What Does Defacement In Vexicology Mean?

The flag of New Zealand features the Union Jack (flag of the UK) and the Southern Cross.
The flag of New Zealand features the Union Jack (flag of the UK) and the Southern Cross.

Defacement in vexillology is the addition of a new emblem or symbol to another flag. Vexillology is the study of flags. The term "deface" does not have any negative implication in vexillology; it simply refers to differentiation of a flag from another one by addition of an element. The flag of New Zealand is a good example of a defaced banner. The New Zealand’s flag is the British Blue Ensign which has been defaced with the addition of the Cruz, commonly referred to as the Southern Cross. Majority of the state flags are created by defacing their national flag with the addition of the coat of arms.

History of Defaced Flags

Flag defacement can occur in cases, where a nation has passed through a change of regime with different ideological orientations like secular to religious, communist to capitalist, fascist to democratic or monarchist to republican. The new government might opt to deface their national flag by addition of their emblem while retaining the original design of the flag or to replace the old symbol on the national flag with a new one.

The change of flag symbolizes the birth of a new ideology or regime. The shift in ideological emblems appeared over a specified period on the flags of numerous nations like Germany, Hungary, Italy, Iran, Ethiopia, and Romania. After separating from Germany in 1948, East Germany defaced their national flag by adding their national emblem. During the 1989 Romanian Revolution and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the rebels tore the national flag and removed the symbol and waved the flag itself.

Majority of the states deface their national flag by adding an emblem or coat of arms to create their banners. The nation’s agencies or government officials use these flags, therefore, they are sometimes known as the government flags. In most Scandinavian, central European, and Latin American countries, the state flags are unique versions of their national flags featuring the coat of arms. These flags should not be mistaken for the national flag. The defaced national flags used by the military are known as naval ensigns or war flags.

A defaced flag can be changed further like in the case of the flag of Australia which is a defaced Blue Ensign. The Australian border force vessels use a defaced Australian flag which displays the terms "Australian border force." It is also very common for the supporters of association football to carry a defaced national flag with the name of their town or another identifier when traveling abroad for an away match.

Laws Against Defacement of the National Flag

There are numerous countries like the United States with laws against flag defacement, and if found you can be prosecuted. It is against the flag codes in the United States to deface their flag with an emblem or image, sigil, or any form of advertisement. However, these flags are commercially available with a majority of them portraying the seals of different branches of the American military. Other banners have different Native American related symbols like the war bonnets or the tomahawks.


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