What Did the Flag Do?
I rarely post anything on my blog that could even remotely be considered political or controversial. So, this post will be a rarity indeed. In the wake of the recent tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, there was been a flurry of activity around the flag that had been used by the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. There have been cries to remove it from courthouses and other government buildings throughout the South. Amazon has stopped selling all items that bear the image of the flag. Apple has removed all Civil War games from their App Store because they display the Confederate flag. And, even toys related to the Dukes of Hazzard television show and movies are being removed from store shelves. All of this because a young, stupid jackass, who committed a heinous massacre of African-American people in Charleston, was seen in a photograph holding a Confederate flag.
Now, before anyone starts declaring me as a racist or a hate monger, let me be VERY clear. I found Dylann Roof's actions to be atrocious and inexcusable. In my opinion, he is nothing more than an ignorant reprobate who deserves the maximum punishment allowed by law. There is no excuse, in this day and age, for his disgusting, offensive attitudes and mindset. We are all created equally, and color plays no part in determining someone's value in society. Every life is important.
First, a very brief history lesson. The flag that is the source of all the controversy is not the national flag of the Confederate States of America. During the Civil War, the CSA had three different flags. The Stars and Bars appeared in 1861. It was replaced in 1863 with the Stainless Banner. Finally, the Blood-stained Banner was used in 1865. The flag in question was actually the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. For more detail on the different flags, check out this article from CNN.
Having said that, I am a bit dismayed by the sudden fervent wave of outrage that is being directed at the Confederate flag. After all, what did the flag do? The cries have been loud, and many have declared the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate. Those cries have even gone beyond just the flag, and have begun to focus on monuments and memorials that immortalize key members of the Confederacy, such as Jefferson Davis, the first (and only) president of the CSA.
What I find difficult to understand is how will all of this fervor change anything? Removing a flag or a monument won't change the mindset or attitude of some white trailer trash idiot with a supremacy complex. It won't make racism in America magically go away.
I think it is safe to say that most of us agree that slavery is wrong, as is racism. But, we can't whitewash away our history. It is our history that makes this country great. Not only the good history, but the bad history as well. Slavery is a part of this country's history whether we like it or not. We can't change that. Just as knocking down Auschwitz and Dachau won't change the fact that the Holocaust occurred, removing the Confederate flag won't change the fact that this country at one time considered slavery to be an acceptable practice.
Following the logic being applied by those who call the Confederate flag a sign of hatred, we should be calling for the removal of our own Stars and Stripes as well. Remember, our flag existed long before the Confederate flag did, and represented slavery just as much. If nothing else, at least every U.S. flag before the Civil War should be removed, along with every monument. Even the original Betsy Ross flag represented an era when slavery was acceptable in this country. If you apply the logic to one, you should be applying it to all. You can see how quickly this can begin to spiral.
I'm concerned that this fervor will place us on a slippery slope. Where does it stop? Do we remove all of the monuments from the battlefield at Gettysburg? Do we tear down all of the gravestones in the cemeteries? Do we remove George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and half a dozen other Presidents from the history books because they owned slaves? More than a hundred years of this country's history involved slavery. Do we dismiss all of that, and revise all of the history books to say that the United States of America began after the Civil War?
My answer is no, because our history is part of what makes us who we are today. Someone once said that a man is the sum of his memories. I believe that is the same case for our country. We are the sum of our history. We can't dismiss our history. We must study it, remember it, and learn from it. Does that mean we should remove the Confederate flag from the courthouses and government buildings? Absolutely, yes. In my opinion, they should have been removed after the Civil War ended. We are the United States of America, and our flag, not that of any other country, is what should be flying in front of our government buildings.
But, do we suddenly ban it from existence for what it represents? I don't think we can, or should. We still have some semblance of free speech in this country, and if I wish to fly the Confederate flag (which I don't), I should be allowed to do it. Does it make me a racist? Not anymore than owning an orange Dodge Charger makes me a Dukes of Hazzard fan. Uh, maybe that isn't the best of analogies.
My point is that we should be careful about projecting human attitudes and emotions onto inanimate objects. We should resist the knee jerk urge to immediately declare an object as evil because it's been associated with the perpetrator of some act of hate or evil. After all, we didn't call for the ban of pressure cookers after the Boston Marathon bombing. A flag is just a colorful piece of cloth. Dylann Roof's attitudes would be the same whether he waved a Confederate flag or not. It is not the flag that represents hatred and racism. Remember, white supremacy groups wave the Stars and Stripes too. It's the people who wave the flag. It is the attitudes and the mindset of the humans that represent hatred and racism. Until that changes, there will always be hate and racism in America. Let's focus our energies on tearing down the archaic attitudes and the hate-filled mindsets, and less on tearing down history.