by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Symbols are powerful. The meaning they carry accumulates as people make associations with them over time, much like a picture is said to be worth a thousand words.  In some cases, these accumulated associations render them offensive.

In 1990, during my first trip to India, I recall seeing a swastika in a photograph of a Hindu sage. In Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions, the swastika is a sacred symbol that conveys the meaning of good luck and well-being and is considered auspicious. It became stigmatized however, when Adolph Hitler chose it to be displayed on the Nazi flag. As a result, the swastika is now associated with racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. The Nazi Holocaust turned the swastika into a symbol of terror, hatred and oppression.

During the 1920s, my father changed the spelling of his last name to conceal his Jewish heritage so as to elude the anti-Semitism in the United States. I can therefore personally relate to why Jews find the swastika offensive.

A similar fate has befallen the confederate battle flag, as it is associated with slavery and decades of ethnic prejudice and racial discrimination in America. Recently my brother and I discovered that we have within every cell, sub-Saharan African DNA. So I can understand why the confederate battle flag that flies above the South Carolina state capitol offends African Americans.

In the late 1960s, as humans began to venture into space, there were individuals who proposed that we adopt a flag that would represent all the people of the world.

Earth Flag - Blue Marble

What became known as the Earth Flag was first proposed and designed in 1969 by John McConnell based on the famous NASA photo of the Earth as captured by Apollo astronauts. It was created for the first Earth Day where the Earth appeared as a “Blue Marble” on the dark backdrop of space.  Eventually there was a discussion on what country or continent should appear on the face of the flag.  After some debate, it was decided, since the flag was to represent all of humanity, that Africa should be on its face since that is the continent where humans first appeared.

Flag of Earth

In 1970, an Illinois farmer named James W. Cradle made another proposal for what he called a “Flag of Earth”. Cradle’s design resembles more of an icon, with a plain blue disk overlapping a larger yellow disk representing the sun, and a small white disk in the lower right hand corner depicting the moon.

Given our attachment to nationalism and political sentiment, it would seem as yet impossible to have the Earth Flag or the Flag of Earth replace all national flags. But it should certainly be within our reach to have every nation fly one of these flags above its own national flag. This would serve as a constant reminder that we are one human family, sharing a common ancestor and the same genetic code.

Let us remove all flags that polarize us and replace them with the Earth Flag or the Flag of Earth to celebrate our shared humanity, and that we are all citizens of planet Earth.

George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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