I didn’t want the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee until the busybodies decided to tell me I couldn’t have one.
Wait, what was that about the flag of the Confederate States of America? Well, no – that’s not actually what this flag (aka the Southern Cross) actually was. The confusion most likely stems from the 1970s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, in which the Duke brothers had a variant of this flag painted on their car. Because their car was named the “General Lee.” As in General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, which used a square version of this flag as their battle flag.
Pop culture being what it is, nobody actually remembers any of this. And, of course, I’m being a bit pedantic here. And yet it matters. It matters because there’s a lot of very loud “discourse” back and forth about this flag and what it means.
“The Civil War was about slavery!” shout some. “No, it was about states’ rights!” shout others. About 99% of these people, on both sides, honestly don’t know enough Civil War history to participate in an adult conversation about it. Here’s a hint: if all you know about it comes from high school classes, a Ken Burns documentary, and occasional conversations with friends, family and coworkers then you’re just as ignorant as the guy on the other side that you’re lambasting for being so ignorant.
Here’s the thing: denying that the Civil War was about slavery is facile and colossally ignorant. But pretending that the Civil War was only about slavery is equally facile and colossally ignorant.
There’s a lot of history between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and they don’t cover much of it in high school history classes. There’s also a lot of history before the Revolutionary War, much of which is also left out of high school history classes. And here’s the truth: the constitution that we so know and love was a product of massive compromise. Without that compromise, the northern and southern states never would have joined together in the first place. Yes, slavery was one of those compromises. But there were many others: representation in Congress being one of the biggest (hence our bicameral legislature).
We can’t ignore that slavery was the issue that set off the powder keg. Oh, but what a powder keg it was. The rift between southern and northern states was big enough that George Washington himself devoted significant energy during his presidency to bridging it. He never quite succeeded. In between the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 and the first shots at Fort Sumter in 1861 there were 72 years of political tension leading up to the war – much of which had little to do with slavery. That keg was ready to go.
Ultimately, though, very little of that matters. Here’s what does matter: we live in a country that has decided that we have the right to burn a flag. It’s ridiculous that we’re now trying to tell people they can’t display a similar flag. We have companies and stores that are banning this flag because they find it offensive. Yet those same companies and stores are selling plenty of other offensive material.
The political players who are setting off this chain of events will not like where it leads. If we can pressure Apple and Amazon into discontinuing battle flag products, then we can pressure them into discontinuing anti-religion products. “Oh,” you say, “but they wouldn’t do that – they’re ruled by the almighty dollar!” Go look up how much revenue comes from these battle flag products and get back to me. The pressure to remove these products cuts both ways – and the players kicking this off will be surprised to find how much pressure the other end of the spectrum can bring to bear. This is a fight that doesn’t end well for anybody.
At the same time, there is one aspect of this that is so patently obvious that I can’t believe I have to say it. This flag is also the flag of an armed uprising against the United States government. It should not be flying on any government building at any level of government within this nation. Period.
But we’re also a nation that was founded on armed uprising against our government. As citizens, we should remember that aspect of the flag as well. And we should remember that for many people who fly it, that and not race is what it’s about.To end where I began: I didn’t want one of these until people started telling me I couldn’t have one. Now I want a dozen of them, prominently displayed, only because people are saying I can’t have one. It is nobody else’s business but mine which flags I choose to wear on my clothing, display on my car, or fly over my home – or why I choose to display them.
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