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Thursday, October 24, 2013

White Flag; Flag of Truce or Surrender

White Flag; Flag of Truce or Surrender
 White flag when carried by a lone soldier between two fighting armies or if hoisted at sea at a ship’s mast will instantly stop a battle.  It is recognized internationally as protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation.  It is also used to symbolize surrender, since it is often the weaker military party which requests negotiation. 
 The first mention of the usage of white flags to surrender is made during the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D 25–220). In the Roman Empire, the historian Cornelius Tacitus mentions a white flag of surrender in A.D. 109. Before that time, Roman armies would surrender by holding their shields above their heads. (Wikipedia).
The white flag was widely used in the middle Ages in Western Europe to indicate intent to surrender. This custom became widespread in the tenth century during the French feudal wars. The Church compelled the barons to agree to stop fighting on certain saint’s days, and from Saturday to Monday, and respect la treve de Diew (the truce of God) or to be excommunicated.  The custom originating in the south of France, the hoisting of the Church’s white flag of purity to ask for a truce spread over Europe. For curiously, while it is the only flag that is today used by all nations alike, no regularly made “Flag of truce” is found in any Army or Navy flag-lockers. It is improvised when the emergency arises for its use from sheets, tablecloths or any white material at hand. (Source: Your Flag and Mine, p.131, 132).
Its use may have expanded across continents, e.g. Portuguese chronicler Gaspar Correia (writing in the 1550s), claims that in 1502, an Indian prince, the Zamorin of Calicut, dispatched negotiators bearing a "white cloth tied to a stick", "as a sign of peace", to his enemy Vasco da Gama. (Wikipedia).

In 1625, Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645), also known as Huig de Groot, a Dutch jurist in his bookDe jure belli ac pacis libri tres’ (translated, ‘On the Law of War and Peace: Three books’), one of the foundational texts in international law, recognized the White flag as a "sign, to which use has given a signification;" it was "a tacit sign of demanding a parley, and shall be as obligatory, as if expressed by words."(Wikipedia). 

De jure belli ac pacis (English: On the Law of War and Peace) is a 1625 book in Latin, written by Hugo Grotius and published in Paris, on the legal status of war. It is now regarded as a foundational work in international law.

 The surrender of Lord Cornwallis to French (left) and American (right) colonial forces after the battle of Yorktown (1781).
This painting (by John Trumbull) depicts the forces of British Major General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738-1805) (who was not himself present at the surrender), surrendering to French and American forces after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28 – October 19, 1781) during the American Revolutionary War
A white flag signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with intent to surrender or a desire to communicate. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. Modern nations have recognized this time-honoured custom and the simple waving of a white cloth will instantly stop a battle.  The use of a white flag to surrender is included in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
Italy is perhaps the only country whose flag guidelines specifically mention the ‘White flag’ as an indication that a fighting force wants to call for a parley, or surrender negotiations, writes Brendan Koerner.
The improper use of a White flag is forbidden by the ‘rules of war’ (Is there any?) and constitutes a war crime of treachery. There have been numerous reported cases of such behavior in conflicts, such as fighters using White flags as a trick to approach and attack enemies, or killings of fighters attempting to surrender by carrying white flags.
Fact File
The Mayor of Jerusalem Hussein al-Husayni (centre) meets with soldiers of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force on December 9, 1917, under the white flag of surrender. The Battle of Jerusalem had begun the day before, but the Turkish forces in the city were no match against the British forces. A Turkish counterattack on December 25 was also repulsed, confirming the capture of Jerusalem by the Allies.


 Lt Gen. Arthur Percival, led by a Japanese officer, walks under a flag of truce to negotiate the capitulation of Allied forces in Singapore, on 15 February 1942 (Wikepedia)
The Japanese insisted that Lt. General A.E.Percival, GOC in C, Malaya, himself march under a "White Flag" to the Old Ford Motor Factory in Bukit Timah to negotiate the surrender.
The Italian Government surrendered its forces to the Allies on 8 September 1943, and on the following day General Mark Clark launched Operation Avalanche, the landing of Allied troops on the coast of Italy, near Salerno.
German soldiers waving a white flag of surrender . May 13, 1945.

Iraqi Soldiers Surrendering to US and British Troops. Two Iraqi soldiers hold up the white flag of surrender.

Why Do Surrendering Soldiers Wave White Flags? How did this tradition originate?

 By Brendan Koerner
Ancient historians from both China and Rome noted the use of white flags to signal surrender. In the former empire, the tradition is believed to have originated with the reign of the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D 25-220), though it may be somewhat older. The Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus mentions a white flag of surrender in his Histories, first published in A.D. 109. His reference concerns the Second Battle of Cremona, fought between the Vitellians and the Vespasians in A.D. 69; at the time, the more common Roman token of surrender was for soldiers to hold their shields above their heads. It is believed that the tradition developed independently in the East and West.
As for the bland color selection, it was likely just a matter of convenience in the ancient world. Artificial colors were still centuries away, so white clothes were always handy—not to mention highly visible against most natural backgrounds. Vexillologists (those who study flags) also opine that plain white provided an obvious contrast to the colorful banners that armies often carried into battle.
The peacemaking symbolism of the white flag is now enshrined in the Geneva Convention, though it's rarely mentioned in national flag codes.
Iraqi soldiers are well aware that simply waving a white handkerchief can save their necks. So, too, are their commanders. In the last Gulf War, many Iraqi army officers forced their conscripts to hand over any and all articles of white clothing, including undershirts and socks, lest they be tempted to surrender to American forces. Fortunately for the troops, putting one's hands above one's head is often an equally effective way to cry "Uncle!"

Black spot on White Flag
India and Pakistan have accused each other of misusing the White flag in the border skirmish across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir in 2008.

Bullet marks on ceasefire sanctity
New Delhi, July 29: A nearly five-year-long ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir was teetering today after the Pakistani and Indian armies traded fire for over 16 hours overnight and India’s defence minister alleged that Pakistan had violated the truce of November 2003
Most important, the Indian and Pakistani armies have traded charges on misuse of a symbol of peace — the white flag — that rival militaries in battlefields rely on to signal a temporary truce to recover the dead and the injured. This action and the suspicion of intentions mean that the sanctity of the ceasefire on the LoC is already in tatters.