Dear Editor:


The recent controversy over flag-flying on patriotic occasions in Decorah got me reading up on the origins and multiple meanings of the “Don’t Tread on Me” symbol, a coiled snake against a yellow background.  

While it’s true the flag initially was designed to promote revolutionary fervor in the early colonies, and represented the independence of the colonists, coiled to strike only when oppressed, the flag acquired other implications in more recent decades, when it came to be associated with a Libertarian position, sometimes appropriated by anti-gun control activists, and, to some, with white supremacist sentiments.  

A New Yorker article in October, 2016, describes the flag’s shifting meanings and discusses more broadly how a visual image can change the associations it has over time; for instance, the swastika was historically a Buddhist symbol, loosely identified with well-being, but during the Nazi era came to represent a political ideology that today is widely abhorred.

Thomas Hansen might be right about the place of “Don’t Tread on Me” in American history, but Emily Neal’s rejection of the symbol as fraught with a politically charged agenda convinces me. On patriotic holidays, why fly a flag that creates confusion at best, at worst sows division and discord? 


Diane Scholl

Decorah