“This Flag Dips To No Earthly King!”

I am sure a lot of us are glued to our televisions watching our countries at the XXX Olympics. The modern Olympics started in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The original Olympics date back to ancient Greece when the city-states competed against each other. The games were revived in the late 19th century and commenced in the ancient city of Athens, where they originated. The United States has had an interesting niche in Olympic history, besides the amazing athletes that broke records and medaled in the last 30 games, concerning the nation’s flag. At the Parade of Nations in 1936, the U.S. Team and its flag bearer began, consistently, refusing to dip the U.S. flag to foreign leaders and the tradition was kept alive at the 2012 Olympic Parade of Nations.

There is some confusion of the legacy of this tradition. The first time an incident with the U.S. flag occurred was at the 1908 Olympic games, ironically, held in London. American shot-putter, Ralph Rose, refused to observe the custom of dipping the flag to the host country’s leaders. It is not clear whether the incident was fueled by anger over the U.S. flag not being displayed at the stadium, or was it resentment that the Irish-American athletes held against the British? It is a hazy area of history that remains a mystery, but this is where the tradition has its roots. However, our flag did dip in the 1912, 1924 and 1932 Olympics. The consistency of refusing to dip our flag came in 1936. It was the year of the XI Olympiad held in Nazi Germany’s capital city, Berlin.

1936 Olympic Games (Artatm)
1936 Olympic Games

Some individuals in the Unites States tried to stage a boycott of the 1936 Olympics and insist on not sending U.S. athletes to the games. Their argument was by sending athletes to Berlin to compete was only showing support for the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies. Many Jewish organizations pushed for the boycott of the game as well, but in the end the Unites States sent its athletes and refused to let political issues interfere with the Olympics.

Lighting the Olympic Cauldron 1936
(Stanford University)

Adolf Hitler and his propaganda machine wanted to use the Olympics as a stage to show the world what Germany had transformed into. When visitors poured into Berlin, the city was clean and there were no signs of anti-Semitic sentiment. Free press had returned for the duration of the Olympics and Hitler urged the host country to treat their international guests with hospitality. Hitler had transformed Berlin into a fascist “utopia” and used the Olympics as an opportunity to show it before it turned back into a hardened police-state once again.

American Athletes Refuse to Dip Flag to Adolf Hitler

The opening ceremony was marked with cheers of “Sieg Heil”, the  showcase of the stiff-armed Nazi salute and the Olympic banner over powered by the waving red, white and black swastika flag of the Nazi Party. Nation by nation marched in showcasing their athletes and presenting their country’s banners to the crowd and Hitler. Each country dipped its flag as a sign of respect to the host country’s Führer. As the United States of America walked by the box of Adolf Hitler, the Stars and Stripes flew high and never dipped to the fascist leader. This marked the consistent beginning of the Unites States refusing to dip its flag to a foreign leader. It was the one way our country symbolically defied the Nazi’s.

So there you have, it all started in 1936 when the United States athletes refused to dip the nation’s flag to a foreign leader. In the case of 1936, it was a sign that the United States would not dip its flag or show respect to a dictatorial nation. After the Berlin incident, it was only solidified as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were engaged in a war of ideology and arms race. Some view it as a disgusting display of Americanism or disrespect to others nations, while others see it as a sign of pride of America, a democratic nation, that will stand tall and never dip or bow to other nations. On July 27, 2012, as the American Flag streamed passed the box of the Queen it did not dip, maintaining the 76 year tradition.

What do you think? Should the Unites States give in and show some respect to foreign leaders at future Olympic games, or should the policy of “Never Dip” be continued?

3 thoughts on ““This Flag Dips To No Earthly King!””

  1. We should continue the tradition, but clear up any missunderstanding by encouraging other nations to do the same. The next time the Olympics are in the US, we should encourage the visiting delegations not to dip their flags to any American leader as well. It is not a sign of America being necessarily superior to all other nations, but one of us being a free and independent nation, as all other nations should also be.
    It is telling, and probably not accidental, that the first time had to do with the British monarch. We fought a war, which the colonies attempted desperately to avoid, to remove ourselves from under the British Crown. Then, being asked to bow to or dip the flag representing our national honor and sovereignty to the British monarch might be understandably gauling.
    While the British instance might seem like a bit of a grey area to some, the Berlin instance shows the importance of the concept. The Olympics can not be assumed to be hosted by those who deserve deference. Therefore, the best course of action is for each state represented to stand, with regards to all others including the host nation, as free equals neither giving nor expecting such deference. And the dipping of the symbol of a people’s national/political/cultural identity and sovereignty as it passes the booth of a foriegn leader most certainly is an act of deference.

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