Let me start off by saying I’m not a Southerner. I’ve never had strong feelings one way or the other about the Stars and Bars. Where I grew up, the Civil War was never really a relevant topic. After I had lived in a couple of different places and met some people from south of the Mason-Dixon line, I learned that’s not the case universally throughout the U.S. There are those who still harbor some bitterness about the way the Civil War turned out. And it’s not (usually) about racism or slavery.
I haven’t changed my mind about the flag; I still neither like nor dislike it, and it doesn’t hold any personal meaning for me. But I do have some thoughts about the craziness of the past few days, and I’d like to share those.
Last week, a young man named Dylan Roof committed an unspeakable atrocity. He attended a Bible study at a primarily black church in Charleston, S.C., and then murdered 9 of the attendees. It’s come out that he hates black people and wanted to spark a race war.
Mourning for the souls that lost their lives was immediate and from all sides, as was condemnation of the sick terrorist who killed them in cold blood. Then information about Roof began to come out. Photos were released of him posing with guns, and with a Confederate flag.
That flag has been controversial for quite some time, but now that emotions are running high and the public seems agreeable, the politicians are moving. Republican governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the S.C. State House. Conservative giant (ha) Lindsay Graham echoed her. Numerous other Southern state politicians followed suit. But this was an issue of government endorsement, it was clarified. The flag should not be displayed in a state building. All right.
Then the businesses joined in. Amazon, eBay, and Walmart have stopped selling the flags and merchandise featuring the Stars and Bars. They have banned sellers from doing so, as well. This is consistent with long-standing policy, they say! Wouldn’t want to sell anything controversial or potentially offensive.
No problem, though. Anyone who would buy a Confederate flag is clearly a bigot, right? Ermm…
The Wrong Side of History
This is an expression I’ve always hated. It’s one that our current president throws around a lot. The problem with asserting that a person or a movement or an idea is “on the wrong side of history” is that history does not dictate right and wrong. And our understanding of “history” changes as new facts emerge (careful Jefferson!). And let’s not forget that history is dictated by the victors and the academics.
Let’s look at the Civil War for a moment. Many today (perhaps most in the North) see it as a war over slavery. The truth is much more complex and nuanced. Lincoln himself was divided in his personal feelings and his duty as President of the Union. Shortly before passing the Emancipation Proclamation, he wrote in a letter:
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
The truth is, there were other issues in play for both sides. Lincoln wanted above all else to preserve the Union. Many in the South fought for state sovereignty, not for slavery. Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves. But slavery is the lens through which we look back upon the Civil War.
There are those in the South who see the Confederate flag as a symbol of the sacrifice and service of their ancestors in defending their own; not defending the institute of slavery. The reactionaries who would like to ban the flag will tell you that I’m flat wrong. Confederate flag supporters are racists at worst and wrongheaded and ignorant at best. And once again we come to the non-existent right to not be offended.
Looking to Germany and Japan
Of course, everyone knows all about this symbol, right?
But did you know that the swastika can still be commonly found in India and Japan? What the what? Those Nazi, racist bastards!
You see, Nazi Germany appropriated the swastika, which for thousands of years had been used by various religions and cultures and carried a positive meaning. The symbol has especially strong ties to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Known as manji in Japan, the swastika is often used to mark Buddhist temples.
Now I’m not saying that we in the West should embrace and reform the swastika. It has a lot of cultural baggage. And yet, try doing a search for “Nazi” or “swastika” on Amazon.com. Granted, we don’t adorn the halls of our state legislatures with this symbol. But we should recognize that different cultures can attribute different meanings to the same symbols, and perhaps not ban everything from polite society that some people might find offensive. Like it or not, the United States is a huge country with many different cultures, and for some the Confederate flag, the flag of their fathers, embodies noble ideals, not hate. And despite the protestations of the PC police and SJWs, telling these people that they are haters and racists does not make it so.
Outage Du Jour
But this isn’t about what makes sense. For some people, this is about finding an outlet for their grief and frustration. For others, this is just another day in the outrage business. Never let a good crisis (or tragedy) go to waste; find a way to use it in advancing your agenda. The flag had nothing to do with Roof’s decision to carry out this atrocity. The Confederate flag doesn’t make anyone hate anyone else, nor does it push anyone to violence. This certainly makes for a good opportunity to spark some controversy and put some high profile people in an uncomfortable position, though.
Now, let’s all settle down and listen to some good advice from…Jim Webb?
FYI, you can buy Mein Kampf on Amazon, too.