Regarding the Confederate Flag: this is a contrived controversy by those who know nearly nothing about American history. Ironically, the application of a “racist” or “hate” label upon the Confederate Battle Flag is being proliferated by those who would wear a hammer and sickle or a Che Guevara tee-shirt – emblems and champions of an ideology that oversaw the mass extermination of Jews and other undesirables. In their hatred of American dynamism, they are attacking the historic symbol of a region that still embodies that dynamism.
First, it is important to understand that the flag itself was indeed a battle flag, not the national flag of the Confederacy. That national flag was a blue field with a circle of thirteen stars (representing the thirteen state of the Confederacy) and three horizontal stripe of alternating red and white. In this regard, banning the battle flag would be the equivalent to that of the Germans dropping the Iron Cross. The Iron Cross was not only the battle banner of the German Army in World Wars I (no Nazi influence) and II (Nazi influenced), it is in fact used today. The swastika was the emblem of the Nazi party and ultimately became the centerpiece of the national flag of Germany. But Germany still uses the Iron Cross. Thus, equating a battle flag to a national flag and a symbol of a particular party with a defined ideology does not hold water. If you really wanted to ban an image that was representative of the ideal of slavery you would target the national flag of the CSA.
The Confederate Battle Flag, symbolic of the Confederate fighting man, was not symbolic of the South as a whole, which is important to understand as a distinction.
In this regard, we may want to take a little piece of advice from our friends in Europe. The Europeans suffered tremendously under the Germans throughout World War II. Yet today, if you visit Normandy and many of the other battlefields of Europe, the national flags are proportional to the amount of soldiers killed on a particular battlefield – to include Germany. The largest flag at Normandy is the German flag. In other words, the Europeans and the United States have decided that the individual soldier in the service of the German Army of the 1930s and 40s, despite fighting for a cause that would have enslaved an entire continent and completed its goal of mass genocide, was blameless. Why? Because a German soldier, even in 1944, could not be blamed for his personal patriotic devotion to his Nation. He was fighting for Germany, not the Nazi party or its ideology specifically.
This is an important and distinguishing point regarding the men who fought under the Confederate Battle Flag.
In 1861 the concept of a single “United” States was in great debate. There were many that felt that the states entered into a voluntary union and could subsequently leave that union, voluntarily. In fact, there are those who argued vehemently that Jefferson Davis should take this matter to the Supreme Court, where he may have won a legal argument in that regard – especially in the Supreme Court of 1861. In the book, “Banished Children of Eve,” the author retells how New York City zealously supported the South. Many in New York implored Davis to bring the issue to the courts because city leaders felt, if he had won, they too would attempt secession. Thus, the South was not unique in its assumption of voluntary association of the United States.
In the mid-19th Century, if you asked someone their nationality in the “United” States, they would tell you, “I am a Virginian… Georgian… New Yorker… etc.” The “American” identity did not yet exist. When the South seceded, it was not nearly the cut and dry “traitorous” argument posited by today’s political class who view events in their own 21st Century context. This was a very real question in 1860: is the United States a single country or a Union of voluntary states? Or in other words, is this the 21st Century United States or something more akin to the current European Union? 19th Century Southerners would have said the latter.
Correspondingly, the average Southern soldier did not view the war as one waged for slavery. Although slavery as an institution was being protected by some Southern elites, 93% of the men who fought owned no slaves at all. Rather, the Southern soldier saw the North’s intrusion of Southern borders as an invasion of a sovereign state that voluntarily left the union, just as it had voluntarily entered the union less than eighty years earlier. He fought for his homeland because he was a Virginian… Georgian… Carolinian… but not an American and certainly not to make some slave owner wealthier.
One only needs to read the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and later, the ratified Confederate Constitution of 1862 to see this distinguishing characteristic and viewpoint of the South. Whereas the Articles were replaced by the Constitution of the United States in 1788 (the year of its ratification), they were purposely loose because the South viewed itself as fundamentally different than the North and wanted an out. Interestingly, the Articles of Confederation created a “union in perpetuity,” language that remains missing from the Constitution. The only reason for a stronger Constitution was to ensure our solvency economically and build confidence with the nations with whom we were indebted post-Revolution (thank you Madison, Jay, and Hamilton). But even then, the South saw the Constitution as a voluntary agreement between multiple parties that shared very little in common with one another.
This brings me to my final point regarding the Confederate flag and the distinguishing point of the battle flag vs the national flag of the CSA (or other old imagery of the South). The reason that the flag is ‘X’ shaped is due to the prolific population of Southerners who drew from Scottish and Scots-Irish ancestry. The flag purposely emulated the flag of St. Andrew to unify the South, which was in fact not universally supportive of slavery. Slaves were primarily the privilege of wealthy land owners. But the mass majority of Southerners were middle class farmers and tradesmen with a poorer constituency that resided in the hills of the West.
That “fighting” population was not driven to fight for slavery because they derived no benefit from the practice. If anything, slaves were a direct economic competitor to many Scots-Irish Southerners who lived on subsistence farming and rudimentary local bartering. The flag helped unify these men to fight for the cause of a national identity – Southern, primarily Scottish, primarily Christian people – not for the cause of slavery.
When they lost the war, the national flags of the South were rightfully retired. But the Confederate Battle Flag, the symbol of a national identity’s honorable resistance, especially in the context of the mid-19th century national identity question, remained. They did not adorn Southern statehouses or official buildings. Rather, the flag lived among the men that served and their descendants. It was the last remaining symbol of a national identity question and it should be viewed in this context, not as a symbol of hate, regardless of who perverts its meaning for some cause other than its original intention.
If we banned every symbol that has been misused to rally around hate, we would have nearly nothing left to view.