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A flag is a piece of fabric, often flown from a pole or mast, generally used symbolically for signaling or identification. It is most commonly used to symbolize a country. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.
The first flags were used to assist military coordination on battlefields, and flags have since evolved into a general tool for rudimentary signaling and identification, especially in environments where communication is similarly challenging (such as the maritime environment where semaphore is used). National flags are potent patriotic symbols with varied wide-ranging interpretations, often including strong military associations due to their original and ongoing military uses. Flags are also used in messaging, advertising, or for other decorative purposes. The study of flags is known as vexillology, from the Latin vexillum meaning flag or banner.
Red flags can signify a warning, martial law, defiance, or left-wing politics. The earliest citation for "red flag" in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1602 and shows that at that time the flag was used by military forces to indicate that they were preparing for battle.[nb 1] It has been associated with left-wing politics since the French Revolution. The red flag became a symbol of socialism as a result of its use by the Paris Commune of 1871. The flags of several socialist states, including China, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union, have red backgrounds. The Labour Party in Britain used it until the late 1980s, and the French Socialist Party uses it. The earliest citation of "red flag" in the sense of a warning is dated 1777 and refers to a flag warning of flood.
The black flag, and the color black in general, have been associated with anarchy since the 1880s. Many anarchist groups contain the word "black" in their names. There have been a number of anarchist periodicals titled Black Flag.
The uniform blackness of this flag is representative of the negation of all oppressive structures, in deliberate contrast to the colourful flags typical of most nation-states. Additionally, as a white flag is the universal symbol for surrender to superior force – , the black flag is a symbol of defiance, an opposition to surrender.