Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Flag days

So now they are all rallying around That Flag, the better to haul it down and give it a proper burial. Even NASCAR, rooted in the segregationist South and queasy about that to this day, has been  compelled this week to say it strongly discourages the flying of any and all flags of the Confederacy at its events, and that no Confederate flag will ever fly in any official capacity at any NASCAR event.

And all because some people were compelled to point out what's been obvious forever, which is that a flag of sedition shouldn't be flying on the statehouse grounds of a nation against which those who followed that flag rebelled.

Why that was not obvious before nine African-Americans were butchered by a spiritual son of that flag is a question grounded in history that will not stay dead, no matter how many stakes we drive through its aorta. As historian Barbara Fields so aptly put it at the end of Ken Burns' Civil War opus, we're still fighting the Civil War. Appomattox only shifted its paradigm.

And so Bull Run begat Shiloh begat Antietam begat Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, on and on. Men in gray fell in windrows to give birth not to a new nation, but to a catechism of Southern remembrance that was its stillborn remnant. And within that remembrance grew a measure of willful forgetting that leads us right back to that flag and what it means or should mean.

Here's what I know: What it means is what it's always meant.

Which is to say, the men who marched behind that flag did so to maintain a society sustained by the blood and sweat of enslaved human beings. If most of them didn't own slaves, or in some cases didn't even hold with slavery ... well, hardly any Americans who went off to Iraq owned oil wells or were big fans of oil fat cats, either. But they found themselves dodging IEDs and RPG fire in Fallujah and Baghdad, anyway, despite how they felt.

And so if Johnny Reb fought to defend his home from the invader who was not actually an invader,  he also fought so those farther up the economic ladder could protect what they deemed their property. There is no getting around that. You can bellow from the rooftops about states' rights and the tyranny of the federal government and all the usual treatises of neo-Confederate thought, but the bare wood of it is slavery was the only states' right that could have plunged the country into four years of wanton bloodshed.

No one marches across a mile of open ground into a hurricane of double canister because of some philosophical difference over the role of the federal government. They do it because the federal government was deemed to be threatening their way of life in some way. And in the Confederacy's case, slavery was the bedrock foundation of that way of life.

Yes, brave and honorable men fought and died for that flag, but even if they wouldn't acknowledge it, they knew what they were fighting for. And many of them knew, on some level, how evil it was.

It's chic right now to say the various flags of the Confederacy no longer mean what they once meant, that racists and white supremacists have co-opted them and turned them into symbols of hate and repression. But that's what they always were. The racists and white supremacists get that in a way the neo-Confederate scholars do not, or perhaps refuse to. Otherwise, why would they choose Confederate symbols as standards for their sick fantasies?

Skinheads don't wave swastikas, after all, because they're big fans of Hitler's economic policies. They do it because he tried to exterminate the Jews.

That's why the Confederate flag needs to be removed from any and all statehouse grounds.  No one who understands America will tell anyone he can't fly a Confederate flag on his own property, but get if off government property. It's inappropriate on any number of levels.

And a stain on our nation that it took nine dead Americans for so many of us to figure that out.

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