I've always wondered why people in Europe are so concerned about flags. I can't even begin to understand European disgust with flags anymore than I can understand the hard-line "flag traditionalists" who know all the rules on their use. I think I speak for a lot of Americans in saying that we think flags are "neat" and we want to see more of them around, not just ours, but a great variety of flags from national flags to just colored banners to no particular purpose.
But still, I don't understand why Europeans get so concerned about flags.
Here's a guess. We Europeans got there first. We invented the modern nation. We've experienced the down side of nationalism for longer than any other group of people. In particular we went through two world wars.
But of course lots of Europeans love flags. Like I say, the streets of Britain are awash with them right now. The distaste for nationalism is a fringe thing- a elitist thing even. I'm not sure there is greater flag-phobia in Europe than in the USA. I mean, how would you prove it?
As for the way I feel personally it could be a generational thing. I'm a child of the 60s. We were the first post-imperial generation. Making fun of flags and uniforms (the paraphenalia of imperialism) was a way of coming to terms with Britain's vastly changed status in the world.
I'm desperately elitist and I like flags simply because I like them. Your flag, my flag, someone else's. Flags to no point or purpose, with or without a history, I like them all. I don't get a surge of patriotism or national pride out the American flag, though I get a desire to travel and see places out of the flags of others. Perhaps I am just obsessed with so much cloth dancing in the wind, or like so many things, have brought them to the level of a logo that readily identifies a brand.
Flags can be beautiful. The American flag at the beginning of Private Ryan with the sun shining through it. Wonderful.
See I'm contradicting myself.
As Walt said, "I contain multitudes."
You mentioned the two world wars and what that makes me think about really is the difference in why each country fought in them. Both France and the UK fought in them because they failed to do anything about fascism and abetted Hitler too long, not to mention ignored Wilson and crafted the devastating Versailles Treaty. The narrative here is "arsenal of democracy" becomes "cavalry that saves the innocent at the last moment."
We're currently in the grip of a media wallow aboy "D" Day. It's not as popular as the footie match, but it plays to a similar constituency. I hate the way that this national myth of the plucky little island keeps us handcuffed to the past and in a perpetually churlish frame of mind about "Europe".
As you point out, we went to war only because we'd so royally cocked up our relationship with Germany. And when I say "royally" I am explicitly glancing at the role played by the British establishment (including the royal family) in the appeasement of Hitler.
Put out less flags!
Yeah, it's reminiscent of how the strange American myth of cowboys continuously gets us a foreign policy of Dodge at high noon on crack.
In Britain a "cowboy" is a workman who doesn't know his job or who deliberately sets out to cheat his customers (ie a "cowboy builder".) I don't suppose you have that usage.
I grew up in the 50s in the heyday of the TV westerns- and I love cowboys. Just adore them. Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock, Doc Holliday. Oh yeah, Mama!
Around here "cowboy" denotes a rough and ready but also flawed individual who comes down on the right side of things and saves the day when it really matters, pardner.
I like Eddie Izzard's explanation on flags and England:
We stole countries! That's how you build an empire. We stole countries with the cunning use of flags! Just sail halfway around the world, stick a flag in.
"I claim India for Britain." And they're going, "You can't claim us. We live here! There's five hundred million of us."
"Do you have a flag?"
"We don't need a bloody flag, this is our country you bastard!"
"No flag, no country! That's the rules... that... I've just made up!
Eddie Izzard is the best!!
I wholeheartedly agree with this.