Monday, January 15, 2007

Confederate Flag

Mills of the gods

With an election looming next year, Democratic Presidential candidates all beat it out to South Carolina today so that they could denounce the flying of the Confederate Flag on the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbia. Until eight yeaars ago, the flag flew over the State Capitol where it had been hoisted, not in memory of the Civil War, but as a state sponsored "fuck you" to integrationists in the 1960s.There was no historic reason for the flag to fly there, other than as a reminder of the history of South Carolina's recalcitrance to desegregation. I would have thought that any state would have removed a flag which reminded its citizens of its lack of responsibility and boorish behavior over the issue of whether all persons are created equal.

Eight years ago South Carolina bent to public sentiment and hauled down the flag, only to plant it in front of the state house, where it remains to this day, a political football for candidates, and a trap for the unwary (Joe Liberman).

The Confederate flag was a part of my childhood heritage. The library where I read as a boy was presided over not by portraits of Washington and Lincoln, but by Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.My family has been in the south since 1799, and in Texas since 1840, so I suppose that my southern heritage is fairly impeccable. When I was growing up, the term "Yankee" was generally still used as an epithet, as though any day now, Stonewall Jackson and his boys would ride over yon ridge and set things right.

Slowly though, with the advent of air conditioning and television, the south of my youth joined the rest of the union. In 1959, the state of Texas dedicated a state public building to the Confederate dead, martyrs of the lost cause. By about 1966, such a thing would have been unthinkable, by 1975, laughable.I can't imagine why anyone, anywhere, would want to be identified with the Confederate battle flag. And yet, I find myself ambivalent over the issue. Perhaps it is because politicians from the north waved the bloody shirt in elections for decades, insulting my part of the country, implying that we were lesser Americans. Perhaps it is because I think that every state, and every person for that matter should have a sense of its own history, good or bad, and that it is very important that the bad things not be forgotten or hidden. No, I don't think that Belin should fly a swastika in front of their capitol for historic reasons, and I do realize that the institution of slavary is in every way comparable to the holcaust.In othe words, you would have to be a hard hearted person not to understand the pain that flag brings to people.I think I understand the pain.

But I simply don't think that it does any good to bury the old flag and pretend that it never existed. It did exist. Once we stamp it out of state capitols, do we say that it can't be depicted in movies or pictured in books ? It needs to be around, somewhere, because people still need to think about it and what it represented, both good (heroic sacrafice for ones own country) and bad. I think that the bad certainly out weighs the good, but once we forget the flag, we may forget that too. And that's a lesson which needs to be remembered.

1 Comments:

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