Tuesday, May 17, 2016

National Colors

On Sunday, I went running in the nearby woods with my wife, only the second time since last summer. 

When I say “running”, I mean “jogging”, at a pace that would barely qualify as a brisk walk, until my lungs can’t stand it anymore and I am forced to walk for a bit until I can manage to “run” again, all the while my wife, just to keep her pulse up, runs (actual runs) back and forth past me, like a deft crow again and again swooping past a slow gliding hawk.

She likes the company, I suppose, though I am by no means the ideal running companion.

This half-an-hour of cardiovascular hell was nicely timed to finish just as Finland’s latest matchup in the World Hockey Championship got underway, although I had to spend the first ten minutes of the game recovering on the porch collapsed in our Adirondack chair before I could come in to watch.

When I did, I immediately started rooting for the wrong team. I cursed when an aggressive attack by some strong skaters failed to score against…Finland. 
What? Huh? 

Credit: realismadder
It took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t the Slovakian goalie who was working mightily in front of the goal to keep the puck from going in. It was the Finnish. I was confused, and not only because my senses were dulled by my near-death experience on the running path.

The reason for my mistake was the color of their jerseys. On the TV screen before me were two teams whizzing over the ice at supersonic speeds, one in white jerseys, one in blue, both national colors of Finland. I’m somehow more used to Finland wearing white jerseys, but in this game the team wearing white was Slovakia, a country which shares Finland's national colors, in addition to one other, namely red. As in red, white and blue. On closer inspection, I could make out a small red stripe on Slovakia’s jerseys, hardly noticeable.

Of course, both teams have the right to wear the colors of blue or white on their uniforms. Still, with three colors to choose from, unlike Finland, I’m curious why Slovakia didn’t use red uniforms instead. Why use a color that could also be used by the opposing team when you have another color all your own? (And, yes, I do have too much time on my hands.)

I’ve noticed the same when Finland plays the USA. I don’t recall Team USA charging out on the ice in mostly-red jerseys. I think they’re usually blue.

Anyway, this got me thinking about why the colors red, white and blue are used by so many countries, some 30 in fact, including such diverse nations as Chile, Taiwan, France, or for that matter, Cuba, Russia, and North Korea.

The list also includes many of the Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand (neither of which, I’m told, is an exceptional powerhouse in ice hockey), nations that apparently came to use the red, white and blue national colors in the same way as America did – they adopted them from the Mother Country.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. It appears the leaders of the American Revolution weren’t so revolutionary when it came to colors. They could have broken with the past completely and created an entirely new color scheme for a completely new nation, say, orange, green and yellow. Instead, while they did go for a radically different flag design, they retained the old colors of the hated enemy Britain. Go figure.

The Bolsheviks did much better. Seizing control of the Russian government in the October Revolution and installing a government of “workers, solider and peasants”, the followers of Lenin tossed the historic red-white-blue flag of Tsarist Russia onto the dustbin of history.

To replace it, they created, in the vein of centuries-old socialist tradition, a simple red flag, with some tasteful Communist symbols in yellow -- the flag of the Soviet Union. It was a clear signal that this was no longer your dedushka’s Russia. Of course, that didn’t last.

I can’t finish without making a snarky observation about some other anti-establishment political hijinks that are much more recent. The most unavoidable symbol of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been his “Make America Great Again” cap. Trump, no slouch when it comes to marketing and branding, dreamed up this Average Joe headwear early in his run for the White House as a way to spread his insipid campaign slogan.

The caps seem to come in only two colors, red and white, no blue. (Okay, there’s also a camouflage version, but that’s just seems to be an afterthought.) The omission of blue has led someone in the media, maybe John Oliver or just some random Internet wag, to speculate that Trump is confused in thinking that he’s running for president of Canada. Or Japan. Or some other red-and-white country. Poland, maybe? Indonesia?

Why no blue? Does Trump have something against blue states, perhaps? Could be. Or maybe Trump, in a rush to cash in on a campaign that was never meant to last, simply forgot about the color blue when ordering up a consignment of chauvinistic merchandizing. I doubt we’ll ever know.

One quick aside: a Finnish correspondent in the US has reported that he was unable to order a Trump cap for himself because he is a foreigner. That seems to be true, as customers aren’t “buying” a cap, but rather “contributing” to a campaign (for which they get a cap), something that only citizens or legal residents can do.

Illegal residents are, therefore, excluded from buying a Trump cap of their very own. Presumably Muslims, as such, still can.

I can’t imagine either one of those groups would want to anyway. I know I wouldn’t. 

Trump in his cap, showing his colors (no blue!).
Photo: Gage Skidmore

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