Has a flag at half-staff lost its impact?

Our correspondent in the western part of the state caused a mini-uproar in his community a few weeks ago when he suggested after Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags at half-staff in memory of those slaughtered in the Pulse nightclub attack that maybe we’ve taken this half-staff thing too far.

The timing wasn’t particularly good, coming as it did after the attack on a gay nightclub, and not on all the previous occasions, but now the Associated Press is asking the same question.

Its survey found that the flag was lowered to half-staff somewhere in the U.S. on 328 days in 2015. Eight states had orders lowering the U.S. flag in effect over more than 30 days; Massachusetts led all others, keeping the flag at half-staff for over a quarter of the year, including on the Fourth of July, the Associated Press said.

The governor ordered state flags at half-staff last month for the Pulse victims after President Obama already had. The president has ordered the flag lowered more than any other president in history, USA Today said.

“It’s proliferated in the last few years,” John Hartvigsen, a flag historian at the Colonial Flag Foundation and the president of the North American Vexillological Association, said, not just because of Obama, but because of Congress. In addition to Memorial Day (during which the flag is to be flown at half-staff only until noon), Congress has over time added commemorations for Korean War veterans, the 9/11 anniversary, Pearl Harbor Day and separate memorials for police and firefighters.

And increasingly, flags are flying at half-staff for two simultaneous commemorations. The proclamation lowering flags for the victims of the San Bernardino shooting last December overlapped with National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Dec. 7. A resolution for the Roseburg, Ore., community college shooting overshadowed a previously scheduled commemoration for fallen firefighters last Oct. 4. And in 2005, President George W. Bush signed two proclamations the same day, lowering flags for both Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“The question is, how do we appropriately do it so we don’t overdo it, because when you overdo it it loses its meaning and significance,” Hartvigsen said. If the flag is flying at half-staff, no one should have to ask why, he said.

  • Keith P.
    • 212944

      I have been waiting for a followup from The Onion about a flagpole manufacturer changing their lineup so that all of their flagpoles would only carry the flag to half-staff, though a full-staff option is available as an upgrade.

  • kevins

    It signifies a loss that we share. The frequency of the losses is not the fault of the flag or of the policy.

  • Mike Worcester

    // If the flag is flying at half-staff, no one should have to ask why, he said.

    Alright, guess I’ll ask the potentially provocative question — Why shouldn’t we ask?

    • Thomas Mercier

      I believe they meant that if the flag is at half mast the cause should be of enough prominence that everyone is already aware of the justification. Not that you shouldn’t be able to ask, but that there isn’t a need to ask.
      I’m in the camp that’s begun to just be indifferent to the flag’s height. I’d rather not be.

  • Rob

    The lowering of the flag for shooting victims strikes me as being similar to the Republican-led Congress’ moment of silence; it’s an empty symbolic gesture and a poor substitute for action.