Half-staff flags

When States Lower Flag, Federal Buildings Have to Do So, Too


All federal buildings in a state have to comply when the governor orders the American flag lowered to half-staff in honor of soldiers killed while serving, under a law President Bush signed on Friday.

The bill responded to complaints from families of fallen soldiers who saw that the flag was often not lowered at federal buildings despite governors’ instructions. Federal officials said they did not consider themselves under governors’ jurisdiction.

“This legislation will ensure consistency in how we honor fallen heroes,” said Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who sponsored the legislation. “While in many cases the local federal employees want to observe the governors’ orders, they may not have received the appropriate directive from their regional offices.”

As far as it goes, I think it’s reasonable to expect that federal buildings would comply with a state governor’s instructions. I’ve noticed in the past that some buildings around here in Michigan have not lowered their flags, and at least a few of them were US Government offices. I suspect that the many others were either unaware of the order or simply forgot. As a matter of policy, though, I think everyone should be on the same page.

But the article also notes this:

The differing responses set off a larger debate about whether lowering the flag for a killed soldier cheapened the tribute by carrying it out too often and whether it was a subtle antiwar gesture.

This has bothered me since day one, the first time I heard about flags in Michigan ordered to half-staff for a fallen Michigan soldier. I’m not so concerned about whether it’s a “subtle anti-war gesture”, though I think that it certainly could be used as one, but I do feel that it cheapens the tribute.

Of course, discussing anything like this is bound to bring out “how can you be so heartless” comments, which is why I’ve never brought it up on the site before. But I fear that this has established a new precedent. Taken to its extreme, what if there were a major war? Would no US flags fly at full-staff for the duration? It’s very clear that most Americans don’t have the slightest clue about what constitutes full-scale warfare and the losses that would be suffered in such a war.

The article also notes that the mayor of Washington, DC, now has the authority to order the White House to lower its flag to half-staff. Let the games begin.

Honestly, I don’t really notice half-staff flags any more. It’s not that I mean to not notice them, but when they’re half-staff as often as they are (not always for fallen Michigan troops, but mostly) they don’t make such a dramatic statement and they aren’t nearly so noteworthy. I often don’t know what the reason is anymore, and it seems pointless to bother asking. That’s not a slight to the brave men and women from my state who have paid the price, that’s a slight to the practice of always lowered flags.

Is that the aim of the half-staff effort, to numb appreciation for the troops? To desensitize us to to the cost of war? To make a political statement for or against the war? Is Murdoc wrong for not always noticing half-staff flags?

UPDATE: I had titled this “Half-mast Flags” but changed it when a reader pointed out that it’s half-staff. What’s odd is that I seem to have used “staff” during almost all the post, using “mast” only twice. I’m not sure that I’ve ever bothered to think about or even notice the difference before.


  1. ‘A good article for working your blood pressure through its full range of motion.’ Geez r, This may just put me into a cardiac care unit on a life support machine. I thank you, my cardiologist thanks you, Aetna Healthcare thanks you, BUT most of all my wife thanks you. I got a lot of life insurance!