It has been 150 years since the revolt of the Confederate States of America officially ended. However, the flag of that revolt still flies over on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, remains part of the state flags of a number of former Confederate states, and is displayed in many fashions by people with various motives. Some belief, even genuinely that in displaying it they are honoring the men who fought under it. For others it is a symbol of continued defiance against a government that they hate, while for others it is a potent symbol of their hatred of African Americans and their earnest longing for a racist past that they believe were the good times.
That flag in its various guises, the Confederate Battle Flag, the Confederate Naval Ensign, or the National Flag of the Confederacy, sometimes called the Stars and Bars is an important part of American history. As such it cannot be completely done away with, it should remain as a part of history and as such confined to museums and things like reenactments of the battles. That being said, it has no place being flown over statehouses and should also be removed from the state flags that still retain it.
That flag is a part of my family’s history. If I wanted to I could join the Son’s of Confederate Veterans in a heartbeat. I have ancestors on both sides of my family who volunteered to serve the Confederacy even as their neighbors were declaring for the Union in what was then the western part of Virginia, what is now West Virginia. They were small time slave owners as well as yeoman farmers and they chose to serve a regime that despised them almost as much as it did the blacks. As members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry they fought until 1865 and following the war, some were reconciled to the Union while others refused to be and continued their revolt in other ways. Only one thing could have caused them to fight for a flag that offered them so little and that was they, like so many Southerners of similar means believed that keeping the black down ensured that they were superior to someone. If that meant enslaving blacks and fighting for a regime that did so, so be it. In fact after the war the patriarch of my paternal side refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States and lost his family’s lands and plantation in addition to the slaves that he had already lost.
There was a time when I was young and desiring some kind of American military heritage to be proud of took a type of pride in the purely military side of the family, no matter what it was, Revolutionary War, Civil War (North and South), the World Wars as well as the service of my own father in Vietnam. As such I turned a blind eye to the cause that my ancestors who served the South fought and in some cases died to not only defend but to expand, if need be by the overthrow of the Union through force of arms. That cause was slavery, and while so many want to clothe secession and the term “states rights” the one right for which the South seceded was the right to enslave blacks and to expand that institution to non-slave territories, and even force anti-slavery Northerners to cooperate with through laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Decision.
But this is not surprising, the revisionist historians of the Lost Cause triumphed in telling the story of the Civil War where force of arms failed. These people, including some historians managed to shift the focus of the war to the stories of the great soldiers who fought in the war, and to the lie that the war was about “constitutional” issues when in fact the South was winning almost every court and congressional battle regarding slavery in the decade and a half before secession. The South’s over-reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln, an election that they sabotaged for their cause by splitting their electoral votes between the candidacies of Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge is to this day lost on them.
The fact is that the Confederate Flag in all of its forms is not a symbol of freedom, it is not a symbol of a heritage that any person, even descendants of Southern veterans should take pride in.
Instead it is a symbol of treason. It is the symbol of men who sworn to uphold the Constitution that Senators, Congressmen, military officers, and other Federal officers and officials callously abandoned when their side did not win an election.
It is a flag of a republic which Alexander Stephens its Vice President described in his Cornerstone Speech:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
It is the symbol of a rebellion that brought about a war that cost between 650,000 and 750,000 military deaths, many more wounded and billions of dollars of damage to the country.
It is the symbol of men who after they regained control of their states passed innumerable laws to prescribe slavery in all but name through “Black” and “Jim Crow” laws.
It is the symbol of the original American terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan that used violence and murder to oppress and kill blacks and their supporters for a hundred years after Appomattox.
It is the symbol that neo-Confederates, White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other racist and hate-groups rally around.
It has also found a home in some parts of the Tea Party Movement and the current Republican Party.
Some Southerners and others have defended it and fought to keep it flying on various state capitol grounds, war memorials and state parks. It is flown or displayed by individuals over homes and on vehicles, even in states that shed thousands of lives to end the Confederate rebellion.
As for me, a career military officer and descendent of Confederate veterans I find the Confederate flags in all of its forms hateful, divisive and treasonous. When I see it displayed outside of museums and reenactments my blood boils, especially when I see it displayed as a political statement against a government and Constitution that I have committed my life to defend.
I believe that all Americans should oppose its display, especially on the grounds of government facilities. I find it little different in substance than the Swastika banner of the Nazi Party, which became the national flag of Germany. Both flags were the symbols of regimes that were based on the belief in a superior “master race” and which desired to expand their racial views to other lands. While there was a difference that the Nazis believed in exterminating as well as enslaving those that they deemed to be “sub-human” the ultimate goal of the Confederacy was to perpetuate slavery and expand it over a people that they also believed to be sub-human.
Now I do believe that the Confederate flag does have a place, and the proper place for it is in museums and historical reenactments. I think that it also can be legitimately displayed on the graves of men who fought under it. As for the men who died for that flag, despite their cause I have a measure of sympathy as one who has served in war. They were valiant and brave soldiers even if the cause that they served was evil. I agree with Ulysses S. Grant who at Appomattox stopped the cheers of his soldiers noting:
I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”
Apart from that I believe that displays of this flag only serve to show either historical ignorance or to display racist or anti-government attitudes that serve no constructive purpose and which only serve to encourage totalitarian enemies of freedom.
Thankfully, for the first time prominent Republican politicians beginning with Mitt Romney but now including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham are calling for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. Others need to as well. It is about time that the Confederate flag, and the racist ideology that it stands for comes down for good.