Ever wondered why the American flag appears to be backwards, or reversed, on American military uniforms?
Well you have now. And fortunately we’ve got the answer, so you don’t have to wonder much longer.
It’s a weird one, isn’t it. When we picture flags, the pole is always on the left, and the flag itself spreads out to the right.
And when you think of the American flag, the stars are always top left – except they’re not when the flag is on the arm of military personnel. Instead, the stars are top right.
So, was this a manufacturing error that the military styled out? If it is then it’s a hell of a cover up.
But no, the real reason, as explained by military expert and journalist Tim Marshall, is that the flat must always be seen to face forward.
In other words, when it’s on a person’s arm and not a flag pole, that person’s arm becomes the flagpole. And they walk forward, the flag would fly behind them – similar to how flags fly when they’re attached to cars.
As Tim says, via Business Insider:
A lot of people ask, “Why is the US flag reversed when it’s on an arm patch of a US military?”
Just as the US flag dips to no man or king, and you will see even at the Olympic ceremonies, the American flag is the only one that doesn’t dip to the head of state of the host country.
Because it’s not a mark of disrespect to them; it’s a mark of respect to the American flag. And they take it so seriously that it must always face forward.
Now, on a flagpole that puts the stars on the left-hand side next to the flagpole; that’s the most prestigious position.
On an arm patch, you are looking at it differently, and when the soldier, or marine, or whatever, marches forward, the US flag most face forward.
It must not be seen to be in retreat. And so the stars are actually now on the right-hand side of their badge, and so they face forward, just as it never retreats. It’s always in its special position when it’s flown on a car.
According to Army Regulation 670-1: ‘the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the ‘reverse side flag’.’
So there you have it.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.