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.