To Fly or Not To Fly (the Confederate Flag)



Recently, I had an unpleasant debate with a friend of a friend about the Confederate flag and its usage. My friend had an ideological take on the subject which I didn’t find to be practical. Basically, his view was that flags are just woven material with patterns and designs, and don’t mean anything. It’s just that because we are all CRAZY that we project meaning onto these inanimate objects we call flags, and use them as an excuse to display emotions improperly. Therefore, it was okay for the state of South Carolina to sanction and fly the Confederate flag, as it would have been for it to fly any flag on its public grounds, or to have had no flag at all. For him it was just a First Amendment issue marked by relativism.

My friend’s friend agreed, but he took it a bit further. He stated that the American Flag was just as offensive as the Confederate Flag because white men owning slaves founded the United States. Along with slavery, the American Flag flew full mast over segregation of African Americans, internment of Japanese Americans, and worst of all, a genocide of Native Americans. But really he was playing Devil’s Advocate, because the Confederate flag flying on state grounds was just fine by him as it represents southern heritage to many. He even posted a link to a poll which showed that, prior to the Charleston massacre, only 61% of blacks in South Carolina wanted the Confederate flag to come down, and 27% of black South Carolinians wanted to keep it up! I couldn’t have imagined that that many blacks didn’t have a problem with the Confederate flag. My take? More South Carolinians, black and white alike, have since come to their senses. That damned flag is now down.

The argument against the flag is apparent and pretty straightforward. The Confederates were domestic terrorists, traitors, and were willing to die to treat black people like cattle, and worse. To defend the Confederate flag today as a symbol of southern heritage is as dishonorable as it would be for Germans to defend the swastika flag as a symbol of their heritage. I acknowledge that there are aspects of the US Civil War and Germany in World War 2 that do not parallel each other, but the principle is the same. On human rights issues and on territorial claims, both, the Confederacy and Nazi Germany, were in the wrong and deserved to lose.

The Americans were traitors and terrorists to the British, but on a continent apart and against an abusive king who sought to expand a colonial empire of oppression. As victors over the British, however, we proved our character to be no better than theirs during the American Indian wars. Our flag should not be flown over American Indian reservations … but if – for all of America’s crimes – the American flag should be brought down throughout the rest of the country, then we might as well wish to renounce our citizenship and leave. 

The truth on this issue of the Confederacy, the Union it fought, and of its flag, was summed up best by yet another participant in the debate I was in, as follows:

“The Confederados of Brazil are using the flag to represent their heritage. Granted, they are Brazilians now even if their ancestors were American confederates. The battle flag is not seen as racist in Brazil but is seen as the flag of a distinct ethnic group. So I can agree, these rags are nothing more than symbols that have different meanings to different people.

When I lived in South Korea, I saw swastikas on Buddhist temples. It was kind of strange for me, because I had never seen a swastika in that context. The swastika is used in India and other parts of Asia and has no connection to Nazi Germany. Surely, the Native Americans who used swastikas in designs on pottery and woven cloths weren’t Nazi’s.

What bothers me about the battle flag isn’t that some use it to mark their heritage or that others malign the flag because of its links to slavery. Rather, what bothers me is the narrative behind the flag more than its symbolism. For example: To hear some southerners tell it… “The south just wanted to preserve a way of life that was gentile and hospitable where the sun shined upon the beautiful plantation fields where slaves worked eagerly to please their masters. Slaves were treated kindly and were better off under slavery than free blacks in the North who were starving in the streets. It was not until the Northern invaded us that we went to war to defend our way of life.” This revisionist viewpoint is utter nonsense.

On the other side, the narrative of Northerners as benevolent non-racists who freed the black man from the shackles of their white southern oppressors is equally as nonsensical. I’ve seen movies/documentaries where Lincoln is portrayed as this enlightened gentleman who holds a black child on his lap and promises to free their people. Lincoln only cared about preserving the union with or without slavery. Neither of the above narratives is truthful or intellectually honest.

If this country ever wants to move past this schism, then we have to appreciate the history of how we got to where we are today. This includes teaching the good, the bad, and the very ugly parts of our history. To me what is more dangerous than a rag hanging from a pole is historical revisionism.”

Indirectly related, he added:

“All facets of history should be taught. I’m frankly quite irritated at the Texas School Board due to their decision that the KKK and Jim Crow laws need not be mentioned in history books any longer. Several years ago, the same school board axed Thomas Jefferson as a great political thinker because of his views on the separation of church and state.”

Sounds like some are still fighting the Union!

Bailey, Isaac J. (July 1, 2015). I’m a Black Southerner Who’s Seen Racism All My Life. Why Do I Stay Silent? Politico
Brown, Emma (July 5, 2015). Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War Washington Post
Libresco, Leah (June 22, 2015). Before Charleston, Not Many People Wanted To Take Down The Confederate Flag Five Thirty Eight
Civil War Trust. (2014) 10 Facts About the Emancipation Proclamation
Wikipedia. American Civil War
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg” (October 7, 1858), p. 226.
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, “Letter to Horace Greeley” (August 22, 1862), p. 388.

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Understanding the Mechanics of Fate: How History Was Almost Different and How Democratic Politics in 1944 Set in Place Our Doom: Part One


Decisions made and circumstances that occur within months of each other can entirely and tragically alter the trajectory of life on Earth for decades and centuries thereafter. Such is the case of one, significant decision made by a single individual.



That significant decision and single individual was written about to greater specificity by journalist George Beres last year: “It was 70 years ago this year the United States took a major turn toward political conservatism instead of the liberal direction President Franklin Roosevelt had followed the previous 12 years. The momentous change– [the] greatest shift in our nation’s political history– came at the Democratic Party nominating convention of 1944. It occurred even though FDR, architect of lasting welfare reforms during the Great Depression, was a shoo-in to be elected to an unprecedented fourth term that fall.

The difference came in the identity of his heir apparent …..”


President Franklin D. Roosevelt is often lauded as one of our greatest Presidents, and it is a status deserved. However, perhaps the biggest mistake ever made was Roosevelt’s lobbying of Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman to be his running mate in 1944. At the time Henry Wallace was the sitting Vice President of the United States, but it was not for any significant disapproval on FDR’s part that Wallace wasn’t to continue in this role. Sadly, it was for reasons of petty politics that Wallace was on his way out with Truman on his way in.*
 

Peace Abroad, Equality At Home


Wallace was as liberal a politician as any we’ve ever elected to high office, certainly to the Executive Branch. In foreign affairs he was aggressive about diplomacy, whereas he was repulsed by a vision of a war machine that senior officials James Forrestal and Averell Harriman were ratcheting up. Soon to be implemented as the Truman Doctrine, this war machine, as Peter Drier of Truthout.org put it in an article about Wallace, “aimed to contain communism through military intervention if necessary. Wallace refused to support the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, considering it an instrument of the cold war. He preferred a multilateral aid program that would be administered through the United Nations.”

Vice President Wallace had also been on good footing with the Soviets, and, as the post-war era approached, was committed to working with them. In short, “Wallace opposed the cold war”. He wasn’t alone. Roosevelt too had been working diplomatically with the Soviets on issues involving territories. Détente, defined as “the easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries” was Roosevelt’s official strategy.

Drier continues, “For Wallace the outcome of the war had to be more than a restoration of the status quo. He wished to see the ideals of New Deal liberalism continuing at home and spreading throughout a world in which colonialism had been abolished and where labor would be represented by unions. “Most of all,” write [biographers John] Culver and [John] Hyde “He wanted to end the deadly cycle of economic warfare followed by military combat followed by isolationism and more economic warfare and more conflict.”

That deadly cycle didn’t exclude opposition to the movement for a Jewish homeland. Henry Wallace believed that if Israel were recognized as an official state, it would result in immediate war and long-term instability in the Middle East.**

In spite of widespread public support for Wallace’s ideas on foreign policy, he “roused the ire of the more conservative Democrats, of business leaders and conservatives, not to mention Winston Churchill, who was strongly committed to preserving Britain’s colonial empire.”

Drier also touched on Wallace’s domestic politics. In addition to his opposition of racial segregation, “he was a strong advocate of labor unions, national health insurance, public works jobs and women’s equality. He would have been, without question, the most radical president in American history. He would have served out the remaining three years of FDR’s fourth term and certainly would have sought to be elected on his own in 1948.”

Shakedown at the Democratic Convention


It’s been said that delegates decide who become their party’s nominees, and although no one ever held a gun to a delegate’s head over who they should cast their ballot for, the nominating process for the Vice Presidency was unusual at the Democratic convention of ’44.

Wikipedia states: “As the Convention began, Wallace had more than half the votes necessary to secure his re-nomination. By contrast, the Gallup poll said that 2% of those surveyed wanted then-Senator Truman to become the Vice President. To overcome this initial deficit, the leaders of the Democratic Party worked to influence the Convention delegates, such that Truman received the nomination.”

“How the nomination went to Harry S. Truman, who did not actively seek it, is, in the words of his biographer Robert H. Ferrell, “one of the great political stories of our century”. The fundamental issue was that Roosevelt’s health was seriously declining, and everyone who saw Roosevelt, including the leaders of the Democratic Party, realized it. If he died during his next term, the Vice President would become President, making the vice presidential nomination very important.”

The party leadership at the Democratic Convention that year comprised of a conservative, pro-business faction of Democrats. The liberal, pro union Wallace was anathema to them, and they had no tolerance for him. They made this plenty clear to the President, and this resulted in Roosevelt going from supporting Wallace, to going neutral on Wallace, and then finally, turning on Wallace. “Ferrell calls this process “a veritable conspiracy.”

The anti-Wallace forces consisted of Democratic National Committee Chairman, Robert E. Hannegan, Democratic National Committee treasurer, Edwin W. Pauley, Democratic party secretary George E. Allen, Postmaster General Frank C. Walker, New York political boss Edward J. Flynn, and Chicago mayor Edward J. Kelly. Roosevelt himself, though privately now endorsing the anti-Wallace movement, wrote a message that was addressed to the delegates, which read that if he were a delegate, he’d vote for Wallace. The reason for this tepid endorsement was that he did not want to offend Wallace and his supporters.

“According to Truman biographer David McCullough … in his book Truman: “Hannegan, Flynn, Kelly, and the others had been working through the night, talking to delegates and applying ‘a good deal of pressure’ to help them see the sense in selecting Harry Truman. No one knows how many deals were cut, how many ambassadorships or postmaster jobs were promised, but reportedly, by the time morning came, Postmaster General Frank Walker had telephoned every chairman of every delegation.” As Ferrell concludes, “Truman was … nominated in 1944 by the boss system.”

The Man Responsible For FDR’s Choice


Above all others, it was Robert E. Hannegan, the DNC Chairman appointed by Roosevelt, who made Truman’s nomination possible. A Missouri politician and power broker who helped save Harry Truman’s political career following the tax fraud conviction of Truman’s ally, Tom Pendergast, Robert Hannegan was Truman’s political lifeline well before 1944. When Truman was running for reelection to the US Senate in 1940, Hannegan saved him again on election day with the considerable influence he wielded in St. Louis and in Catholic neighborhoods.




Robert E. Hannegan with fellow Missourian Senator Truman


Truman returned the favor while Hannegan was serving as the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Roosevelt had offered Senator Truman the DNC Chairmanship; Truman declined, and suggested to the President that he name Hannegan instead.***

As head of the DNC, “Hannegan was responsible for brokering the deal that made Truman Roosevelt’s running mate … Wallace nearly won the nomination, but Hannegan worked feverishly to secure Truman’s nomination.” “Hannegan later joked he wanted his tombstone inscribed with the words “Here lies the man who stopped Henry Wallace from becoming President of the United States.”****



Nov. 10, 1944 – The day after the general election:
President Roosevelt, Vice President-Elect Truman, Vice President Wallace


FDR Fiddles Over His Mortality


Roosevelt knew full well that he was unlikely to live out his fourth term in office, but he was cavalier of this fact, telling his new Vice President at lunch one day, almost in passing, “Don’t fly off too far, Harry. You never know when you’ll have to take this job.” And yet, the great Roosevelt was dismissive about shaping a future with his guaranteed successor. Truman was the last do-nothing Vice President, a tradition which had changed little to none since the administration of George Washington.***** Truman’s Vice Presidency was one of perfect exclusion from governance, consisting of little else than presiding over the Senate and playing cards with his colleagues. That was about it. He was not the recipient of any crucial, government information in so much as a phone call or a conversation from the Roosevelt administration.


Vice President Truman and President Roosevelt


When the Presidency was thrust upon him on April 12, 1945, Truman was completely in the dark. That darkness would reflect on the future in the form of Truman’s approval for atomic bombs dropped, a cold war instituted, the creation of the military-industrial complex (including the CIA), a war in Korea (which set the precedent for unauthorized wars), US imperialism and western colonialism across the globe, and last but not least, the sovereignty of Israel.

Having served as the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman left the White House on January 20th, 1953 with an approval rating of 34 percent.


Perret, Geoffrey (2007). Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Kakutani, Michiko (February 27, 2007). Presidents Behaving Badly in Age of Unwinnable Wars. The New York Times
Dreier, Peter (February 3, 2013). Henry Wallace, America’s Forgotten Visionary. Truthout.org
Curtiss, Richard H. (May/June 1991, pg 17) Two Politically Motivated Decisions: Truman Adviser Recalls May 14, 1948 US Decision to Recognize Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Beres, George (2014). Wallace’s views of Fascism and Zionism brought greatest shift in U.S. politics 70 years ago. Intifada-Palestine
Wikipedia.
Democratic Vice Presidential Nomination of 1944
Wikipedia. Henry A. Wallace Vice President Wikipedia.
Robert E. Hannegan

* Source is an often told telephone conversation involving the Democratic Party leaders, Truman, and Roosevelt, that was set up to manipulate a resistant Senator Truman into accepting his candidacy for the Vice Presidential nomination.

** Every cabinet member and senior war commander in the Roosevelt administration also shared Wallace’s views on Israel. This uniformity would carry over into the Truman administration, in spite of Truman firing every member of FDR’s cabinet within the first year of his presidency.

*** After Roosevelt’s death, Truman once again returned the favor by appointing Hannegan the Postmaster General.

**** Maybe Wallace should not have spent his tenure as Vice President advocating for liberalism, realizing instead that it would lead to insidious forces within the Democratic party jeopardizing the security he had to inherit the presidency. Then again, after Roosevelt had threatened to withdraw himself from nomination in 1940 were Wallace not accepted on the ticket, Wallace probably couldn’t have imagined Roosevelt not supporting him to stay on as his running mate in ’44.

***** Henry Wallace was the exception. Roosevelt, recognizing Wallace’s resourcefulness, gave him a robust Vice Presidency.