In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago. It will not rise again. The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me. As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North. But, then I grew up. I learned history. I grasped what the Confederate States stood for. I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance. And, oh yeah, they were losers.
Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings). It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.
Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times. While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.
The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy. The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision. Ridiculous.
Let’s look at the facts. Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II. Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars. Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism. Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans. Losers.
And the monuments. Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down. Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900. Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns. The main source of those statues? A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them. Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed. Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.
The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s. For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962. Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement? (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight. Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.) Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.
Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case. The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit. The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy. When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage. They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.
Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly. If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it. To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part. Or ignorance. Or discrimination. Or all of the above. However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history. In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.
We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols. However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past. As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.
Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?” How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us? Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question. Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect. Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.
It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start. There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.
After 155 years, enough is enough!
On Friday, the Confederate battle flag was lowered for the final time on the statehouse grounds of South Carolina. Huzzah! I am glad that the majority of South Carolinians rallied to get the state legislature, spurred by Governor Nikki Haley (R), to pass legislation that caused its relocation to a place where it belongs — in a museum.
Unfortunately, those that want to see the flag fly at the statehouse accused South Carolina politicians of bowing to “political correctness” in removing the flag. They claim that it is not a symbol of treason or slavery but rather a celebration of their heritage. Many brave and valiant Confederate soldiers died under that banner and, many claim, that is what they celebrate when it is flown. I merely point out that many brave and valiant people have died protecting their homes fighting for causes that were evil. World War II comes to mind. I do not see the citizens of France flying the Vichy flag as part of their heritage, for example.
The Civil War is part of the history of the United States. (Note that it is the United States.) As such museums, books and other chroniclers of our history should depict the various elements of that war. However, a secessionist flag should not fly on government buildings. Ours is a “government for the people, of the people and by the people”. Not just for some people. All the people. I have written on this blog in the past about my lack of understanding as to why people still demand to fly the Confederate flag. I hear what they say, but I don’t buy it if our nation is truly united. Divided perhaps by politics, but not by our values as a nation. I really did not get the continued demand by various state governments to fly it. Perhaps that argument is finally behind us. I also do not get why individuals continue to fly it, but that is their choice and it is a freedom of speech issue. They can do so if they desire, but I hope that they truly understand its meaning.
Symbols are symbols for a reason. They stand for something, otherwise none of us would care about them. The symbol of the United States is our national flag. There is no “southern” flag and there is no “northern” flag. There is only one flag — the symbol of our collective nation.
Perhaps some believe that the Confederate flag now stands only for states’ rights. I do not really buy that argument either. I thought that since we have individual state flags, that those would be the symbols of one’s home state and the government located there.
Others argue that white supremacists and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan usurped the Confederate flag and that it really was not a symbol of racism or slavery. For the sake of discussion, I will say that it may have been “usurped” by white supremacists, but why does one think that they chose that symbol? I would remind us all that the Confederate flags did not reappear on capital buildings and other state buildings in the South until the 60’s. The nineteen sixties in response to changes in Civil Rights laws targeted at ending the Jim Crow era.
Those that argue that the Civil War was over states rights or the preservation of their economy or “way of life” are correct, in so far as they point out that the states rights issue, the economic issues, and the “way of life” issues were all based on slavery. Whether individual Confederate or Union soldiers approved or disapproved or owned or did not own slaves is not relevant. Slavery was the proximate cause of the war. The Missouri Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 are the precursors to the war. The southern states wanted slavery to continue and to spread as new states entered the Union. The northern states wanted to contain slavery to the South. Indeed, one could almost argue that the Civil War was about states’ rights — northern states rights. Specifically, their right not to return fugitive slaves to the slave owners. The South Carolina Declaration of the Causes of Seceding States says it clearly.
But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia.
“Fugitives” of course are slaves.
Or this passage from the Texas version of the Declaration.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
There are other passages and numerous speeches from the time that make it clear that the southern states did secede from the Union over slavery. To be fair, the people of that day were products of their times and circumstances. I hesitate to put the values and knowledge of today up against those of the past when they did not have the same advantages to learn and understand all that we do today. None-the-less, one cannot say that slavery was not the prime issue of the war.
I think my biggest problem with the Confederate flag as a symbol is that we should not re-fight, re-litigate, or rehash something settled 150 years ago. We are united. We are one nation. I do not think that most people who fly the Confederate flag wish that the south had succeeded in breaking apart and forming their own nation. I cannot imagine what our nation, indeed our world would be like had they succeeded. That is my biggest stumbling block as to why people continue to “fight” the Civil War. What do they think would be better had they won?
Some may think that I “hate” the south or do not understand it. Not so. I’ve lived in Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Maryland — all south of the Mason-Dixon line — for a total of over 30 years as both a child and an adult. I enjoy the south. I also enjoy other parts of the United States. To me it is not a matter of liking or disliking a particular region of our great nation. It is a matter of why some people continue to hang on to one of the most traumatic events in our history in some romantic belief that life was “better” then. I guarantee that folks in other parts of the country hang on to their heritage. Coloradans as mountain people are very independent. New Englanders are a different breed with different customs, traditions and even language. Each of our national regions have their own history, heritage, and pride, but they do not insist on flying any flag other than the United States flag or insist secession is something to celebrate.
I am proud of the great citizens of South Carolina. They are moving on with grace and humility. Others are getting the picture. As Americans — north, south, east and west — let’s all move on.
With all due respect to my friends that live in the great state of Georgia, I wonder what is going on there. The entire state (or at least their elected representatives) seem determined to push back the clock as far as possible. The evidence may be found in two official acts taking place in Georgia — one was a bill signed into law today.
First let me say, as many of you know, that I am not against guns. I am against gun violence and believe that we as a nation can do a lot more to restrict the illegal use of weapons. I do not consider more guns being carried by more people to be a deterrent to the illegal use of guns and I do not believe that it enhances the safety of the average citizen. The biggest fallacy of all is the NRA pronouncement that the way to stop bad guys with guns is by good guys with guns. I see. Exactly who are the good guys? The same ones that feel “threatened” and shoot unarmed people?
So today Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed into law the “Safe Carry Protection Act” (or as it is known in other circles, “the guns everywhere bill”). The bill allows those with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns into bars, college campuses, government buildings, houses of worship and just about anywhere else, including by the way, airports. (Under the bill TSA can still search for guns at checkpoints, but the individual with the weapon cannot be arrested, only turned away.) Oh, by the way, if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor for pointing a gun at another person, you cannot be denied a permit to carry. My favorite part is that the police are not allowed, by law, to ask a person if they have a permit to carry — I guess they are supposed to assume that all armed citizens are legal. It also allows schools to arm their administrators, teachers and other employees. Somehow I do not feel in the least bit safer. I do feel like if I ever return to Georgia that I am going to be real careful about who I talk to. I sure would not want someone to think my friendly “hello” in an unfamiliar bar was actually a not so friendly “hell no” and have them feel threatened and blow me away.
The second part of the progressive atmosphere in Georgia is demonstrated by the Georgia Department of Revenue approving the addition of the Confederate flag to their official state license plates. Admittedly they are specialty plates (also called vanity plates in some regions) requested by the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The fun part in this story is that the group previously had such plates, but the symbol was small. Now the plates will not only have the same small symbol, but the new plate has the Confederate battle flag covering the entire plate and the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” takes the place of the issuing county on the standard plate. The organization claims that they have just as much of a right to be proud of their heritage as does any other group. Point taken. However, these seem to be many of the same people who proclaim that they are true (get this) United States of America patriots. The “America love it or leave it” types. Seems to me that in my Middle School history class I learned that the Confederate states were trying to create an entirely new country, separate and apart from the United States of America. It should also be noted that before the Civil War the correct grammar was “The United States are…” and after the war the correct usage became “The United States is….” Our country went through a very difficult time that forged the united nation that we are today. I see little reason to celebrate those that tried to pull it apart — no matter how noble they may have thought their actions to be. Study it, yes. Understand why our ancestors did what they did (both North and South), yes. And many other valid points of view. While I do not begrudge the organization its “pride” I do not see why elected officials in Georgia are bending over backwards (you can look it up!) to support the official use of the Confederate flag. As a young boy I sometimes thought that the Southern soldiers were gallant, romantic and a lot more fun than the Northern soldiers. And then I grew up. I suppose some people never do grow up, but the last time I looked, the Civil War ended almost 150 years ago. Get over it.