This question on Worldbuilding used the phrase to describe banning vegetarians from eating meat:

Sure you can instute mandatory public meat eating, but that's like making a communist salute the flag. They'll eat the meatloaf to escape detection, but inside they're still deeply, morally corrupt.

I don't understand the meaning of this simile. Google searches for "soviet flag salute" or "chinese flag salute" show plenty of examples of communist countries instituting flag salutes, voluntary or otherwise, and I don't see how saluting a flag voluntarily would make one less morally corrupt.

While I inferred the meaning to be something along the lines of "making a bad person do something that a good person normally does", is this the actual meaning of this phrase?


This comes from a very a tongue-in-cheek response to a question about how to enforce a ban on vegetarianism.

Note the title of the answer:

The House Vegetarian Activities Committee

This is an allusion to the House Unamerican Activities Committee, a standing committee of the US House of Representatives from 1938 to 1969.

It was originally created in 1938 to uncover citizens with Nazi ties within the United States. However, it has become better known for its role in investigating alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having ties to Communism.

The author is thus speaking of saluting the American flag, an action which communists would presumably find morally or ideologically repugnant.

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    Or rather, an action which the people suggesting such measures imagine to be repugnant to communists. – Michael Borgwardt Sep 18 '15 at 9:43

This is a tongue-in-cheek callback to the Cold War era in the United States. The propaganda painted capitalists as good, honest people, and communists as horrible, morally corrupt people.

The sentence doesn't refer to saluting a communist flag, but rather it refers to forcing a communist in the United States to salute the American flag. They will do it to avoid punishment, but they are still a communist.


Perhaps this is less related to the English language than to international perspective.

"Communist" is being used as shorthand for "foreign agent." The House Un-American Activities Committee was a US Government institution commandeered by Senator Joseph McCarthy as part of his disastrous "Red Scare" campaign in 1952-1954. He and his friends attempted to oppress various innocent people by accusing them of weakening the nation and disturbing the public order. A lasting effect is that American schoolchildren must salute the flag daily while reciting a nationalist pledge.

The sentence in question is written from the specific perspective that the only flag is the American flag and any Communists are invading foreigners. This is intended to enhance the ironic effect and to ground the world-building fiction in a specific point in history. Unfortunately, if you are unfamiliar with that history, it is hopelessly confusing.

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