The French Flag, a Symbol of Patriotism or Nationalism?

Author:Anyse, Alex
Position:Commentary and Analysis - Essay

March/April 2017

On the night of November 13th, 2015, Parisians experienced coordinated terrorist attacks across the city. With family a block away from le Comptoir Voltaire Cafe, one of the restaurants hit by the terrorists, I was relieved to learn all were safe. But by the morning hours the death toll had reached the highest casualty rate seen in the streets of the French capital since World War II. The following day, President Holland rallied a nation in mourning and called for unity by displaying the French flag, Le Tricolore, across the land.

In the early aftermath of that tragic night, a renewed sense of French national pride was observed. Parisians who lived through these events would tell you that only during the liberation of Paris in 1945 and France's victory in the 1998 World Cup had so many flags been displayed in the city. In the weeks and months that followed, French newspapers reported increased levels of volunteers wanting to enlist in the Armed Forces to defend their homeland. President Holland increased military operations against ISIL in Syria while some parliamentary members called for enhanced intelligence collection capabilities.

I traveled to Paris shortly after the attacks. As the taxi made its way from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center, I was on the look out for a legion of French flags on the avenues and throughout the city. Memories of 9-11 back in the United States were still vivid as I recalled Americans rallying behind U.S. flags across large cities and small towns; cars covered with stickers and long lines of Americans of diverse beliefs and backgrounds seeking to buy a flag or pins decorated with Stars and Stripes. Surprisingly, two weeks later, I found no lasting similar display of national unity through Le Tricolore on a scale similar to that of the U.S. In Paris, one was hard pressed to find a French flag posted outside a private residence.

Having spent most of my childhood in France, I don't recall seeing any flags being displayed as one finds in so many U.S. neighborhoods. The first lasting impression of national flags I witnessed on French soil was at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There, thousands of small American flags were edged against endless rows of white crosses against the backdrop of the sea, overlooking Omaha Beach, a key landmark of D-Day.

So, how does one explain the common presence of flags throughout the U.S.? Some interpret it as the outcome of large-scale...

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