So I've been seeing a lot of posturing on Facebook in regards to the Confederate flag.
Some folks seem to want to ban state-sponsored use of it, which is not only sensible, it's well past due. Some folks seem to want to ban its manufacture and sale, which seems a little extreme. Some folks seem to want to wave it in our faces and say 'I dare you to take it from me,' which is just silly.
I grew up around the battle flag. Many of my friends had one. Some folks flew one on their car, or in their yard, or wore it on their hats and shirts and belt buckles. I had one in my room as a kid, because I thought it was cool-looking. I liked the idea of rebellion against authority. But that didn't mean I liked the Confederacy. It was obvious to me who was correct in that particular conflict. I just liked the way the flag looked, and the gray uniforms and kepi hats.
I got in trouble when I was in the fifth grade because of a Civil War writing assignment. I wrote about the death of Stonewall Jackson. Thing was, I wrote my story from the perspective of the Union soldier that shot him from his horse outside Chancellorsville. It was a decently told story for a fifth grader, I spent time on it and went through a couple drafts. But I received an F and a note home to my parents that I should 'consider my audience.' My assignment was failed not because it was bad or because it failed to complete the requirements, but because I wrote it from a Union perspective, and it was an account of the death of a popular Rebel icon, and my teacher considered that to be inappropriate and disrespectful.
My eighth grade Georgia History teacher had a huge battle flag covering one wall of his room. He taught the Civil War from a perspective that could best be described as 'D.W. Griffiths with a laser pointer.' He once sat down abruptly on the desk of a friend with an Italian last name and said in a low voice "we don't take kindly to furriners down here." He gave us extra credit for going with him before school to place flags on the graves of Confederate veterans on Decoration Day.
So I understand how deeply the Confederate mythology is embedded in the culture down here.
Thing is, though, the myth is just that: a freaking myth. The Lost Cause. The War of Northern Aggression. The struggle for states' rights and to preserve the Southern Way of Life. None of those things are real.
All those words, all that mental and emotional manipulation, all of it is deception, pernicious evasions designed to get around the festering horror at the center of the Southern identity. And it's a pervasive deception - intelligent people fall for it, and perpetuate it, people who love the land they grew up in and really believe that their ancestors fought to protect honest work and genteel living and freedom from the impositions of meddlesome tyrants and their soulless industrial empire.
Always the defenders of the Lost Cause pretend to be historians: 'do your research,' they say; 'to say it's about slavery is just ignorance.'
So I did the research. Primary sources! Here are the Declarations of Causes of many of the seceding states, as drafted and officially adopted by their various legislatures.
Some relevant excerpts:
Georgia: "For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic."
Mississippi: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove."
South Carolina: "We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."
Texas: "In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States."
It goes on. The Texas one is particularly ripe with racist rhetoric.
Anyway. The reasons stated by the states themselves for their secession, and what they were fighting for in the resulting conflict, are unequivocal. Slavery was the cause, slavery was the desired outcome, slavery was the issue at hand. In most of the documents, desire to continue the practice of slavery and upset over the failure of other states to enforce fugitive slave laws are literally the only reasons presented for the South's pursuit of independence.
The Lost Cause is a myth born of shame, an illusion fabricated in the hot flush of defeat and bruised honor, and created to obfuscate a deep-seated ugliness that still flutters in the hearts of those longing for Antebellum days.
"We fought against the disproportionate expenditure of taxes in the North, and against the undermining of our economy." Bullshit. The North's population was booming compared to the South, and as such had greater infrastructure needs, and the Southern economy was based on slavery, and not only was not being undermined, it was booming: the South created 75% of the United States' total export goods in the 1850s.
"We fought because the North attacked us. Secession is legal, they had no grounds." This is true, but irrelevant. The Confederacy was established to preserve slavery. The Union pursued military action to prevent the secession of its parts, which is not prescribed in the Constitution and is of questionable necessity. However, the legality and necessity of the war is a moot point. Regardless of whether there was a war or not, the prime motive of the South's secession was to preserve slavery, to preserve its institutional racism.
The Confederate battle flag, as used by most everyone I've ever seen use it, is not a proud symbol of heritage and Southern character. Especially in the years since the Civil War. It's become a political statement, a way of presenting an opinion without having to cop to it, a symbol of resistance to equality and justice, a symbol of long-held resentment.
It's a flimsy disguise for nasty opinions, a facade of 'historical interest' pasted onto a nostalgia for a way of life that never really existed, an aristocratic racist utopia founded on the subjugation of other human beings. It's a declaration of allegiance to a cause that failed 150 years ago, a nation which failed its test of will and ceased to be, a nation that was an enemy of the one in which we now live. It is a symbol of not just racism but a poisonous resentment against one's own neighbors and fellow citizens.
I would like to see it torn down from every post from which it hangs.
But I think wresting it from the hands of private citizens is not a good thing, it would only solidify and entrench the unacceptable ideals it represents. People should be free to fly whatever symbol of whatever thing they would like to represent themselves.
But by all means, get it out of the statehouses and government buildings. It's time to let the Civil War go, let it be actual history instead of a warped cover forced over discussions of modern events and ideas.