Two thousand years ago the cross symbolized tortuous death. Then later, unmodified in form, its meaning completely changed to a promise of ultimate bliss for life eternal.

Within these last two millennia, however, it has sometimes reverted to being a symbol of terror, as we read below.

And yet the symbol is so ubiquitous that many people attach no significance to it at all.



German military symbols until 1945
Rare Balkenkreuz

Rare Balkenkreuz

Generally in heraldry, square crosses are battle crosses and square flags are battle flags. The crosses on the left fit into a square and are familiar markings. The crosses on the right are elongated and rarely seen on official insignia. The elongated cross represents the cross on which Christ was crucified and is the symbol of Christianity. Make no mistake - the Balkenkreuz has little to do with Christianity and much to do with fighting.

The Balkenkreuz with parallel-edged limbs (upper-left image) is based on the Greek Cross and with concave limbs (lower-left image) is based on the Maltese Cross. Both of these symbols were used for the Iron Cross, also known as the Mantuan Cross, which has been used by the German military since 1918. The Balkenkreuz, like the Iron Cross, is almost invariably black.

Bundeswehr symbol

The current German military, euphemistically called the 'Federal Defence Force' (Bundeswehr) has a similar symbol but grey with blue flanks.

Japanese Imperial Army flag
Japanese Imperial Army flag

Jieitai flag
adopted in 1954

Interestingly Japan, another country with strong pacifist sentiments, has a similarly euphemistic official name for its military: 'Self Defence Force' (Jieitai). Their insignia was also adopted from a wartime symbol and merged with the civil eight-pointed Brunswick Star.

The Balkans is a peninsula in south-eastern Europe and a crossroads of various cultures, with a history of an almost contiguous ammunition belt of wars and battles. However, the Balkenkreuz is not named from this region. The word Kreuz means 'cross' and Balken simply means 'beam'.

The cross of the Balkans, if indeed there was such a thing as a Balkan Cross, would most likely be a form of an Eastern Orthodox Cross. The wars of the area were fought in the name of various religions: Pagan, Muslim, Christian, but the real reason was not for the spread of any particular faith. Like all wars, they were about the acquisition of power and wealth.

The German military based their cross on the emblem of Christian Teutonic Knights and have not been alone in hiding behind the cross. Even today, military organisations and political groups attempt to ennoble and dignify their activities by using the Christian symbol. Schools and colleges, commercial organisations and even fashionistas are no exception.

The Red Cross headquarters, for example, makes no claim to be a Christian organization. They don't start each day with a Bible reading neither do they go around preaching salvation. Yet the cross symbol gives a subtle, even subliminal, image to the organisation's legitimacy.

If you are a Christian, how can you avoid this oft-tarnished image of the cross?

The answer is quite obvious: Do not rely on the cross symbol to advertise your Christianity, but show you are a Christian through everything you do and say. In time, the cross will be reclaimed as a pure Christian symbol.

Generally speaking, when a battle shield bears a cross, the four cross limbs are equal length to fit on the shield. See Heraldic Crosses

Generally speaking, flags are squared for battle because the symbol or marking on the flag is square. See National Flags

In 2015, although the majority of German citizens reiterated their opposition to international military engagements, German politicians increased their bellicose tirades against Russia. In the same year, the majority of Japanese pollsters said they prefered to retain the country's pacifist constitution, but the government bowed under strong pressure from China and the USA to change.

As Bertrand Russell said, "War does not determine who is right; only who is left". See Ignorance is bliss.


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