Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederacy's Place in History

      (I've been trying  to craft a post that would cut through, with a rational statement, the controversy related to display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere.  So many conflicting opinions, interpretations of Civil War history, and downright nonsensical statements have appeared that sorting things out proved to be a daunting task.  Yesterday, a fellow blogger did the job for me. "Morning Fog," a site whose proprietor had a career with the U.S. State Department, displayed just what I was feeling, but struggling to put into words. His post follows.)

In recent days, and for many years before, governments, politicians, and others in the U.S. South have sought to justify the continued widespread public display, sale, and reverence for the flag of the Confederacy as a matter of history.  "It's our history," they may say, or perhaps they say they are honoring the valor of those who fought for what they believed in.

I'm very much against any efforts to deny, or to whitewash, U.S. history.  The Civil War (or if you prefer, the War Between the States), is part of what we are as Americans, imbued in our psyches, even for our most recent immigrants, because its effects and its many remaining manifestations are still a part of our everyday lives.  So historians will continue to attempt to analyze and explain it, and museums will continue to offer glimpses of it.

But symbols aren't history, when raised to the top of flagpoles around the country, or splashed across automobile bumpers.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are rallying points that serve only to keep sick
Not something to honor.
ideas alive.  In this country, we teach school children to honor and even "pledge allegiance" to the flag - a kind of a dumb idea in my opinion (a FLAG? Really?), but if we blow away the smokescreen, we have to understand that the "Stars and Bars" is also a claim of allegiance.

Allegiance to what, though?  Is it history, even if Americans generally have very little regard for history?  Is it pride in relatives who served loyally for a cause, although there are lots of people in this country today who are descended from the Tories of the Revolutionary War period, who weren't evil and believed in their cause, yet I'm not aware of any state in the union today that flies the Union Jack  Causes are embraced only when someone wishes they weren't lost.

And what is that cause?  Some would have us believe that it has to do with legal issues (the right to secede), or even economic ones (concerns about destroying the economic base of the South).  And it did, in part, at that time.  That's history.  But it also had to do with a principle, or as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens put it shortly after several states officially seceded, the new CSA government's cornerstone:

...rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. 

A devil's advocate might suggest that allowing the symbols of Confederate principles to be widely on display would give relatively harmless vent to regressive thinking that might otherwise go underground and turn to violence.    That has not proved to be the case.  It's time to recognize claims on "history" for what they are:  a sham.


Kay said...

My husband and I were shocked and ashamed to see the online poll results of our Hawaii newspaper. The question was "Should the Confederate Flag be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House?"

The results were:
Yes 52%
No 48%

We're also the state that has extremely low voter turn out and too many people who just don't get it.

I was so disappointed to see this.

Thank you for posting this, Dick! People need to understand what it's all about.

Anonymous said...

I told myself I wouldn't rise to the bait of arguing about something that means nothing to me. I will say this however. What we see here is the end result of all the divisiveness that has plagued our country in recent years...identity politics. If the confederate battle flag must go, so should the flags of all other nations and places...for example the Mexican flag s flown on Cinco de Mayo, the Iris flags flown on Saint Patrick's Day, the Hawaiian flag flown in Honolulu....all state flags...etc., etc,.

I am the descendent of dozens of men who fought for the Union. They were the descendents of the Puritans and Scots end entered servants from Nova Scotia. One of my ancestors led a U.S.C.T. (As in the film 'Glory'). No one in my family ever owned slaves...they were God-fearing people who believed in Equal Rights for all. They were New Hampshire men who were at Valley Forge and Gettysburg. The flew their state flag in battle. Later they surrendered this sole allegiance to a larger entity...the Union of these States.

I've spent most of my life in the South, particularly in Washinton D.C. Where I have lived most of the time since January 20, 1961. My family ended up in the South because my Dad came South to work for Uncle Sam. My Mom's dad was sent to work for TVA (he was an electrical engineer). They met and I was born here.

Over the years, I suffered much at the hands of ignorant bullies who hated Catholics, Jews, and Negroes. They also hated Yankees.

Today's South is nothing like the South I knew as a child. As the old-timers die off, the youngsters, a better educated cohort replace them. The Civil War ended 74 years before I was born. It's now 150 or so years ago. Times change. Left alone, the flag would disappear by itself in a few years. All the hoopla now will only reinforce negative feelings towards people of color. Some will hang onto their flags even more tightly. Some of these are living places other than the South. The better thing to have done would have been to let the issue drop. But the media loves a frenzy. Have you never heard the parable of the Wind and the Sun? The more you tell someone they can't have something, the more they want it.

Most of the animus towards Blacks these days seems to be in the North. It's time for folks in crime ridden cities look at themselves. There is no Skokie Illinois in the South.

Anonymous said...

And we do need our U.S. Flag, which we should revere for the sacrifice many others made in its defense. In my experience most State Department folks are leftists with a one-world view. I worked with many of the Civil Servents over the years and found all of them lop-sided in their thinking. They worry more about what other people think that about what's good for the U.S. I think many of them don't even like the U.S.

Most of the military is recruited from the South. The story of the Civil War is very sad and as VA Senator Jim Webb, a former Marine, has said, is complicated.

Dick Klade said...

I agree that the South has changed for the better. I spent nearly two years in Oklahoma when eating places, movie theaters, and other public accommodations still were segregated. That sort of racism no longer exists there. We'll see how far the good changes have gone in South Carolina when the debate there is concluded about taking down from a government installation what many view as a symbol of racism.

I do believe that free speech is the most important cornerstone of our nation. Thus, I would defend the right of individuals and non-government organizations to display whatever symbols they choose. When they choose a symbol of hatred, however, they run the risk of boycotts, shunning, and heavy criticism. It is good to see those reactions happening across the land in the Confederate battle flag situation. When racism becomes thoroughly unpopular in the U.S. we will finally have overcome one of the most disgraceful characteristics of our society.

Tom Sightings said...

A symbol is, almost by definition, what people believe it is. And it's quite clear that while the confederate flag may once have signified nothing but regional pride (altho' I doubt that is true), it has without question become a symbol drenched in racism. So I agree with you, Dick. Private individuals, under freedom of speech, can display it, however distasteful that may be. Public places should not.

joared said...

I agree that we each attach our own idea of what a symbol may mean. Unfortunately, most confederate flags or symbols in varied forms to which I've been exposed throughout the U.S. covertly or overtly state racist beliefs, demonstrate behaviors, or are associated with organizations of a racist nature. I certainly would not deny the confederacy is part of our nation's history, should be taught as such, but not one which I believe warrants commemoration in governmental displays of their battle flag. Those who chose to flight and die for their cause can stiill be honored and commemorated by their family and others. If we truly want a unified nation of 50 states with a people who believe in equality for all our citizens then there is no place for such a devisive symbol officially being displayed in our public places.

Dick Klade said...

Kay. . . Yes, that is a disturbingly small majority in a state long known for racial tolerance. It does point out that, although much progress has been made, there is a long way to go to achieve true equality and mutual respect.

NCmountainwoman said...

Well said. I'm so glad to have found your blog. I look forward to reading the archives and future posts.

Dick Klade said...

Thank you and welcome, NCmountainwoman.

Anonymous said...

As an Englishman I was amazed when visiting the US of A to see the 'Stars and Stripes' flying everywhere, and I was even more amazed to see the Confederate battle flag flying everywhere when I visited a number of southern states.
Here in the UK you would be hard pressed at times to find our Union Flag flying anywhere. Strange how our two nations differ in this way.

Dick Klade said...

John, we noticed the same thing on visits to Germany, Austria, and France. Very few flags on display. The Stars and Stripes popped up all over the place in the U.S. after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The home we bought in Michigan had a flag pole in the yard, so we've been flying "Old Glory" since moving in. The neighbor across the street also flies a flag. Our other nearby neighbors don't.