Flags of our fathers
One of the sillier aspects of political correctamania is the recurring dispute over showing the Confederate flag. The Sunday Miami Herald wrote about a Fredericksburg, Va., man who has upset some people by flying a large Confederate flag on his property, visible to all on Interstate 95. Not a bad place for a flag. Fredericksburg was the scene of the slaughter of the Irish Brigade, Union troops. Those who object consider the Stars and Bars an odious symbol of racism, an endorsement of slavery. Those increasing few who dare to fly it say it honors their family or community history.
It all boils down to arguing the cause of that great fight. Some say it was about slavery; others say it was states' rights. The fact is both are right. Slavery was the economic cause of the disunion among the states. But the men who fought and died, on either side, were for the most part not fighting for, or against, slavery. They fought for their neighborhoods. In the case of the South, it was the belief that the states had rights superior to a federal government. That had been an argument since the beginning of the country, and the Civil War settled it. As Shelby Foote wrote, before the Civil War it was “the United States are.” After the Civil War, it became “the United States is.”
Just because a Southern man picked up a gun did not mean he subscribed to slavery. His state may have seceded because business interests, as today, often controlled state governments, and in the South much of business used slave labor. But the average soldier, even the average general, did not own slaves. Robert E. Lee did, but he was in the process of setting them free. Lee stated that he went to war for his native state, Virginia. That was his higher loyalty, although he revised that view later.
A better example is Patrick Cleburne, an Irish-born general from Arkansas. He fought for that state because he had been accepted and prospered there after the hardships and discrimination of Ireland. He went so far as to advocate freeing slaves and making them Confederate soldiers. His idea was repugnant to some, but he continued to show his Southern loyalty to the point of being killed at the battle of Franklin. There are innumerable stories of men who gave all for a cause that had nothing to do with race. Wesley Culp grew up in Gettysburg (his uncle owned Culp’s Hill, scene of a bloody battle) but moved to Virginia just before the war. He came back with the Southern army and was killed on his uncle’s property.
What seems most unfair is comparing the Confederate flag to the swastika, the symbol of the Nazis. To begin with, that was a political party’s emblem, not a national one. German insignia during World War II was the black cross, same as today, although it is now the more artsy cross of Malta. Nobody condemns it. Same as the Japanese hinomaru, symbolizing the sun, which we mocked as a meatball. Considering the brutality of the Japanese in the war, that emblem might have been discouraged. In fact, it was for three years, but today the Japanese flag is unchanged from 1941. Nobody seems to be upset.
So, perhaps we should ban the Confederate flag from 1865 to 1868, but in 2014 don’t get upset about it, except when flown, as it sometimes is, by gun nuts. Ban the nuts, not the flag.
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