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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 signals his surrender to the police by tying a white hankie to his rifle and waving it outside the window.
- 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:
Doctor: Sorry, no white flag. Only had a sheet of A4; same difference.
- In "Doomsday", the Doctor improvises one so he and the Cybermen can discuss a temporary alliance against the Daleks.
Cyberman: Do you surrender?
Doctor: I surrender, unto you...a very good idea.
- In "The God Complex", an alien whose species' hat is surrendering is introduced waving a white handkerchief.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- Blue Öyster Cult, White Flags.
Light the white flag of surrender, the war is over, the battle ended....
- 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."
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Cuphead: The Devil is shown holding one in the good 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The mid-60s Tom and Jerry 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.
- 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.
- White flag was 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.