Reflections of a Rebel regarding flags and such

Howitzers at Bull Run  (I think artillery is beautiful)
In 1962 or ’63, I attached a small Confederate flag to the antenna of my family’s car. Thousands of people did the same, and mine made me feel united with my town, state, and region, for we saw ourselves as the victims of a second Northern invasion. White Southerners had been lumped into one basket and despised, ridiculed, and portrayed as stupid hicks, and the Confederate flag united us with virtuous ghosts and represented our attempt to hold our heads high by looking to our valorous past.

As I matured, I went from not thinking at all about the causes of the Civil War to wondering why the hell all those guys who were economically hurt by slavery were willing to die by the hundreds of thousands so rich men could own slaves. I no longer believe that they saw themselves as fighting for slavery but rather as fighting against an invasion by a part of the country that then, as now, looked down upon the South. Because I hold this view, I found Obama’s remarks on June 26, even more offensive than usual:

“Removing the flag from this state’s Capitol would not be an act of political correctness, it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers, it would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. By taking down that flag we express God’s grace.”

I deplore his over-simplification, and I deplore his claim that he and God think alike (the worst ad hominem attacks that I regularly hear from flag
detractors claim that both God and every decent human being can clearly see that  flag supporters are no better than Hitler). It’s also true that politically correct people never claim to be acting out of politically correct motives. Like Obama, they don’t say that their goal is to stomp their enemies. No, no, no, they say that they only want to promote kindness, decency, equality, acceptance, and inclusivity, all of which are words that bring a happy flutter to the heart and a joyful mist to the eye. How is it then that they are so quick to vilify, harass, and marginalize anyone who disagrees with them? I don’t write this as one who feels any great love and loyalty for the South. After all, I left the South in 1986 at age 37, and the militant conservatism, intolerance, and religiosity that caused me to leave have only gotten worse. Still…

I agree that the Confederate battle flag shouldn’t wave in front of state capitols, and I think it’s long past time that it should be removed from the Mississippi state flag, but now the drive is on to change street names, remove the statues of racist governors from statehouses, remove the Confederate flag from Confederate positions in national battlefields, and take the statues of Confederate soldiers from hundreds of courthouse squares all over the South. The man who owns the old Dukes of Hazzard (a childish TV show from the ‘70s) car has even announced plans to paint the U.S. flag over the Confederate flag on its roof (to be consistent, he  needs to change its name from the General Lee to the General Grant). The goal appears to be the erasure of every evidence that something called the Confederate States of America ever existed. Can anyone seriously believe that this push is being made by people whose only desire is to create a society that values all of its citizens, and that they have no interest in rewriting history, dishonoring the dead, and trampling upon the feelings of  Southerners who value their Civil War era heritage? 

The General Lee
I have consistently seen statements by Obama—and many other politicians who hold the public’s attention—as destructive rather than healing. I’ve also observed that politicians who were fine with the Confederate flag two months ago have suddenly had the revelation that vehemently opposing anything vaguely associated with the Confederacy is simply the right thing to do, the thing that God would have them do.

Our national response to tragedy is often focused upon scapegoating and symbolism rather than substance. For instance, instead of calling for an understanding of police racism, politicians and activists are content to vilify individual cops and sometimes whole departments. I think one reason for this lack of curiosity is that t
hey would anticipate being accused by the politically correct as trying to justify racism. It’s far safer to act as if the problem is caused by the willingness of individual cops to embrace evil for no reason whatsoever. That half of the cops in the Baltimore incident were black is simply ignored. Clearly, if a fact gets in the way of what one wants to believe—in this case that individual white racists are the problem—it’s easier to ignore the fact than to reconsider the conclusion. So it is with this push to abolish everything Confederate from public view, the implication being that 150 year old symbols of a complex war can be reduced to one issue, racism, and by getting rid of the symbols, we’ll be less racist.

Again, I’m not defending the war. It was an unjustified war in which more Americans died than in WWII
—although the population was far lessand for what? But it wasn’t slavery for which all those Southerners fought. Only 4.8% of white Southerners owned a single slave, and the other 95.2% suffered from having to compete with unpaid labor. This economic competition was not only caused by the presence of house servants and field hands, but to skilled laborers as well. Slavery hurt nearly everyone in the South, so Obama’s claim is either naive or disingenuous. It’s simply a politically correct rewriting of history by a man whom many people will believe simply because he’s president. As with other inflammatory remarks Obama has made, violence will come from this, but in this case, it won’t be directed at cops but at individuals who persist in displaying the flag.

I think that an important reason for the Civil War was the same as for most wars, namely, one side felt disrespected by the other. The American Revolution, for example, wasn’t only about taxes and representation, but about America’s perception that Britain regarded the colonists as yokels. Canada eventually won the same freedom we enjoy without a shot being fired, so I don’t see our war with Britain as reason for pride but an indication of impatience and failure. Every war we’ve had with the possible exception of WWII was just such a waste, so are we to rid ourselves of every reminder of those many wars? Of course not. This isn
’t about justice and consistency, this is an attack on the South, the white South, and white Southern politicians are jumping on the politically correct bandwagon right and left to save their careers.
When I heard that a woman was to be put on our paper currency, I hoped she would replace Andrew Jackson (a long ago American president). Not only was he a slaveholder, he was racist to the point of genocide. It was my Indian ancestors that he forced on that wintertime death-march from Georgia to Oklahoma, so rather than paying him the respect of keeping his picture on a $20 bill, I would like to tie his corpse to my bumper, and drag it through the streets. Such is my hatred of Andrew Jackson, but where does the desire to wreak revenge and sanitize history end?

All of those old white politicians—Lincoln included—were the enemies of black people, yellow people, and red people, if not for what they did, then for what they didn’t do, and I resent this singling-out of the South as the bastion of racism. It wasn’t moral superiority that kept slavery out of parts of the North (many people don
’t realize that some Northern states had slavery), it was the fact that slavery is much more practical in an agrarian economy, and  the North was industrial. Besides, those slave ships were often built in, and sailed from, Northern ports with Northern crews; and since the North’s own economy was based on low pay, child labor, no benefits, long work hours, unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and offered no options for social or economic betterment, many of its workers were only marginally better-off than slaves.
Property covenant

My house in Oregon was built in 1955, and the deed stipulated that it couldn’t be resold to a non-white (see item 8 at left). Most Oregon towns had sundown laws, which meant that a black person had to leave town before sunset. Oregon also had a Klan powerful enough to swing elections. Things were so bad here that the NAACP pronounced Portland (Oregon’s largest municipality) the most racist city on the West Coast. Everything it could do to keep black people out—and to persecute them when it could no longer do so—Oregon did, yet all of these liberal Oregonians by whom I’m surrounded look down upon the South as the home of virtuous but persecuted black people and ignorant rednecks who get up in the morning trying to figure out how to make the lives of minorities more miserable. It’s a self-congratulatory view based upon ignorance on the part of people who have no knowledge of modern-day life in the South and no knowledge of their own state’s recent history. They’re also blissfully unaware that the latest black migration is to the South rather away from it, and they read nothing into the fact that, to this day, few blacks live in the Northwest.

After MLK died, and Northern cities (by which I mean cities in states that stayed in the Union in 1861, a list that includes California, home to the Watt’s riots) started to see race rioting, Southerners cheered for the same reason that Palestinians cheered when the U.S. was attacked on 9/11. We had told one another that the Freedom Riders were hypocrites who found it easier to fix problems a thousand miles from home than to cure the ills in their own backyard, so we were glad when their chickens came home to roost. Likewise, I heard my classmates cheer when the Kennedys and King were killed, and while I was mortified (I wrote to Jackie Kennedy, and her response is below
), I knew that the reason they cheered had to do with enduring well over a century of contempt and ridicule. When I was a boy, the South still felt the scars of the Civil War and its aftermath, and it saw the Civil Rights movement as nothing more more than the latest episode of Northern harassment.

Letter from Mrs. Kennedy's office
A few years ago, word went around my atheist group that it had been scientifically proven that the more convincing the evidence against the beliefs of conservatives and evangelicals, the more tenaciously they cling to error. Supposedly, the same doesn’t apply to atheists and liberals whom, as we like to see ourselves, are open-minded and readily admit error. Yeah, right. To fight for something is to become invested in it. When the Civil War started, both sides believed that the first battle would be the last and that their side would be victorious. While picnickers looked on (picnickers who would be running for their lives when the bullets and cannonballs started coming toward them), 60,000 men fought and 5,000 of them were wounded or killed—along with a few civilians. Because they won, the Confederates made the hasty conclusion that their enemies were cowardly, and, because they lost, the Yankees decided they were going to have to take the rebel army a lot more seriously. Four years and 600,000 lives later, the South surrendered, defeated not by men but by a scarcity of resources. I was two when the last Confederate veteran died, and I am honored that our lives overlapped. 
Perhaps, I inherited—from my father if not my region—the willingness to stand firm despite social pressures. This can be either virtue or vice, but we all must choose between thinking for ourselves and letting others think for us, and the mere fact that millions of people jump on the same bandwagon at the same time, leads me suspect that they’re not thinking for themselves, and that they’re likely to go to destructive extremes. A friend told me yesterday of his respect for the South Carolina woman who climbed the flagpole and took down the Confederate flag. If she had stolen something he respected, I have every thought that he would be outraged, but since the theft was of someone else’s sacred symbol, her lawlessness was transmogrified into virtue. Such is the climate today regarding any and all reminders of the Confederacy images: get rid of them now, get rid of them all, and if people or laws are in your way, too bad for them.

Rather than seeing the Confederate flag as having any number of meanings to any number of people, and seeking a dialogue in which everyone is heard and everyone’s rights and feelings are considered, it’s far easier to follow Obama’s lead and dismiss all things Confederate as nothing more and nothing less than symbols of slavery. That way, you can immediately start tearing down flags, removing portraits, destroying monuments, repainting a car from an asinine ‘70s TV show, comparing white Southerners to Hitler, and marginalizing anyone whose holds competing values as well as anyone who counsels slowness and dialogue.

Likewise, when someone goes into a church and murders nine people, it’s ever so easy to blame the problem on the fact that the shooter was a white, Southern, conservative male. This politically correct approach saves an enormous waste of intelligent thought and inquiry (saves it for what, I don
’t know), as well as the odious possibility of having to confront one’s own prejudices against people who are white, Southern, conservative, and male.

The Confederate flag is only evil in the minds of those who hate it, and assuming racism on the part of its supporters doesn’t eliminate racism, it only forces people into warring camps. A parallel is the tendency to assume racism on the part of every white cop who is involved in a violent interaction with a black person. Nothing is done to eliminate racism, but a lot is done to inflame silly people, to conflate
assumptions with facts regarding the motives of white cops, and to judge their behavior from a position of ignorance about police-work. Likewise, labeling mass murderers as evil, racist, fanatical, and so forth provides no insights into their behavior and no means by which to discourage others from following in their footsteps, but it sure saves having to think.

For the first time since the early ‘60s, I feel an allegiance to the Confederate flag. My reasons are as follows: part of me will forever remain a Southerner; I deeply resent the rewriting of history; and my sympathy is usually on the side of the marginalized, although I often take a contrarian view about whom is marginalized. I consider it grievously wrong to dishonor dead Southerners who died for what they believed was right. As with those who fight in America’s senseless wars today, the worst that can be said of them is that they were young, rash, ill-informed, had a surfeit of testosterone, and were tragically naive about the realities of war. These men dressed in gray were no more and no less evil than the soldiers in blue against whom they fought. To the extent that they had it in their hearts to do what was right, I honor them all.

Destroying every remembrance of those who lost a war is what people do when they want to gloat instead of unify. I interpret this drive to eliminate every evidence of the Confederacy as like a cancer that will spread as far as it’s permitted and without the least regard for those whom are harmed. It’s fascism just as much as the Klan is fascism. The damage done by political correctness isn’t so obvious as the damage done by the Klan, but its stated values are just as farcical. While the Klan pretends to promote Christianity, the politically correct pretend to promote inclusivity, but how accepted do you think millions of white Southerners are feeling right now? If you’re like many, you don’t care. You take a get out the way or get run over approach to making the world a better place, and I wouldn’t object to it nearly much so much if you didn’t claim to be working in the interest of kindness, tolerance, and inclusiveness, because that
’s a lie.