Color is more than just the reflection of light; it is a political tool used to persuade, encourage, and lead the masses to commit to decisions they may not otherwise make. In an earlier article, we examined how the Democrats and Republicans got their colors and how the politicization of blue and red comes with connotations that spur us to action.
But there is a whole rainbow to choose from when dissecting the colors of politics. I want to look back in time at how color has been used as a signal in both war and leadership, and how many of these indicators still exist for us today in the present.
Uniforms and Symbols
The most obvious use of color to determine one’s affiliation is that of military wear. When we think about battles raged across an open plain, we often envisage uniforms worn by the combatants, all matching, all marching in line, one united force. But this is not quite true. In fact, the idea of a codified uniform is not really something that came about fully – as in it was something the average civilian might recognize as a unifying outfit – until the mid-1600s with Oliver Cromwell. Before this, there was actually a lot of variety in the clothing and colors. And, of course, in what those colors meant.
In the seventh or eighth century BC, in ancient Greece, there were the infamous Spartan Hoplites. The name hoplite was previously translated as “equipment,” because each soldier would have similar weaponry, but later translations suggest it means “infantry.” These Hoplites were made up of the middle-classes of the various Greek city-states – the middle-classes being the only ones who could afford the required equipment. But in Sparta, almost all military-aged men were Hoplite.
Two aspects defined these soldiers. The first being the fighting formation, that of the phalanx, a devastating approach that ensured all men acted as one unit. The second is the gear, the weapons they carried. Each soldier would take a spear, a shield, and a sword. They would – if they could afford it – wear a form of body armor, too. Yet these weapons were not standardized; they were more often than not handed down from father to son. The concave shields were called aspis, and they would be decorated with family or clan emblems.
So what was it that separated them from the opposing army?
Many sources suggest that these Spartan warriors would wear a red tunic, a red cape, or both. Now the cape was likely removed before battle as it could hinder movement or be an easy target to be grabbed from behind, but there are some interesting facts about why they would don red.
First, red was the color of Ares, God of War. By having his color present on the battlefield, they were honoring him and asking for favor in the outcome. Ares’ food was the blood of men, and he was often depicted as having a shield full of gore. And of course, his planet was Mars, known even today as the Red Planet.
The second reason Spartans chose red gives us a real insight into how sophisticated these supposedly noble savages really were: It was psychological warfare.
You see, the Spartans knew full well that having their opponents fear them was a devastating advantage; it is a reputation they sought to foster, that they were warriors who couldn’t be defeated. It pushed their enemies to act defensively and be too cautious. If they were injured in battle, the red cloth would cover any spilled blood, making them seem invincible … and, of course, not making them appear an easier target.
The New Model Army
We can see this use of red in later military endeavors, also. The New Model Army, formed in 1645, and most closely-associated with Oliver Cromwell (although he himself had to resign his post with the Self-Denying laws). The soldiers were kitted out in red coats. There doesn’t appear to be a symbolic meaning behind this choice; rather, the material was sourced from the lowest bidder. But the idea of the red military men stuck and became the color of choice for centuries later.
In fact, it wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century that bright colors were phased out for soldiers in combat situations.
There are all too often practical reasons for the choice of color. In the United Kingdom, soldiers today wear an olive-green khaki because it is historically the best color for camouflage – essentially not making the individual an identifiable target against a backdrop. But of course, many of the major theaters of war nowadays are in the Middle East, and as such, overseas servicemen will wear a light tan uniform.
And the French …
Napoleonic soldiers wore a distinctive bright white uniform with a colored overcoat. Why they have this is a contested issue.
One side presents the argument that Napoleon – who certainly understood flair and style, being a leader who spent ample time designing his own uniforms – likely wanted his troops to look pristine at all times. While other armies would be wearing any old clothes they had, he wanted men to stand out and never look fatigued or broken.
And then there is the other school of thought, which says that due to the British Naval blockade, France was unable to get the dye. The reality is probably a mix of both.
We’ve discussed the soldiers and their uniforms, but what of the wars? And more importantly, what of the revolutions?
Starting with the Yellow Revolution – or the People Power Revolution – in the Philippines in 1986, these color revolutions have been a staple for the last 35 years. The Yellow Revolution came about as a revolt against former President Ferdinand Marcos and, to a lesser extent, his infamous wife, Imelda Marcos. But why was it yellow?
Well, the protestors would wear a yellow ribbon as a nod to the song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando. The spark was the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr, who, who after three years of self-imposed exile, had returned home. He was murdered on the tarmac right after landing. As the song explains: It’s been three long years, do you still want me?
And let’s not forget what’s happening in France right now. Although pretty much all media coverage has stopped, every weekend, thousands of Yellow Vest protestors shut down the streets of Paris and engage in quarrels with the military-style police. Fires, tear gas, injuries, and still the occasional death. But of course, Emmanuel Macron is a darling of the left-leaning media and a committed globalist; therefore, it goes against the press agenda to show the world that a revolution is taking place in one of the world’s most important economies.
We are allegedly in the information age. But it seems the information is to only go one way. The media, governments, and supranational organizations understand the power of colors. They seek to use the inherent connotations for their own ends, while hiding the events unfolding today, all over the world.
Colors are powerful. And unless we understand their importance and their significance, it will never be the actual real people who can wield that power.
Read more from Mark Angelides.