(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
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.