Confederate Flag flown in 2008 by a Confederate War Memorial on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.Photo credit: Jason Lander (CC-By-2.0)
Confederate Flag flown in 2008 by a Confederate War Memorial on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.
Photo credit: Jason Lander (CC-By-2.0)

I don’t care what the State of South Carolina or the rest of the South does about the Confederate Flag. As someone whose ancestors, for the most part, arrived on these shores after the Civil War, with both parents coming from Washington state, I have no affinity for the Confederate Battle flag.

What I care about is the process by which big decisions are made. The process by which expunging the Confederate Flag has become a cause celeb is concerning for three reasons.

First, this began as a response to the horrific shooting at a Charleston Church’s Bible study meeting and it has totally driven the love and grace shown by victims and survivors from the headlines. On Friday, we saw the inspiring Christian love and forgiveness in the grace and kindness of the victims’ families. The whole incident should cause us to take a step back, think quietly, pray, and maybe turn our hearts to really love our neighbors. It could lead us to ponder how we let such evil fester in our society and cause us to follow their example of forgiveness and to really come together as a country.

Or we could declare war on a piece of cloth.

At the end of the day, if efforts to remove the flag succeed, politicians can proudly proclaim they helped remove the awful totem from the great building, thus exorcizing the evil spirits . Apparently, that’s the best one can expect in the twenty-first century.

It is far easier exorcize the demons associated with the Confederate flag than face the real problems of South Carolina and America. They’re spiritual problems that are addressed through prayer and repentance, not through bloviating politicians and Internet mobs. I’m concerned we’re cleansing the outside of the cup and platter rather than looking at what needs cleansed within.

Secondly, the way this was done deepens cynicism about politics.

Governor Nikki Haley ran for re-election less than twelve months ago, promising to maintain the status quo, a stance which 61% of her state agreed with. For many, her about face shows either her pre-emptively acting to protect the state from Social Justice Warrior-led corporate action or to secure her own chance to be in contention for the Vice-Presidential spot.

Similarly, efforts are underway to change the Mississippi’s confederate-themed flag by the Mississippi House Speaker after more than sixty-four percent of voters voted for the flag by referendum in 2001.The fact is we live in a “Democracy” where the actual votes and opinions of citizens doesn’t matter compared to the power of judges and special interests. In essence, citizens are being told yet again that they’re wasting their time voting as the elites will decide what’s best.

Finally, the way these decisions are being made reflects the Founders’ warnings about mob rule. So many pronouncements and decisions are being made on social media by people who have little understanding of what the other side thinks and can’t conceive of an “other side” that has an argument that isn’t rooted in prejudice and hate.

As such, some have felt justified in defacing a memorial to the South’s Confederate War dead and other statues in Texas and Maryland.

This effort has moved beyond removing Confederate flags from government buildings to pressuring Corporations such as eBay, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Sears to stop selling Confederate Flags on Tuesday while continuing to sell Communist and Nazi items.

Who had thought of banning sales of Conferate flags a mere week ago?Activists are determined not only to remove the Confederate Battle flag from public display but to make it so people who see the flag as a non-hateful patriotic symbol can’t purchase it. The effort and its results has all the marks of a mad irrational haste of an angry mob rather than the reasoned debate of a free people. In fact, no debate is allowed on what the Conderate flag means.

And like most mobs, the frenzy is inspiring some less and less reasonable ideas. A CNN anchor has suggested it might be time for the Jefferson memorial to come down because Jefferson owned slaves, while a New York Post suggests that the film classic Gone With the Wind be consigned to the Ashheap of History. I’d suggest that before we take a sledgehammer to more Southern (and American) history and heritage that we take a step back.

However views of the Confederate flag do vary. According to a YouGov survey from a year and a half ago, 35% of Americans saw the flag as a symbol of Southern Pride (read: a patriotic symbol), 24% saw it as a symbol of racism, and 20% saw that it could be seen as both. Even among Blacks 14% saw it as mainly a symbol of Southern Pride, while 28% saw it could be both equally.

Given the divide, it would behoove Amercians, if we’re going to discuss this issue, to be fair enough to try to understand each other’s view points, but there’s little effort at that.

Many people have legitimate reasons for despising the Confederate Flag. The Confederate States of America advocated for slavery’s continuance and its expansion. The early formation of the Confederate States of America was based mostly on fears President Lincoln would assault slavery.

After the Civil War, the Confederate Flag was used as symbols of the KKK, but the KKK used the American flag for the same purpose. The Confederate Flag flew at many rallies by segregationists as the Civil Rights movement intensified. The Confederate Flag was raised at the South Carolina Capitol building by Democratic Governor Fritz Hollings as a protest of integration.

On the other hand, the Confederate Flag persisted as a symbol of Southern heritage and beloved the way the American Flag is cherished by all patriotic Americans.

In the period of reconstruction,  Southerners received harsh retribution at the hands of opportunistic Northern politicians leading to resentment and forestalling national healing. After that was a disaster for our country, the Union took a different approach to bringing the nation together. It was an approach that harkened back to Lincoln’s second inaugural, where Lincoln had called for unity and healing.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The former Confederacy, unlike other defeated enemies of the United States, needed to be not only our friends but part of this country. The Southern “fire eaters” agitated for the war and did everything they could to stir up passions of the South into fear and paranoia to bring about secession. They remain beneath contempt, but many historians find much to admire about other people who served in the Confederacy. Many opposed secession, but their words fell on deaf ears by the mobs of their time.

These men didn’t serve in the Confederacy because they loved slavery but because they believed it was their duty to their country, as they defined their country as their home state primarily. When the Confederacy sought wise people to lead it, the Confederacy often choose people wise enough to know what a bad idea secession had been, such as Jefferson Davis, who would become President of the Confederacy, and Robert E. Lee, its most prominent General.

The average Confederate soldier didn’t own slaves and fought out of a sense of duty to protect their families and their states. From the perspective of the average Confederate soldier, the Northern states were invading the Southern states and threatening their homelands and didn’t care why. Most confederate soldiers were no worse, and certainly were as brave as those who fought for the Union.

If America was interested in letting the wounds of the Civil War fester until we had to fight a second Civil War, they could crack down on display of the Confederate flag and inflict more punitive suffering on the former Confederacy. Instead, America followed Lincoln’s advice and looked charitably on all as people who fought bravely and nobly and did their duty as they understood it.

Many Confederate leaders were recognized for their virtues by citizens of the whole country. Robert E. Lee was remembered as a brilliant tactician who showed grace in defeat. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was admired for his courage in battle. During World War II, some American military units actually flew the Confederate flag either due to a lot of Southerners being in the unit or because they’d adopted a Southern nickname or identity.

Many symbols of the old Confederacy became considered simply symbols of the South. For example, in older films, radio, and television shows, a refrain of “Dixie” will often be played to indicate a shift of scene to the South without any sort of reference to the Civil War or slavery at all.

We face a new day and a new century. The last Confederate War Veteran was buried in 1951. It may be time to rethink the place of the battle flag as the South decides what it wants to be in the twenty-first century. Those who see the flag as a symbol of Southern Heritage need to consider the views of people for whom the flag is a symbol of oppression. Those who view the flag as a symbol of hate for non-whites need to consider the views of those who see it as a symbol of love for the South.

The fate of the Confederate flag should be up to people who actually live in the South. However, I’d suggest we take a page from Lincoln and have a real debate and a civil discussion, with a little more charity, a little less malice, and a lot more wisdom than we’ve seen so far.

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