The South and the battle flag: the real argument that conservatives should make
(Note: the entry was not displaying properly in some browsers, so I have recreated the entry with a different url and removed the original entry.)
James L. writes:
I enjoy reading your informative website. I saw an interesting article at American Thinker today, “The Civil War is Over. Let the Battle Flag Be,” regarding the “Battle Flag.” I wonder what your opinion is of this symbol that continues to conjure up so much controversy:
It seems hypocritical that many blacks wave a “black liberation flag” but that Southern people can’t wave a flag that their ancestors used on a battlefield. I realize that the flag of the South has been hijacked by neo-Nazis and other racists, but it seems hypocritical to keep talking about a war flag.
I haven’t thought about the issue in a long time. It seems like such a fruitless issue. Sure, Southerners should resist liberal and black attempts to prohibit the battle flag, but if Southerners are just fighting for a symbol of a war 150 years in the past, and not fighting for the survival of our actual society, I can’t get that excited about it. What’s the good of fighting for the battle flag, if they’re going along with liberalism in every other way that counts?
However, the writer at AT made a very good point that conservatives never make and I’ve been waiting for someone in the mainstream to make it for many years. If the Confederate battle flag must be banned because it is associated with slavery, then shouldn’t EVERYTHING pertaining to the U.S. during slavery—including the U.S. flag, including any favorable reference to any U.S. president during that period, including the Constitution itself—also be banned? This is the way conservatives need to argue. They need to ask, “What is liberals’ principle? What is the end that liberals seek? What is the point at which liberals will no longer have a grievance against America?” And if they ask that question, the answer will be something like this: “Liberals will only be satisfied when historic America has been eliminated.”
If conservatives would identify the true liberal agenda in this manner and oppose it, then conservatism would mean something. But, as I’ve pointed out many times, mainstream conservatives never make this type of point, because it would show that conservatives and liberals have no common ground, which would further mean that the American system, based on the assumption that we all share the same basic principles and loyalties, is gone. And conservatives’ main function is to uphold and preserve the American system. Therefore conservatives cannot afford to identify what it is that liberals really believe. To protect the American system, they must help liberals conceal what liberalism is really about.
In short, conservatives, in order to carry out their mission of preserving and defending the American system, must conceal the fact that the liberals’ mission is to destroy the American system.
I made the same point in a recent entry.
James L. replies:
Thanks for your thoughts on this. Like you, I agree completely that banning any symbol connected with slavery will ultimately lead to banning everything connected to slavery, including the American flag. Unfortunately, I feel that the liberal grievances against America will only cease when America ceases. (Exactly what you are saying.)
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Tim W. writes:
The argument you’re using is one I used for years on mainstream conservative discussion boards such as Free Republic. I see the attack on Confederate symbols as one round in the attack on America. As you said, once it’s established that anyone or anything associated with slavery is evil, then inevitably the assault will begin on the American flag and on the Founding Fathers and on their Constitution. When I would make this point, some conservatives got it, others just seemed unable to get it.
The crusade against Confederate symbols is part of a long range assault on America itself. It’s also a way for blacks and their white liberal enablers to flex their ideological muscles by showing that they can take away the right of conservatives to have our own symbols and heroes, while they can wave whatever flag they want (rainbow, Mexico, black power, Che … ) and even hang it from a public edifice. Think of it this way. Liberals want to ban sports teams from using Indian tribal names. They say it demeans an indigenous culture to use its name and symbols for sport. They also want to ban the use of Confederate names and images for sports teams, but in that case they say it honors the evil Confederacy to use such symbols. The seeming contradiction is solved once you understand that liberals seek power. They want to show us that they can control our thoughts and our symbols.
People tend to forget how recent the crusade against the rebel flag is. In the 1980s, the Dukes of Hazzard TV series drew big ratings on CBS, a liberal network. The heroes on the show were southern good ol’ boys who drove a car called the General Lee with the rebel flag emblazoned on the top. No one got all bent out of shape over it. There’s a 1980s video of rocker Tom Petty (a political liberal) performing a rebellious song of some sort while fans hoist a giant Confederate battle flag. Again, no one got upset about it.
The big change occurred in 1993 when Carole Moseley-Braun arrived in the U.S. Senate. She had a background of race baiting in Chicago, and was being fawned over by the media as the first black woman in the U.S. Senate. Sort of like the Wise Latina on the Supreme Court, she was expected to bring unique brilliance to the Senate chamber, though her most noteworthy act up to that point had been illegally getting her mother on food stamps.
Anyway, a routine bill to renew a Congressional patent for a southern women’s charity came to the Senate floor. It had already passed the House by a voice vote and was expected to pass the Senate the same way. It wasn’t even scheduled for debate, but was just one of a bunch of minor, non-controversial bills to be given voice approval. But Moseley-Braun noticed that the charity group had a tiny rebel flag as part of its logo. She went ballistic, screaming racism as she sought out the press section of the gallery. She rambled on and on about the horror of the Senate sanctioning such an evil. By the time she finished, most of the Democrats and half the Republicans were bowing and scraping to her. A few Republicans, most notably Jesse Helms, tried to point out that the charity group was over a century old and that it helped people of all races and just used a rebel flag because it was a regional group based in the south. But half of the GOP bowed and scraped to Moseley-Braun as the new “conscience” of the Senate. The voice vote was canceled, and in a roll call vote the Senate denied the patent extension, with nearly all Democrats and half the GOP voting no.
From that very moment, the left realized they could use Confederate symbols to divide the GOP, knowing that half or more of them would melt in fear of being called “racist.”
Karl J. writes:
If the Confederate battle flag must be banned because it is associated with slavery, then shouldn’t EVERYTHING pertaining to the U.S. during slavery—including the U.S. flag, including any favorable reference to any U.S. president during that period, including the Constitution itself—also be banned? This is the way conservatives need to argue. They need to ask, “What is liberals’ principle? What is the end that liberals seek? What is the point at which liberals will no longer have a grievance against America?” And if they ask that question, the answer will be something like this: “Liberals will only be satisfied when historic America has been eliminated.”
This is an excellent point. But I would emphasis two corollaries: (1) Conservatives in general are useless, so maybe there’s something intrinsically wrong with conservatism as such, and (2) the mental froth that passes for thought amongst the bien-pensant class should not be mistaken for any kind of considered, coherent “principle” back of their “agenda.” By pressing the liberals on this point, one would force them to face up to the existential implications (and internal contradictions) of all their smug, narcissistic, self-righteous attitudinizing. Maybe they will indeed say “Yes, America must be destroyed”; but we won’t know until it’s tried.
If conservatives would identify the true liberal agenda in this manner and oppose it, then conservatism would mean something. But, as I’ve pointed out many times, mainstream conservatives never make this type of point, because it would show that conservatives and liberals have no common ground, which would further mean that the American system, based on the assumption that we all share the same basic principles and loyalties, is gone.
One Radical writes:
Interesting. I made this point back in August:
So, the Confederate flag is racist because it symbolizes slavery, racism, oppression, etc., correct? In that case, perhaps Old Glory should be banned as well. Does the American flag not symbolize the genocide of Indians, the enslavement of blacks, and the lack of civil rights of any person in America that wasn’t white and owned land? What’s the difference?
It’s obvious to me that those who are offended by the flag haven’t an original thought in their head. They hear the Confederate flag is racist, therefore it is. End of discussion. This sums up almost all liberal thinkers and how they come to conclusions about subjects.
Allan Wall writes:
Regarding the Confederate flag issue here’s what Sam Francis wrote about it: “The attacks on the Confederate flag and similar Confederate symbols are not aimed at the Confederacy or even at slavery and its legacy but at America itself and even more broadly at the white race.”
David G. writes:
” … if Southerners are just fighting for a symbol of a war 150 years in the past, and not fighting for the survival of our actual society, I can’t get that excited about it. What’s the good of fighting for the battle flag, if they’re going along with liberalism in every other way that counts?”
I have to split hairs with you on this. The statement above seems awfully dismissive for a traditionalist web site. The greatest nation ever conceived by man engages in a bloody and noble conflict and it is reduced to “a war 150 years in the past?” Symbols are important. When a kid sees a Battle Flag it leads to curiosity and curiosity is the key to learning. Simple curiosity through maturation becomes intellectual curiosity. The liberalism that emerged after the Civil Rights era was really a form of Reconstruction directed at the nation as a whole and, yes, it will destroy every vestige of the traditional American nation. I don’t see that Southerners are simply “going along with liberalism in every other way that counts.” But people do wear down as the odds become unbearable. Yet, the fight for symbols is a sign that historical memory is not dead and VFR should recognize that fight for what it is, pure and simple.
In response to those who would want to abolish the Confederate symbols from the American landscape I would refer them to Bruce Catton, perhaps the country’s most recognizable Civil War historian. He noted in a small work published just before his death called, Reflections on the Civil War, the following:
“Even such a man as Horace Greely, the Abolitionist editor of The New York Tribune, definitely opposed the treason trial for [Jefferson] Davis and came to Davis’ support while he was in Fort Monroe [imprisoned, that is]. Eventually, the men in charge in Washington realized that it was better to let bygones be bygones; the war was over; the attempt at secession had been defeated once and for all, in such a decided way that it would never be tried again. It was possible to see that men like Davis had not been traitors, but had been, according to their own lights, patriotic Americans, trying to gain for themselves and their people what they considered complete freedom.”
The point being, one does not need be an “unreconstructed southerner” to be able to defend—or, at least, understand properly—the Confederacy’s place in American history.
Three points: (1) Certainly the War Between the States was the greatest event in Southern history; (2) it is right and understandable that Southerners would want to memorialize it, and (3) the attempt to ban the battle flag is part of the campaign to delegitimize not just the memory of the Confederacy and its sacrifices but the historic United States itself. But beyond that, the issues get murky to me. What is the proper place of the battle flag? How prominent should it be? Does it belong on State Capitol grounds for example?
Understanding the issue sufficiently to have an informed opinion on it beyond automatically backing the battle flag in all circumstances would require immersing myself in the issue more than I have the interest to do. I repeat that it is right and proper for Southerners to keep alive the memory of the great tragedy of their history. At the same time, I have to say that I personally have no affection for the Confederacy, which came into existence in order to destroy the United States and forced that terrible civil war on the country as a whole and, as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind also felt, who also had no affection for the Confederacy, brought on its own ruin, the South’s ruin, in the process. The Southern secession is not a model for any possible secession today. It was an act of fanaticism, fueled by mad rumors that Lincoln would invade the South if he were elected. That madness led to the secession and to the initiation of hostilities against the United States which brought on the very thing the fanatics feared. And then, having brought on this ruin, it was justified with transparently false arguments such as that the Southern secession was just like American independence from Britain. But American independence was acknowledged by the Americans of the time as a revolutionary act, something they had to fight to secure for themselves. The Southerners denied they were engaged in a revolutionary act and instead claimed they were merely doing something legal, and therefore that the North by using force to suppress the rebellion was committing a great crime. Pro-confederate arguments—particularly coming from the neo-Condederates and Paleo-libertarians—are steeped in transparent bad faith and delusion of this kind. As I’ve said before, I agree with Sherman, or was it Grant, that while the Southerners were brave and noble and suffered terribly, their cause was one of the worst for which men ever fought.
So, while I sympathize with and support Southerners’ championing of the battle flag as a memorial to the courage, suffering, and deeply wounding losses endured by their forebears, it’s not at the top of my list of priorities. I’d like to see Southerners direct more energy into fighting the current reign of liberalism. If Southerners directed one thousandth of the energy that they direct to the battle flag to getting media to print the truth about race and crime, or to overturning tyrannical anti-discrimination laws, or to questioning the liberal orthodoxy on why blacks are behind whites, they might actually achieve something concretely helpful to America right now. Yes, defending the battle flag is part of the battle against PC, but in my view it’s of less importance than other pressing issues.
Tim W. writes:
I’d like to see Southerners direct more energy into fighting the current reign of liberalism. If Southerners directed one thousandth of the energy that they direct to the battle flag to getting media to print the truth about race and crime, or to overturning tyrannical anti-discrimination laws, or to questioning the liberal orthodoxy on why blacks are behind whites, they might actually achieve something concretely helpful to America right now. Yes, defending the battle flag is part of the battle against PC, but in my view it’s of less importance than other pressing issues.
The reason the battle flag issue resonates so strongly with southern whites is that it was the South that resisted the imposition of all those anti-discrimination laws in the first place. But they got very little help from elsewhere. The roll call vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Act was highly regional. Southern U.S. Representatives and Senators voted overwhelmingly against the bill while those from every other region voted overwhelmingly in favor. I think only five U.S. Senators outside the south voted against the bill (Barry Goldwater was famously one of them). It was a similar ratio in the House, where a scattered few Republicans from outside Dixie voted no.
Who outside the South defended the South in those years? National Review published an editorial saying the Civil Rights Act went too far, but that was about all the support Dixie got. A few years later riots came to Detroit and other northern cities. Then forced busing came to northern cities like Boston, and whites there finally understood what the South had feared. They fled the cities for the suburbs, but until the busing orders and low rent housing projects came to their neighborhoods, northerners had shown little but contempt for the fight southerners had been waging.
All of the things you cite as important issues became issues because whites outside the South had no understanding of racial issues until late in the game. The reason we can’t talk about black-on-white crime, about IQ differences, about draconian anti-discrimination laws is that the rest of the country almost one hundred percent backed the “second reconstruction” from roughly 1954 to 1968. Starting in 1968, black crime, rioting, busing, and encroaching low rent housing woke many non-southern whites up, but by then it was too late. The Civil Rights juggernaut was unstoppable, and in the years since has expanded its tentacles to embrace feminism, homosexuality, open borders, and PC suppression of any discussion of racial crime rates, IQ, and so on.
Southerners still have an institutional memory of how the rest of the nation ganged up on them during the defining years of the Civil Rights era. To be told now that they can’t even honor their ancestors is just too much. In fact it goes further than that, as we’re expected to denounce our ancestors, which is an outrageous demand. This is why the battle flag issue resonates so strongly here.
I don’t disagree with anything you said, but it doesn’t change what I said about the battle flag. I’m on the side of the people defending the flag. But it’s not an issue in which I’m personally deeply invested. As I’ve said, if the argument on the flag were expanded into the larger issue of the attack on American history and nationhood generally, I would care more about it. Symbols are important, but only insofar as they symbolize something that matters. What does the battle flag, in and of itself, symbolize that is (or would be) helpful to white Americans today in their (so far non-existent) struggle for cultural and national survival?
After a hiatus of several days, here are further comments sent by readers.
Karl J. writes (December 3):
Thank you very much for your reply to David G. This issue epitomizes how, despite our differences, you and I are on the same page here: we are Yankee patriots.
This is what I would add in response to Tim W.:
Doesn’t the very fact that the whole Union outside the South repudiated segregation, and forced the South to give it up, exculpate us from the charge that America is somehow inherently racist and evil? Just as we fought a Civil War (that the South started to defend slavery) that ended up abolishing slavery! This is what I’ve been saying for years: Once the legitimate grievances of black America had been addressed and eliminated, back in 1964-65, it was time to put that behind us, bind the nation’s wounds, and move forward.
I’m on the side of the Union, of racial equality, and integration. I mean, the blacks were here longer than most of my ancestors; they’re as American as anybody, and deserve the same rights as all Americans. It doesn’t follow that whites should be denied the same rights! Now, to the present-day liberal mentality, that makes me a “racist.” To me, that just goes to show that the present-day liberal mentality is totally insane.
Karl’s thinking has of course been totally by-passed by actually existing America. Yes, various whites can believe—reasonably believe—that the Civil Rights Acts should clear white America of the charge of being anti-black. But they don’t, not in the eyes of the current liberalism which rules the Western world.
David G. writes (December 5):
I appreciate your analysis on the battle flag issue. Please let me state that I did not mean to be rude when I wrote, “VFR should recognize that fight for what it is, pure and simple.” It was not my intention to tell you how to think or how to run VFR. Sorry about that.
If you care post anything from below please feel free to do so.(I have also attached this text as a Word document.)
First of all, I would like to expand upon Tim W.’s comments on Senator Carole Moseley Braun’s outrageous posturing in May-July 1993. The woman’s organization Tim W. referred to is The United Daughter’s of the Confederacy (UDC), self-described as “the outgrowth of many local memorial, monument, and Confederate home associations and auxiliaries to camps of United Confederate Veterans that were organized after the War Between the States.” Their logo includes the original First National Flag of the Confederacy also known as the “Stars and Bars.” The flag on the UDC logo was not the battle flag which is a saltier (X) modeled after the St. Andrew’s Cross, which is also the national flag of Scotland. You can view the UDC emblem here.
The UDC was looking to obtain a patent extension on their logo that Congress had authorized since 1898. According to Jesse Helm’s biographer, William A. Link (who, by the way, confuses the issue himself by referring to the battle flag as the Stars and Bars), in the book, Righteous Warrior, Moseley Braun “opposed the repatenting because it provided official sanction of the flag, the symbol of the slaveholder republic.” Moseley Braun felt the logo was sufficiently protected without governmental sanction. The renewal of the design patent was defeated as a result of her efforts. Helms then partnered with Strom Thurmond and got the patent extension approved by attaching it as an amendment to a national services bill. When Moseley Braun found heard about that she was outraged and fought back stating the approval was an insult that was “absolutely unacceptable to me and to millions of Americans, black or white.” She went on say, “this flag [the Stars and Bars] was the ” real flag of the Confederacy” and it should not be “underwritten, underscored, adopted, approved by this United States Senate.” She was then able to get her fellow senators, including many southerners, to reverse the approval scored by Helms-Thurmond.
Link, citing a New York Times editorial, noted, “Moseley Braun woke up a sleepy Senate to the unthinking way the white majority can offend minority Americans.”
Link also quotes Moseley Braun as saying, ” … when we see the Confederate symbols hauled out, everybody knows what that means.” And, she went on: “This vote is about race, racial symbols, the racial past and the single most painful episode in American history.” Not yet through, she is quoted as saying that she intended to stay with the issue until she was able to “put a stake through the heart of this Dracula.”
So now, Americans can no longer even be benign towards their own past. As Tim W alluded, what could be more benign, more banal, than the Dukes of Hazzard? I have literally never even seen the show yet I have absorbed enough of it indirectly to know that it was a self-parodying, good-natured romp through southern stereotypes. That show could not be made today. Hence, our pop culture has become harder and more political. It seems that everything must now be played for keeps. Can anything be just simple fun anymore without trying to surface the subterranean evil lurking beneath the humor?
I would also like to address the questions you posed:
1. What is the proper place of the battle flag?
My answer would be in any institution that honors the memory of the men who actually fought under it. It was after all, a battle flag.
2. How prominent should it be?
As a historical symbol in a historical setting such as a cemetery, hospital, or battlefield, as prominent as needs be.
3. Does it belong on State Capitol grounds?
In and of itself, probably not. But as part of a state flag, as the canton, for example, yes.
4. What does the battle flag, in and of itself, symbolize that is (or would be) helpful to white Americans today in their (so far non-existent) struggle for cultural and national survival?
I answer this cautiously because I think that Confederate symbols are best utilized in conjunction with institutional Confederate memorials. In reality, that is not the case and the battle flag isn’t going away. It has entered pop culture in various ways, mostly benign, and unfortunately, continually shows up in the hands of extremist groups promoting white supremacy as a guiding principle.
First of all, here is a good history of the battle flag itself. The author of this site makes some interesting points:
“According to tradition, St. Andrew the Apostle is responsible for bringing the Gospel to the Celtic peoples. He personally preached as far north as present-day Russia before being captured in Macedonia and crucified upon and X-shaped cross (Saltier). Andrew’s disciples continued their great commission, preaching throughout Europe, reaching the Celts around 400 A.D., through the work of St. Columbia in Scotland and St. Patrick in Ireland. Thus, the cross of St. Andrew is the symbol of faith and the precious heritage of the Celtic race … Its official adoption [the saltier design of the battle flag] by the South is the only example of an overtly Christian symbol used in a national flag by any government originated in the Western Hemisphere.”
Apart from that, I would answer your question in this way: On a visceral level, America being a nation born of revolution, loves rebels but only if they are moral. The battle flag represented soldiers, Anglo-Saxons and Scots-Irish mainly, but not exclusively, who exhibited uncommon valor without resorting to immoral forms of war such as rape, pillage, terror and murder. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, for example, actually did win the admiration of the western world. In our time, merely speaking openly in a non-liberal way can lead to the loss of a job, a career, and a livelihood. So, while today we succumb to the very real fear of social and financial ostracization for our traditionalist views the Confederate soldiers risked their security, fortunes, farms and family to fight for their beliefs. That’s pretty inspiring, isn’t it? In this sense, the battle flag is a symbol of moral fearlessness.
The battle flag is also a symbol of defiance towards a federal government that is increasingly neglectful of its duties toward the traditional American people. In essence, it says, “There are alternatives to such treatment.”
Overall, perhaps the battle flag says this: Our ancestors are our inspiration. We are the heirs of moral rebels and like them we are prepared to fight for what we believe in. We are “a distinct people” (Robert E. Lee continually referred to Union armies as “those people.”) and we have the right to exist as such according to our own lights.
In conclusion, I would re-emphasize that the battle flag really belongs to the Confederate soldiers. One may disagree with their cause but the battle flag, as an enduring symbol of those who were willing to give all they had and ever would have, is compelling.
Tim W. writes (December 5):
The flag has very little legal recognition, but that has always been the case. South Carolina came under intense pressure in the 1990s (after the Senator Moseley-Braun incident I mentioned in an earlier post) to remove the flag from the State Capitol. There was withering pressure from the media and the usual “civil rights coalition” on one side, while a majority of South Carolinians opposed removing it on the other. A national boycott of South Carolina was launched, though it had little effect. The legislature crafted a compromise where they removed the flag from the capitol dome but put it on a tall pole as part of a Confederate memorial on the capitol grounds. This didn’t satisfy (surprise!) the civil rights activists or the media, who said the flag shouldn’t be on the capitol grounds at all and, for that matter, the Confederate memorial shouldn’t be there, either. But the voters elected so many pro-flag legislators in the next election that the issue hasn’t been brought up anymore in the legislature.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 01, 2011 07:19 AM | Send
A funny side note is that the South Carolina boycott is still officially ongoing, but it still has had no effect. In fact, every year thousands of blacks descend on Myrtle Beach for “black biker week.” The shoplifting, drunken behavior, loud rap music, fighting, and other criminal behavior is so overwhelming that many businesses close for that week. So South Carolina businesses are boycotting blacks. The NAACP has threatened a lawsuit against those businesses for closing, though I don’t know the status of it.
A decade ago Georgia Governor Roy Barnes (Democrat) prodded the legislature into removing the battle flag from the state flag (it was incorporated as part of it). Voters threw Barnes out of office for this in the next election, as well as many legislators who voted for the change. The new legislature restored the flag, though in a slightly different design. In Mississippi, the rebel flag is also incorporated into the state flag. The issue was put on a referendum there and voters approved keeping it by two-to-one.
The main threat to the flag could be compared to the free speech and freedom of thought issues poised by the homosexual movement. People now know they can risk their employment if they speak out against homosexuality. Likewise, the same thing can happen for defending the rebel flag. There have been several instances involving high school kids wearing Confederate T-shirts to school. One recently occurred in New Jersey.
In most of these cases, it’s possible to win a lawsuit against a school that bans rebel flag clothing on First Amendment grounds (I know, Doctrine of Incorporation, but that’s the current law). But that requires effort and often money, so the intimidation factor is always there, not to mention the threat to the physical safety of the student wearing the rebel clothing. As per the usual double (i.e. single) standard, black power, La Raza, Malcolm X, and Gay Pride shirts are okay, no matter whom they may offend.
You may recall a story I sent you about three years or so ago. A state official in Connecticut had a souvenir coffee mug from Gettysburg sitting on his desk. Images of both the American flag and the Confederate Battle Flag were on the cup, which seems pretty reasonable given that it memorialized the great battle there. But the official got dragged out before the media and accused of racial insensitivity because blacks who entered his office were horrified at the sight of the tiny rebel flag on the cup. The official had to grovel and do the usual mea culpas to keep his job.
Sorry for the long post!