On the field between the villages of Tannenberg and Grünwald in Poland the armies of the Polish kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on one side met the army of the Teutonic Order and their crusader allies in the summer of 1410. The battle was one of the largest battles throughout the medieval times and several thousand men were killed during a single day. Not many battles fought in one day even in modern times have reached equal carnage, and most of it was achieved in bloody close combat.

A common soldier lost among the dead knights in the field of Grünwald.

A common soldier lost among the dead knights in the field of Grünwald.

The Teutonic knights had chosen and prepared the battle field and were present there in the early morning hours in characteristic German proficiency waiting for the Polish army to arrive. It was a hot summer day and the knights were sweating in their armuour.

The battle was joined before noon and the feroucious assault of the Lithuanian army on the left wing of the Order army was repelled. The bulk of the international crusading force followed in pursuit of the Lithuanian retreat and the Polish right flank was exposed. The Grand Maister of the Order, Ulrich von Jungingen saw the opportunity to bring the battle to a  swift and victorious end. He himself led the charge of the well rested elite of the Battle Brethren of the Teutonic knights to the side of the exposed Polish center.

The onslaught of the Teutonic knights was directed on the Great Krakovan banner of the Polish chivalry. They had allready been committed earlierly and run out of their impetus, and now they simply had to weather the fierce charge of the Teutonic Battle Brothers. In the ensuing melee the Krakow flag the standard of this unit under immense pressure was siezed by the Teutonic knights. This spelled doom on the Polish side. If the Polish knights of the Krakow banner had lost heart the entire Polish army might have fallen like a deck of cards. But they did not fall back. Instead they doubled their efforts to reclaim their beloved standard and achieved this. It was a surprice to the Teutonic warrior monks.

By all previous experience, the mere shame of loosing their standard in the first place should have broken the Polish, or any other military unit of the day. Yet, it did not. The Polish and their allies from Chech and Smolensk stood their ground.  As a result the elite of the Teutonic monk knights found itself fully committed in the battle and surrounded by enemies. Their high commander the Teutonic knights Ulrich von Jungingen was a target very close to the enemy and as such was cut down. By the time some of the Lithuanian units that had retreated the battlefield returned the Teutonic army was being broken.

The international crusaders had dispersed out of the field in their pursuit of the much lighter Lithuanian cavalry and had achieved to actually catch very few of the Lithuanians. The Teutonic knights were in full flight from the field and the Polish slaughtered the footsoldiers and servants of the Teutonic knights in the wagon fort camp of the Teutonic army.

Chroniclers tell us that the Polish king Jagiello had the barrels of wine in the Teutonic encampment hacked to pieces, because he was affraid that if the Teutonic army would reorganize and return to the field the Polish army would be too damn drunk to meet the threat. They say the Polish knights and soldiers salvaged what wine they could after that hot summer day in their helmets and even in their shoes…

We do not know what happened with the Great Krakow banner. What psychological or sociological symbolism drove the Polish to act as if in desperation. Did it have anything to do with intent, or even the flags themselves. In the tumult of close combat and in a distortion of a situation when a several hundred men strong unit loses it’s baner, how many men actually have time to take heed at the event. Most are locked in deadly combat for their lives.

However, this episode reminds of the story told by none other than Julius Caesar, when his legiones first invaded Britain. The entire operation was about to be repelled by the Britons who would not let the Romans take as much as a foothold on dryland. At that moment the standard bearer of a Roman legion made a radical move. He threw his standard overboard to the horde of the Britons and jumped right after it himself. So great was the commitment the legionaries felt for their sacred standard, and so great was their fear of the shame of losing it, they all stormed the beach and won the day. Was this about heroism, cunning, or fanaticism?

When the Americans took with them the Flag of the US onto the moon, was it a cunning way to claim moon for their nation? Could anyone, even by organizing that enormous feat to leap between two heavenly bodies, have an ethical right to claim an entire moon for their own? Does not the moon still belong to all of us on earth? Equally, just like before the US citizens taxmoney funded moonflights? Does the moon belong to anyone regardless of how many flags we ever bring there? If not, then what land belongs to whom and by what right? Did these astronauts represent humanity, or the nation of United States of America? Only a fraction of humans are Americans and only a fraction of those people are US citizens and taxpayers.

What about the Russian effort to claim the natural resources under the Arctic by posting a Russian flag at the North pole on the bottom of the sea by submarine? Do these expensive symbolical gestures hold much value in the minds of people? Shall the future citizens of the USA and Russia think they have some special priviledges on these places, because their nations were the first ones to plant a flag there?

Are we humans susceptible to such symbols as flags? Is it an inherent trait of ours as it appears in so many cultures throughout human history, that we may enter into a state of mass psychosis because what a flag, or other inanimate object symbolizes to us? Or are these simply the results of some menial traits of our psyche being used in accordance with our cultural heritage in crowd controll by those who know better?