwise and just "assume" that you know what you are speaking of and a person's intentions is bad form, in my opinion. It also borders on attempting to damage my character.

I will openly admit that you have hurt my feelings in the way you have spoken about me. Say what you will but I would never assume such things about you and state outrightly that you are lying about something without first attempting to contact you and allowing you to make a correction or rebuttal, unlike what you have done to me.

Please consider this next time you feel a need to rant about something you find incorrect on the internet.

Thank you for your time,
Michelle Konieczny

The United States has official rules for displaying the United States Flag. The International Code Flags or Signaling Flags are pennants flown either singly or in a series to represent letters, words, or messages. A Google search on "international code flag" yields about thirteen million pages. The first ten all show the same nautical signaling flags, but they don't mention any international rules against flying flags upside-down. No matter who invented it, I still believe that "International Charter of Flag Etiquette" is a fabrication.

I found several instances of Michelle Konieczny's article. I tried emailing Michelle and the republishers at various addresses, but aside from bounced emails, I never received any replies. Given how widely the article has been replicated, it is difficult to find an up-to-date address. Michelle correctly points out that she "can't change the original article, at least not on websites I have no editorial control over." Thus I publish this article in the hopes that anyone trying to research the "International Charter of Flag Etequette" will find it.

I did not rant. I used the word "bullshit" and rationally presented illustrations and links to support my case. If you have a link to a real and binding "International Charter of Flag Etequette", please send it to me and I will correct this article.

Just to be clear: I support Michelle Konieczny's article. She is entirely correct that our civil rights are being trampled and that we should display that distress by flying the US flag upside down.

Michael Roeder


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