I have a Confederate flag on my truck/wall of my house. Are you saying I’m a racist?
Of course not. I’ve said it over and over and over in this series that I have several dear friends who lean towards NC thought (whether they own that term or not) and who—as best as I can tell from our close friendship—don’t have a racist bone in their body. For some reason—as we discussed before—they display the Confederate flag (more precisely the Confederate Battle Flag) on their truck or wall or T-shirt. For the most part, I knew them before I really thought through this topic, so I never personally confronted them on it. But I do know that in college one of my friends had this on his wall, and the school asked him to remove it. His response was that the flag had nothing to do with slavery, only with “State’s Rights.” And I believe he was utterly sincere.
Having said that, I think that anyone who displays that flag—to put it in the most charitable light possible—is confused about what that flag stands for. Their defense of the flag, in my experience, is tied into some sort of a defense of the Confederacy which we’ve addressed in this series: The South had the legal/moral right to secede, Lincoln was a tyrant, secession had little or nothing to do with slavery, etc. I think I’ve presented a pretty good case that they’re objectively wrong. No matter what that flag means in their mind, about 90%-95% of what the actual Confederacy stood for was the perpetuation and expansion of slavery based upon white supremacy. The leaders and spokesmen of the CSA said this over and over and over and over. They embedded perpetuation and expansion of this Institution—by name--into their Constitution.
To be brutally honest, I think that the displayers of this flag—and NC’s in general—have fallen for a scam. After the War, once slavery was thoroughly discredited, the leaders of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis foremost among them, had to come up with some reason for the War besides what it obviously was. Basically they scrambled for Anything But Slavery, and the Tariff motif was the only one even remotely approaching credibility. Southerners who wanted to quieten their guilt readily accepted this, since we’re all sinful human beings who are masters of self-deception and self-justification.
So generations upon generations have been fed and buy into this scam. They’ve been told by their parents and grandparents and schoolteachers this lie called the Lost Cause. And as you can tell from these postings, I’m pretty tired of this lie. But I don’t know anyone else’s heart, and even my own heart, as the Scripture above testifies, is vulnerable to self-deception. So I’m going to give someone with the Stars and Bars on their wall the benefit of the doubt and say they’re confused and misinformed instead of racist and longing for the days of Jim Crow.
But if you’ve read these postings, you know better now. I’ve done you the terrible disservice of removing your excuse for displaying that flag.
But what about the U.S. flag? The Confederate flag only stood for slavery for 4 years, while the U.S. flag stood over a nation that had slavery for almost a hundred years before that.
A national flag is a symbol of a country and what that nation stands for.
This nation has always had a complicated relationship with slavery. We inherited the slave trade from Europe, but the attitude of the (big name) Founders towards the Institution ranged from severe discomfort (due to a troubled conscience) to outright hatred of it. They didn't get rid of it at the outset for a lot of reasons, one of the primary ones being that liberty in this country would've been strangled in its crib if we didn't get the South on board for the Revolution and the infant nation.
I've gone into this in greater detail elsewhere, but in short, this was a country which was (in the immortal words of Lincoln) "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Universal liberty was our ideal enshrined in the first words of our Declaration of Independence, but of course we never completely lived up to that ideal, and sometimes we did things completely contradictory to it. Ours is a (mostly) good nation that occasionally did (and does) horrible things and which is always trying to get closer to that ideal. If you know your Bible, you know that that's about the best we can hope for in a fallen world.
This is what our flag represents, among other things.
This is where, once again, we need to make a clear distinction. That's what conservatives do. One of the reasons why we love this nation is because we can tell the difference between a good nation that sometimes does bad things vs. a thoroughly bad nation. We don't routinely jail or otherwise persecute political dissidents. We highly value freedom of speech, of the press, of association, and of religion. We also value rule of law and due process for people accused of a crime. We've also--through most of our history--highly valued what's normally called Capitalism but which I prefer to call the Free Market System, which is just another term for economic liberty. Even though we've never completely lived up to those values and ideals, we don't just pay lip service to them, either. If you've ever been in a country in which those things aren't valued as highly or not at all, you'll immediately see the difference. For more on this topic, see here.
The CSA--as I think Lincoln hinted at in the quote above--was not conceived in liberty, and it most emphatically was not dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The main reason why it split from this (mostly) good nation was explicitly for perpetuation and expansion of slavery based on white supremacy. I won't rehash all my arguments for this, but if you have any doubts about it, I refer you to my postings on why the Civil Was was fought and why it was inevitable. It was not a (mostly) good nation which sometimes did bad things. It was a nation whose self-stated Raison d'être was very very bad, no matter the personal conduct of individuals within it. The Founders didn't declare independence from the British Empire in order to keep their slaves. Starting with the Revolution, people have fought under the U.S. flag in order to preserve and expand liberty, while people under the Confederate battle flag have shot at their fellow Americans in order to preserve and expand tyranny.
That's why this whole "But what about the U.S. flag?" response is nonsense on stilts.
What about the flag on official sites?
My take on it is that it should not be on any state capital or inside any design of any state flag. I’m all for leaving it up to the voters of each state to decide this, but I think I’ve made it clear my personal feelings on it.
But under no circumstances should any political leader with an “R” by his/her name defend that flag. No conservative or Republican (and the two terms are not synonymous) should in any way be associated with that flag. Everything that flag stands for was associated with Democrats, including the lynchings, segregation, Jim Crow, and the KKK. Let them defend it if they like. But under no circumstances do I want anyone who agrees with me politically to be associated with that flag or in a defense of the Confederacy. Not only for the moral reasons we’ve discussed, but also for practical reasons as well.
How’s about on war memorials or in cemeteries? If you want to decorate the personal graves of your relatives with flowers, that’s fine. But quite frankly, I don’t understand for the life of me why we have memorials to traitors who took up arms in defense of an evil organization. General Lee and others had plenty of good personal characteristics, but in the end they wore the uniform and fought in the cause of an evil organization. Why are we celebrating them? Sure, they were brave and self-sacrificing in the cause in which they believed. Lee—to the best of my knowledge—hated slavery. But he took an oath to protect and defend his country, and in the end, he broke that oath and chose to fire upon his fellow Americans. And whatever his personal beliefs, he shot at his fellow Americans in defense of an organization whose self-stated Raison d'être was the perpetuation and expansion of slavery based on white supremacism. People fight in wars for any number of personal reasons, none of which matter when we consider what the government for which they were fighting actually stood for.
As far as I’m concerned, the same goes for street names and other public places. I heard on the news the other day a traffic report about Jefferson Davis Freeway. What?!
I’m a conservative writing mostly to fellow conservatives/libertarians on this issue. I think that most of us would agree that the U.S. is the greatest nation ever conceived by mankind. Sure, there’s ancient Israel, but that was explicitly founded by God, not any human being. With all our faults—both today and in our past—what nation has provided more freedom and prosperity to more people ever? None. There's not even a close second. We agree on this, right?
So to my fellow conservatives and libertarians: Doesn’t it make you feel a little odd to be honoring people who took up arms against this nation? Knowing what they stood for, why are we naming streets, parks, and schools after people who betrayed their oaths of loyalty to this nation and fired upon their fellow Americans?
What’s a good analogy here? Well, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I’ve already used the comparison to the Nazis, albeit with a whole lot of caveats. Giving credit to Jason Kuznicki over at libertarianism.org, let me take it down a notch with another analogy:
How about...Che Guevara T-shirts?
You see them pretty frequently, people wearing shirts with the image of that mass-murdering thug who was the right-hand man of Fidel Castro, the man who’s single-handedly turned his country into a hellhole and Stalinist island prison. Che Guevara was a sadistic monster in human form who murdered countless dissidents and other innocent people.
And people wear his image on T-shirts.
Now, are most people who wear his image fans of his mass-murder? Do they secretly long for concentration camps and for dissidents to be rounded up and summarily shot? Are they actual communists? I don’t think so. The vast majority of the time, when they wear the shirt, it’s “Revolutionary Chic.” To the degree they give anything remotely resembling rational thought, they might want to “stick it to the Man” and thumb their nose at authority (in complete incongruity with what Che stood for). Their (clueless) friends all wear one, so they follow the herd. They’re ignorant and/or misinformed about what that monster actually stood for.
Again, the Confederates weren’t genocidal mass-murderers. But they were a society and nation explicitly based on the perpetuation and expansion of slavery based on white supremacism. Everyone who displays a Confederate Flag—again, trying to put as charitable a spin on it as I can—doesn’t seem to get this.
And can I say a word about how blacks see this flag? I know you’re not a racist, and hopefully that black guy who sees it on your wall but knows you personally knows you’re not a racist with KKK sympathies.
But to them…
• This is the flag of a “nation” which fought an incredibly bloody war to perpetuate and expand slavery. They don’t care what your great-great-whatever fought for. They know what the Confederacy itself proclaimed that it was fighting for.
• It was the flag of the KKK
• It was the flag of segregation.
• It was the flag of Bull Conner
• It was the flag of the Jim Crow South.
• Not every person who’s carried that flag was a venomous racist (in fact, I think most who carry it today aren’t), but every venomous racist out there loves the Confederate flag.
Assuming they’re wrong--that it has nothing to do with slavery or more recent racial discrimination—can you at least understand that what this flag means to them? I happen to agree with them as to what that flag actually represents, but even if we’re wrong, this really isn’t a battle worth fighting, is it?
Wow, this took a lot longer than I anticipated. Guess we’ll continue this in the next posting.