Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flags of our Fathers

There has been a lot of talk of flags since the shooting in Charleston. Specifically what some call the "confederate  flag" from the US Civil War.
Stars & Bars?

It has a storied history to be sure, but not a very good one. Some claim it is the confederate flag of the Confederate States of America, or CSA. But here's the thing... it isn't. Let's do a quick history...
The flag for the CSA looked like this for most of the war...

It was actually known as the "Stars & Bars"

What everyone seems to refer to as the "Confederate Flag" was actually used for the confederate navy. Which didn't even use that design initially. the first CSA navy flag looked like this...

There was a battle flag of the Army of Virginia that looked like this...
A little square thing. But the closest the battle flag got to being the CSA representative was as a little corner piece of the next CSA flag, known as "The Stainless Banner".

Just the little battle flag on a field of white. Remember that, we'll get back to it.

So when you hear people say that the Confederate Flag is "a part of our heritage" and they are waving this...
In the Navy

Then you know for a fact that they have no clue about Southern heritage in the civil war era. Especially in South Carolina, as the flag that flew over the rebel forces during the siege of Fort Sumter, which as you might recall started the whole thing, was called the "Bonnie Blue Flag" and looked like this...

Last part of the flag lesson is this... What is now known as the confederate flag...

was used by the KKK in the sixties as a symbol of white supremacy. That's right kids, a white supremacist hate group chose this flag to rally their troops because they believed themselves to be superior to all others who are not of their race.

sound familiar?

Long ago, when I was a gung ho Marine, I got into an argument with my dad about the US flag. I told him I was willing to die to protect the flag. To grab it away from those who would burn it or trample it. NO ONE WOULD DESECRATE MY FLAG!
And Dad told me something that not only changed my perspective, but still rings true today.

The flag? Any flag? Is only a piece of cloth.

It is only a piece of cloth.

It is the ideas and ideals that the flag stands for that are important.

Is our country perfect?
Most decidedly not.

But the ideals of the US? The things we could be? Those are amazing. Elections not marred by violent coups. The idea that all people are created equal. That we should have liberty and justice for all. Yeah, those are worth fighting for.

You want to stomp on the US flag or burn it? OK. It's just a piece of cloth. But if you take up arms against it, like the CSA did, then yes, we will have a problem.

So let's take another look at the Confederate flags... not in pictures, but in ideas and ideals.
What do they stand for?

Well, the arguments you'll hear from supporters are that they are a part of southern heritage. They stand for standing up for your rights, for state rights. They are a symbol of rebellion against all that would take away their freedoms!

But peel back that layer of cloth and look underneath.

What rights were they wanting to defend?
-The right to own slaves. To use other human beings as work animals to bring in their crops.

What "heritage" are they wanting to glorify and remember"
-The heritage of the Antebellum South, where the rich white folk lived in luxury...due to the fact that they had slaves doing all of the work for them. So again, slavery.

What freedoms did the Federal Government want to take from those oppressed southern states?
-The freedom to own and use human beings as farm animals.  Slavery.

John Adams said that "Facts are stubborn things." Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, facts are.

Re-imagining history does not nullify the true history. The so called "confederate states" committed treason against the United States, using armed uprising. Those who fought on the side of the confederacy were traitors to the United States. 

You will hear some say that they were all Americans just fighting for what they believed in. That it was really just about states rights. That after the war they were all friends again and even met on the battlefields to commemorate their fallen.

Yes, they were all Americans. But some of them were traitors. Yes, it is commonly sold in the south as a battle for states rights. But it was the right to slavery that they were fighting for. And yes, they did meet after the war to commemorate the fallen. That happens after many wars. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. US and "enemy" combatants meet on old battlefields and talk of the war.

But none of that eliminates the things that started those wars. Pearl Harbor. The 38th parallel. Our own hubris at wanting to "stop communism". All led us to war.  And the CSA fighting for the right to own slaves started our Civil War.
Symbolically - fighting for the right of slavery for all whites

I have travelled all over this country. I have seen "confederate" flags flown and adorning vehicles and t-shirts. I believe that those who fly or defend the use of those flags are either too deluded or too stupid to realize the truth that lies behind that piece of cloth.  Sure, it is a cool looking flag. If I didn't have any concept of history, I would think it was a cool flag.

But the simple and inevitable truth is that it is flag that represents hate. I don't think it should be outlawed though. Flying a flag is a great way to show exactly what you stand for. I fly the US flag because I believe in what we can be. Not because I blindly follow a piece of cloth. But I am against flying any confederate flag over state or federal buildings. Not because I am against state pride. I love being a native Iowan. But because the confederates were traitors, and they lost the war. Their flags are symbols of all that is wrong with that era, not anything that was right.

Fly them if you believe in what they stand for
We can do better in this country. We should not be flying the flags of hatred.

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