[February 10, 2021] “Look at that, it’s weird,” my best childhood friend Wilson was transfixed. Hanging behind the bar in the small town we grew up in was a Gadsden flag with the words Don’t Tread on Me in bold letters. We were attempting to sell empty coke bottles1 to the bartender when the sheriff arrived and escorted us outside.
The “incident” (as my mama called it) with the sheriff would not go unnoticed. Later that day, one of the town’s tough-looking war veterans approached us as we walked along, offering to do odd jobs. He said that he’d heard about us looking at the “THE Flag.” Go figure, we thought we were in real deep trouble by that time, and he scared us.
I don’t remember much about the veteran, but I recall he gave us a fast education. Wilson and I would talk about this day many years later. The vet told us about what the flag symbolized, at least what it meant to him. He told us that the flag represented the strong protecting the weak, a common theme in the Bible. We were hooked. Was that the real meaning behind the flag?
Growing up in rural Louisiana, we were familiar with the Rattlesnake. I think, truthfully, this is what drew our attention to the flag, not so much the motto scrawled below it. Even as a young boy, I knew the Rattlesnake would guard his ground and, if you are smart, you will back away slowly. Rattlesnakes are dangerous only if provoked but are nasty once they bite. Avoid all rattlesnakes.
I guess that is what this vet was trying to tell us. Don’t Tread on Me, was more than a few words on a yellow flag; it had real meaning to those who had fought for our country. More than anything, the words compared to the Biblical phrase, “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” Meek refers to someone who is capable of force and decides to use that strength only when needed to protect others.2
The ancient Spartans would have said, molon labe (come and take [them]); a common expression of defiance. The ancient Romans would have said, Si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war); a warning for interlopers to back off. Put plainly, Don’t Tread on Me is a statement of resistance, the readiness to use force against those that would do us harm.3
Today, the Gadsden flag and Don’t Tread on Me is a rallying cry for liberty and freedom and strength in the face of oppressors of that liberty and freedom.
- Finding Coke Bottles and Lessons in Leadership | (theleadermaker.com)
- If You Want Peace, Prepare for War | (theleadermake.com)
- In another example, in Texas, we say in Dutch (actually German) “Das gept es nur Texas” (Don’t mess with Texas!).