Saturday, July 4, 2015

Confederate Flag - A Different Angle

Controversy over the Confederate flag rises up from time to time.  The latest uproar came as the governor of South Carolina started action to stop displaying the flag on state-owned property, in response to the church shooting in Charleston.  Several companies followed her lead and stopped selling Confederate flags, or merchandise that includes images of the flag.  In reaction to this, many on social media and elsewhere began to openly defend the flag.

Opponents of the flag say it is a symbol of hate, racism, and slavery.  Some defenders of the flag say it doesn't represent those things, that it is just a part of history, and it represents the soldiers who fought for a cause they believed was just.  I will come back and touch on those points, but before I go into my view of the Confederate flag, I want to say some things about rights.

You, as an individual living in the United States, have the right to display the flag on your property.  I will support and defend your right to do so.

But, just because you can, that doesn't always mean you should.

I've never been comfortable with the Confederate flag.  For a long time, I wasn't sure why, but several years ago, I came to see why that flag bothers me.

It represents a rejection of American unity.

Two hundred thirty nine years ago today, representatives of 13 British colonies signed a document declaring they were no longer colonies and subjects of the British monarchy, but free and independent states.  After fighting a war securing our freedom and independence, and experimenting with a loose confederation of the states, some of those same representatives and others produced another document outlining a new plan for our government; one that would form "a more perfect union."

The states were united in their quest for independence, and in their desire to hold the new country together.

Along the way, a compromised had to be incorporated in this new document, one that accommodated slavery in the South.  They knew this issue would have to be addressed later, as the first document explicitly stated the self-evident truth of "all men being created equal, and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights."

The country did remain united through a second war with Britain, and another with Mexico.  But during the 1850's, opposition to slavery grew.  Some opposed slavery on moral grounds.  Others opposed it as economically unfeasible for the future prosperity of the nation.

Then Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and the Republican Party also won a majority in both houses of Congress.  Before Lincoln's inauguration, and even before the seating of the new Congress, southern states started seceding from the Union.  They formed a new government for themselves, and drew up their own constitution.  For those whose say the Civil War wasn't about slavery, well, I guess they never heard of the "Cornerstone Speech" made by the Confederacy's Vice President.

At the time the Confederacy formed, neither Lincoln nor Congress had taken any steps to abolish slavery in the South.  In fact, Lincoln at that time was a moderate on the issue, opposing both abolitionism and expansion of slavery in the new territories.

Slavery didn't officially become an issue for the Union until the Emancipation Proclamation, which became effective on January 1, 1863.  Even then, freeing the slaves was primarily a military strategy.

Lincoln didn't even mention slavery in the Gettysburg Address.  Instead his focus was on preserving the Union, " a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Now, I'm not going to go into great detail here about the issues of slavery, states' rights, racism and so on.  My focus is on American unity.

I think the actions of the Secessionist states show they rejected the principle of equality, and thus rejected American unity.  The slave states knew what the Declaration of Independence said.  If they didn't agree with its principles, they should have formed their own nation after the Revolution.  But by joining the Union, they were committed to both the Declaration and the Constitution.  They could have sought separation from the Union through constitutional means.  But, they acted out of fear and thus initiated a war.

 One other item I would like to throw in here for consideration before I wrap this up, and this has to do with symbolism and history.  The 45th Infantry Division distinguished itself in combat in both world wars.  It became known as the Thunderbird Division, after the insignia it wore in WW2 and Korea.  Today's successor to the Division is the 45th Infantry Brigade and it still uses the Thunderbird.  But before the 1930's, its insignia was the swastika.  They changed to the Thunderbird after Hitler's rise to power.  You can still see uniforms of the 45th with swastikas on display in museums.

To me, that's where the Confederate flag belongs - in museums or similar historical displays.

My final thought about the flag:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the UNITED States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; ONE NATION, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all!