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Nailing the flag to the mast—promises of super-priority in public debt
Capital Markets Law Journal  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-08-30, DOI: 10.1093/cmlj/kmab028
Mihalis Gousgounis, Mitu Gulati, Lee C Buchheit

In days of yore when men fought in sailing ships, a naval captain could only signal his intention to surrender his vessel by ‘striking the colours’—that is, by ordering the ship’s flag to be lowered. In the heat of a naval battle, however, the rope holding a ship’s flag could easily be shot away. The flag would then come fluttering down leading both the crew and the foe to conclude (wrongly) that the captain was surrendering. There was only one effective remedy—‘nail’ the flag to the mast before the shooting started. This ensured that no false signal of surrender could be made as long as the mast itself was still standing. Of course, it also meant that no signal of surrender, even an intentional one, could ever be made. The expression ‘nailing one’s flag to the mast’ has passed into modern usage as a way of saying that no surrender or compromise is possible.