Piczookery: Backwards Flags

A right side view of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise and its specially-modified 747 transport aircraft being towed to the Weight and Thrust Hangar for vibration testing. Location: EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CALIFORNIA (CA) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) Camera Operator: SSGT D. J. NIEUWSMA Date Shot: 10 Feb 1977

Notice this bit:

The first time I ever noticed the “backwards flag” was on some promo shots I got from Rockwell International after I wrote them and asked for some space program information when I was in the third grade.

Every so often this comes up, and the loonier among us believe that it’s some vast conspiracy to undermine the legitimacy of the United States, usually perpetrated (of course) by the Bush administration.

Call me skeptical.

I post this because a comment was just left on an old post that begins:

When I wore the uniform of the United States Air Force I never, absolutely never, saw an American flag displayed backwards on a uniform or anywhere else. The first “backwards flag” I recall seeing was on the sleeves of our forces in Iraq in 2003.

Murdoc thinks he should have been looking around a bit more closely.

Here’s a screen grab of a still photo shown in the History Channel’s “The True Story of Blackhawk Down”:

Please note that this isn’t from one of the special’s dramatic reenactments (which are actually pretty good).

I don’t know when the backwards flag on the right shoulder or the right side of vehicles started, but it certainly wasn’t with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Additionally, the commenter notes this:

And I would suggest everyone who professes to love the flag and all it represents to go and look at what is surely the most famous image of all, the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. The flag is waving in the breeze and the blue field is to the left, damn it, not the right. No backwards flag!

Why, he’s right of course:


I’d be curious to know what he thinks about this, though:


Lest you think I’ve simply flipped the image, look at the statues. They’re facing the same way as the original picture. But the flag isn’t.

And if that doesn’t blow your mind, what about this:


Now the flag is right, but the statues have moved. What, did they quick reorient themselves when no one was looking? Does the The Marine Corps War Memorial sometimes display the flag correctly and sometimes help the Bush cabal erase the national identity of the USA? Or is there maybe something to this whole “directional” thing, after all?


  1. It’s not ‘backwards.’ When displayed, as seen, on a vehicle (to include aircraft) or the right shoulder, imagine the flag flying from a staff, and the vehicle moving forward. The union (blue field) would be on the forward side. Thus how it is displayed. The flag(s) on the left side of the vehicle would be reversed, so they also appear as they would when flying from a staff and moving forward.

  2. What some people will believe. When I wore the uniform of the United States Air Force I wonder if he ever looked closely at the airplanes on the flight line.

  3. Shipmates, I can guarantee you that the one on my flight suit’s right shoulder was ‘backwards’, and that was in the 70’s. My squadron had stencils for both canton-left and canton-right based upon which side of the a/c it was to be sprayed. If I can dig out the images I’ll post one for you. Respects,

  4. That’s dangerous, Kevin. What if someone else is standing on their head and thinks you’re sending a distress signal? Either that, or that you’re trying to undermine the legitimacy of the United States? And I would suggest everyone who professes to love the flag and all it represents to go and look at the Statue of Liberty. No flag at all, damn it!

  5. During Desert Shield / Storm (1991) I wore a right shoulder flag and it was also backwards. It is supposed to represent forward movement / wind at your face.

  6. The first time I ever heard about this issue was in regards to Greyhound Americruisers having the flag that way. That had to be 20-30 years ago. Long before any Bush administration, and apparently in a time of a lot less paranoia.

  7. AR 670-1 FEB 2005 P. 241 http://www.usapa.army.mil/pdffiles/r670_1.pdf I don’t know why people get bent out of shape about it anyway. It actually looks correct and it’s not like we are stamping on it in a mud hole. I have seen commercial air carriers with the reverse field for as long as I can remember. I read in passing, can’t find it at the moment, about a standard (non-military) for having the field closest to the wearer’s heart but I don’t have a reference to back that up at the moment.

  8. I don’t recall the exact book or manual that we were tought from, but in the mid 80’s at great mistakes it was tought that wearing or displaying an american flag with the blue feild to the rear of an aircraft, vehicle or uniform was a symbol of retreat and was to never be displayed in such a manner.

  9. From the photo taken in Somalia sometime in the 1992-93 time period, obviously the reverse flag insignia predates the Iraq War, but I have not been able to find any photo on the internet showing a flag, conventional or reversed, on any American uniform in the Gulf War of 1991. And I’ve looked at photos of troops both in the States and in Saudi and Kuwait ranging all the way up to General Schwarzkopf. So this calls into question not just when the reverse flag was introduced, but also the more important question of why flags were on uniforms in Somalia and Iraq, but not in the Gulf in 1991? If anyone can find any photos showing uniforms with flags in the Gulf War, I’d like to see them. The Iwo Jima photos, both the original and the ones of the Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington prove one very simple thing, that a flag flying freely can be seen waving just as easily in one direction as the other, so why is the reverse display ‘correct’ and the traditional one not? My active service dates back to the late 60’s and I do not recall seeing any reverse flag emblem on aircraft back then. Certainly the space shuttle and its carrier plane have reversed flag emblems on the starboard side, but they also have non-reversed flag emblems on the port side. It’s not so much that the reverse field flag has been mandated for uniforms that I question so much as that the traditional one has been prohibited. If you’re directly facing someone in uniform, you can’t see insignia on the upper sleeve, so it makes nothing but perfect sense to have necessary insignia and national identification on the front of the uniform as well, that is, if you really intend to have it known. I have a copy of Army Chief of Staff General Shoomaker’s directive of 02/11/2004 that officially prohibits anything but the reverse flag on uniforms that I’d be glad to post if anyone cares to see it.

  10. Hmmm . . . All that’s OK . . . I need to remember that the flag is backwards on the troops shoulder. . . The shoulder is not a flag pole . . . I believe the concept of the flag with the stars to the right can represent ‘always forward, never retreat, is fine if you are riding a horse speeding to battle . . . but ahh, displaying the stars on the right on shoulders, tanks, and airplanes . . . I don’t think so . . . It’s not about how the flag waves in the wind . . . it’s about the code of display and tradition as Mitchell states . . . I don’t think we have to be concerned about International Law and the (ugh) United Nations of how they display their flags . . . The truth(?), about displaying of the flag is if it’s on a pole, anything goes, we don’t control the wind, same with a horse . . . It’s simply tradition and the adopted way we display our flag. The reverse flag looks STUPID on our troops . . . Unless our troops have been oreinted on why the flag is reverse on their shoulder, I bet not even half of them understand why.