Suppose you either are facing truly insurmountable odds, or are just the kind of quitter who panics at the first sign of trouble. You might want to surrender. A good way to do so non-verbally is to hoist and wave a white flag.
Don't use it just to lure your enemies closer for a clear shot, though - that is a war crime. White flags can also be used for negotiating things other than surrender (e.g., a prisoner exchange) - the basic meaning behind the white flag is "Don't shoot, we wish to talk about something."
Sometimes a character will raise a white flag, only for it to be shot off or filled with bullet holes. In this instance, Violence Is the Only Option.
- North Italy of Axis Powers Hetalia, being a Lovable Coward and constantly Distressed Dude, makes frequent use of these. At one point, he's shown mass-producing them, gives them as gifts to his friend Germany, and turns them into alien costumes that the nations use in The Movie.
- Dragon Ball: During the first Tournament saga, Giran, witnessing Goku's power firsthand and after he breaks free of his Merry-Go-Round Gum rings, promptly produces a white flag and forfeits the fight.
- The Invisible Man also produces one after he's made visible thanks to Master Roshi's Nose Bleed, losing any possible chance of winning against Yamcha.
- In Fairy Tail, after the one-year Time Skip, Natsu curbstomps Bluenote Stinger, causing the remaining Orochi's Fin forces to raise a white flag in surrender.
- In Hunter × Hunter during the Chimera Ant arc, after Meruem fatally wounds the Ant Queen, Colt immediately heads out with a white flag to inform the Hunters they require their assistance to save the Queen.
- In the Johto saga of the Pokémon Anime, after the elders defeated several bandits trying to steal digletts and dugtrios, the bandits waved a white flag of surrender. Then again, they weren't actually trying to steal the digletts/dugtrios so much as they are trying to test their elders as to whether they can continue to defend their area.
- In SnarfQuest, Snarf and his allies are pinned down behind a rock. Snarf announces he has a plan and tells Action Girl Telerie to take off her shirt and give it to him. The now topless Telerie is not impressed when she discovers Snarf's plan is putting her white shirt on a stick and waving it as a white flag.
- In Suburban Commando, this is Played for Laughs when Shep Ramsey plays the HELL out of an arcade game... and the game opens a hatch and waves the flag of surrender!
- The gangster in Underworld (1927) signals his surrender to the police by tying a white hankie to his rifle and waving it outside the window.
- In The War of the Worlds, three people discover a Martian ship, and decide to show they are peaceful by waving a white flag. Unfortunately for them the Martians don't follow that standard, either because they genuinely don't know the concept of a white flag, or know but don't care anyway.
- What is the war flag of [nation you don't like]? A white eagle/star/crown/etc on white fabric.
- In Bored of the Rings, just before The Cavalry arrive and all seems lost:
"Despair not," Goodgulf commanded through his little window. "Bring me my white robes, and quickly!"
"Ah!" cried Pepsi, "white robes for white magic!"
"No," said Goodgulf as he stapled the garments to a pool cue, "white robes for white flag."
- In one of the Otto Stahl novels by Leo Kessler, the German spy succeeds in capturing a Soviet bunker, only to see German troops advancing with a flamethrower. They need to surrender or be roasted alive, but no-one has a white flag. So Otto gets one of the Russian soldiers to take his pants off and wave his long underwear.
- Doctor Who:
- "Doomsday": The Doctor improvises one so he and the Cybermen can discuss a temporary alliance against the Daleks.
The Doctor: Sorry, no white flag. Only had a sheet of A4; same difference.
Cyberman: Do you surrender?
The Doctor: I surrender, unto you... a very good idea.
- "The God Complex": Gibbis, an alien whose species' hat is surrendering, is introduced waving a white handkerchief.
- "Doomsday": The Doctor improvises one so he and the Cybermen can discuss a temporary alliance against the Daleks.
- An episode of M*A*S*H had the compound under attack by a lone sniper hiding behind a bush. A helicopter arrives and opens fire on the sniper. After a few tense, silent moments, the sniper raises and waves a white flag.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Captain Janeway combines this with From Dress to Dressing in "The Q and the Grey", tearing off strips from her American Civil War petticoat.
- Subverted in Westworld's episode TrompeLOeil; the Confederados trapped William, Dolores and Lawrence/El Lazlo on the train after the latter stole their nitro and replaced it with tequila. A boxcar door opens and out gallops one of Lazlo's men, carrying a white flag. Just as the Confederado officer gets close, he notices clear liquid flowing out of the man;s ear. Lazlo uses the distraction to shoot his already-dead man, filled with some of the nitro, and give them a chance to make a break for it.
- Blue Öyster Cult, White Flags.
Light the white flag of surrender, the war is over, the battle ended...
- Garth Brooks' "White Flag" from In the Life of Chris Gaines.
- Tom Holt's filk "The White Flag - Battle Song of the 23rd Regiment of Pragmatists".
- In Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, the description of orcs states "They do not obey the 'rules' of war — for example, they will shoot at a person carrying a white flag."
- Cuphead: The Devil is shown holding one in the ending after getting heavily beaten up by Cuphead and Mugman.
- In Final Fantasy IV, Cecil's group notices a Red Wings airship flying one of these as it approaches them, and its meaning is respected by both sides; Kain merely wishes to negotiate an exchange.
- The Lanius from FTL: Faster Than Light may transmit waving white flags in one of possible surrender messages. They must have taken learning about Earth quite literally.
- In some Heroes of Might and Magic games, if you order your hero to surrender, a scene showing a white flag being hoisted may play during the post-battle results screen.
- The Tricastle Mini-Boss (essentially a mini castle) from Mega Man 10 hoists one once you take out its three weakpoints. Then it explodes.
- The Arab commander of Metal Slug 2 and X does this when you beat the first boss.
- In Radar Mission, after beating the third level, a cutscene shows the enemy base being obliterated, as well as the enemy hoisting a white flag and waving it.
- A level in The Simpsons Game's Fictional Video Game Medal Of Homer, Homer and Bart have to remove several white flags from the French village after Uter threw a rock at the village during World War II (which Homer erroneously attributes to The American Civil War).
- One WarioWare microgame requires the player to keep a spotlight trained on Wario as he moves around in an otherwise dark area. If the spotlight's still on him when the time runs out, Wario hoists a pair of white flags and you get credit for successfully clearing the microgame.
- In World of Warcraft, at the players defeat Viq'goth at the end of Siege of Boralus, Tandred Proudmoore arrives with the Kul Tiran fleet to save the city. Priscilla Ashvane, who's leading the siege of the city, immediately realizes she can't win and hoists a white flag.
- In the early-50s cartoon "Southern-Fried Rabbit" of Bugs Bunny has the rabbit waving one so he can ask Yosemite Sam why he's guarding the Mason-Dixon line. It turns out that Sam has orders from General Lee to do so, and he doesn't see a little thing like "the war being over for nearly 90 years" as a reason to stop.
- Subverted in an episode of Mr. Bogus, where the ant that had stolen Bogus's special piece of cake only waved one of these as a distraction and given him a false piece of cake that was actually a rock painted to look like a cake.
- In Jackie Chan Adventures, after Jackie is shrunk down, he attempts to get Tohru's attention by holding white flag big enough for him to carry and wave, though Tohru fails to notice it.
- An episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 has Koopa pretending to have thrown in the towel with his schemes by showing up in front of Toodstool with a flag and giving her the key to his castle.
- Near the end of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "To Bee Or Not To Bee", when Pooh and his friends were telling Christopher Robin about what happened, involving a swarm of bees, Rabbit mentions that they were forced to surrender, as did the bees, with both sides waving one of these.
- Spongebob and Squidward both wave these in the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Employee Of The Month", after trying to compete against each other for the position of Employee of the Month.
- Tom and Jerry:
- The mid-60s cartoon "Matinee Mouse" starts off with footage from the original shorts of the two going at each other and then new animation of them presenting white flags, calling a halt to their fighting (albeit temporarily).
- At the end of the shorts "The Little Orphan" and "Two Little Indians", Tom, after getting a particularly bad beating from Jerry, pulls this off. Both shorts end with Tom joining in with Jerry's activities.
- In the Looney Tunes short "My Favorite Duck", Daffy Duck antagonizes Porky Pig during a camping trip, using the excuse that it's not duck season yet and there's a fine for even hurting a duck. Eventually, duck season opens and Daffy desperately tries to stop Porky from shooting him. As a last resort, he waves a white flag; Porky blasts it full of holes, which spell out "Start Praying, Duck!"
- The second flag of the Confederate States of America, the "Stainless Banner" adopted on May 1, 1863, was mostly white, with the distinctive design in use as the battle flag confined to a small square in the upper left corner. Since it could be easily mistaken for a flag of truce at a distance, a red bar was later added to the right side, but this revised flag was not widely used because The American Civil War ended two months later.
- A white flag was the national flag and naval ensign of France after the Bourbon restoration. No great surprise the following Orleanist dynasty restored La Tricolore of the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. The white flag even played a key role in preventing a second Bourbon restoration and making France permanently a republic. When the Second French Empire in 1870 collapsed due to the Franco-Prussian War, the Bourbon heir Henri, comte de Chambord, was offered the throne. Henri demanded that he would only do if the white flag was restored. The Tricolor was by this point a beloved symbol of French unity, so the French Third Republic was established on what was meant to be a temporary basis, so they could wait until the comte de Chambord died and the more reasonable Orleanist heir Philippe, comte de Paris (who was second in line after the childless comte de Chambord) could replace him. But the comte de Chambord stubbornly stayed alive until 1883, by which point public opinion had swung against monarchism and the "temporary" Third Republic lasted until Franch was conquered by Nazi Germany in 1940. Ironically, the comte de Chambord had himself created a "compromise" flag in his youth that combined the Tricolor with the royal coat of arms, but in his 50s he was apparently much more stubborn about fully returning to the old ways and symbols of the Ancien Régime. In short, he was unable to become King of France because he insisted on flying a white flag. The jokes write themselves.
- Inverted with the Chicago Cubs after every home game at Wrigley Field. Atop the scoreboard is a masthead on which, among others, either a solid-white flag with a blue "W" on it or a solid-blue flag with a white "L" on it is flown depending on whether the Cubs won the game that day; if it's a doubleheader that was split, both flags are flown. The tradition goes back to at least the 1940's in order to allow riders coming home from work via Chicago L Red Line trains passing by the stadium at Addison Station (less than a block away) to know who won that day. The trope used to be played straight with the "L" flag being colored white until the 1980's.