Lowering the Confederate Flag: Politically Correct or Just Correct?
I have never lived in the “Deep South.” Three years in El Paso, TX and 15 in the DC/Northern Virginia area far from constitutes the South, let alone the Deep South. That said, as a historian, writer, and Jewish American, I understand the complexities surrounding the issue of the Confederate flag.
Yes, complexities. For while the flag represents Southern pride to many people who are neither bigots nor racists, the flag itself is emblematic of a bygone era of just that – bigotry and racism. It is the rebel flag. Rebelling against what? Against the way of life lived by the Union, represented by the Stars and Stripes. A life of freedom for all – black and white – living up to the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”
The bygone era is that of slavery and the stings and pangs of enormous pain brought to bear by the representation of that flag adorning the plantation homes of thousands of slave owners. And while no one in these United States has been a slave or slave owner, legally, since 1865 and the finality of the War Between the States, the message of the Confederate flag lives on.
Because more than a message of Southern pride, the Confederate flag is still a message of hate, separation, and superiority to far too many for whom it is a source of arrogance. The flip side is that the flag serves as a source of degradation, shame, and inferiority.
As a Jewish American I understand the feelings of those hurt by the sight of the Confederate flag. It is akin to seeing the Nazi flag, emblazoned with its swastika. Both flags represent pride to some, pain to others. Both also represent the losing sides in grave conflagrations.
The burning question remains – is the lowering of the Confederate flag politically correct or just correct?
In war, just as in elections, to the victors go the spoils. The Union emerged victorious in the War Between the States, and thus the Stars and Stripes soar high above state capital buildings across the fruited plains. Flags of the vanquished should be lowered and relegated to museums for people to see, learn about, and study why it is there. Both South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) have already called for the removal of the Confederate flag from their respective capital domes – a flag raised by Democrat governors in the first place.
One cannot erase history, nor should attempts to do so succeed. One cannot sanitize or whitewash the past, nor should attempts to do so succeed. After all, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
The Confederate flag must remain a visible part of American history – in its appropriate context, which now, in 21st Century America, is in museums, textbooks, and battlefield sites. And with regard to battlefield sites, the Pittsburgh Action News reported Gettysburg National Military Park will no longer sell items featuring the Confederate flag by itself. Items paired with the American flag will continue to be available, and educational materials depicting the Confederate flag will also remain on the shelves. Additionally, USA Today reported that the National Park Service will also remove Confederate flag items from its bookstores and gift shops.
The same paper also reported that Apple is removing all games and apps containing the Confederate flag – much to the chagrin of a developer. The developer, Game-Labs, was told if they altered the game, sans Confederate flag, it could return to the shelves. Game-Labs declined noting it would weaken the integrity of the game “Ultimate General: Gettysburg.” It would seem odd for a game or app pertaining to the War Between the States to not depict the flags of both sides of a war. Perhaps Game-Labs will find another tech company to market the product. Business is business and should consumers want the item they will buy it while those finding it objectionable will not.
The Battle of Gettysburg, a very pivotal battle during the War Between the States, was fought in Adams County, PA, July 1-3, 1863. Its historical significance and context were on display in the film Remember the Titans (2000). The film depicts a recently integrated high school football team running through the battlefield/graveyard followed by a speech deftly orated by head coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington. The crux of Boone’s speech was that the team in 1971 was fighting the same battle that was fought over three days back in 1863 and that if the team did not unite it would destroy itself before it ever had the chance to take the field against a real opponent. (Cinematic liberties were taken with the real story. The Titans, from TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, did actually spend a week at Gettysburg College and the team did actually take a tour of the battlefield, but they did not run through it. The desegregation of the Alexandria schools occurred several years prior to Boone’s hiring as the first black coach at TC Williams, so tensions were not as severe as the film portrays.)
Regardless of the dramatized version in the film or the reality, the players did visit the Gettysburg battlefield and the trip did serve its purpose. (No spoiler alert – if you have not seen the film, see it.) The teaching and study of history is vital, cannot be expunged and to attempt to do so is supremely arrogant.
Should businesses opt to remove items from the shelves containing the Confederate flag, they are within their purview to do so. The public will speak with its wallets. My wife Vicky raised a good point when suggesting one can still purchase Nazi paraphernalia and perhaps that should no longer be permitted. Granted, one would be hard pressed to find swastika-laden items in Target, Wal-Mart, or any other mainstream store, but if one wants to find them, they can find them. It’s an economic concept that has succeeded for years called supply and demand.
After all, Nation of Islam leader and anti-American race hustler Louis Eugene Wolcott, a.k.a. Louis Farrakhan, called for the removal of the American flag. “We need to put the American flag down.” There is little support for that idea, and any American opposed to the American flag can get the hell out of our country. Yet, Farrakhan is free to utter such bilge, and just as free to not shop at any store selling American flags. The difference between the two flags is that one represents a bygone era of a lost war and the other still waving proudly over capital buildings, stadiums, schools (for now), businesses, and even embassies overseas.
The perniciousness of an idea, concept, written or spoken word, however distasteful or offensive, still falls under the protection of First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is incumbent upon the people to ensure that the government of the United States does not overstep its bounds where the people’s right to decide is concerned.
The symbols portrayed by the Confederate flag and the Nazi flag are known to the people. Should someone decide to wear a Confederate flag belt buckle that is his right. He in turn outs himself as someone supporting the tenor and ideology behind those symbols – for better or worse. The Confederate flag no longer represents the current ideology of the states of the former Confederate States of America. There is no longer a Confederate States of America, but it is still an important subject in history books and museums. That is where its flag should reside – for all to learn about the greatness of the South as well as the sins of the South.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator of history living in Westfield, IN.