Gods & Generals & Flags
It is necessary to speak on the flag controversy. I know how many people, especially libertarians and others who are “anti-establishment” think: this issue is a distraction. While we argue over the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (and not the Confederate national flag, which no one flies), the government is passing dangerous trade bills and undermining American sovereignty, etc. Well, there’s next to nothing we can do about any of that right now. And I guarantee that people who care about the flag issue are generally the sort of people who care about politics in general, while people who don’t understand/don’t care about history probably don’t care much about current events either.
So, here are my thoughts on all of this:
1. The battle flag means many things. It only represents racism for those who want it to. It only represents “treason” to people think that governments own their citizens the way that the hated slaveowners owned their chattel. Anyone who denounces the flag as a symbol of “treason” had better explain why that wouldn’t apply to the flag of a country that began as a secession from British rule, and was also called treasonous and traitorous. It’s not “treason” when you don’t like the reasons for secession and heroism when you do – that double standard is brazenly hypocritical and morally unjustifiable though.
2. Yes, the Southern legislatures voted for secession, explicitly invoking slavery and racism as part of their justification. I don’t agree with people who say that the war had “nothing to do” with slavery. This is obviously false. I also don’t believe that everyone who fought under the battle flag was, by association, necessarily agreed with every jot and tittle of the documents produced by state governments. I think it is fair to say that most of them, the 95% or so who didn’t own slaves, were rallied under the battle flag for the purpose of defending their homes from an invading army which would cause an enormous amount of destruction.
3. The purging of history from America’s public spaces is a crime against civilization on the scale of ISIS’ destruction of historical monuments in the Middle East. Removing the flag from official government buildings is one thing, and few are really opposing that. Removing monuments, renaming roads, bridges, parks, removing the flag from places it is clearly appropriate, removing it from the store shelves – this is insanity. It is at best opportunistic pandering to a mob of ignorant fanatics, and at worst a sincere effort to erase history.
4. The Civil War was a tragedy. Brother shot at brother, neighbor at neighbor. It was a war of many flags, as the intro to “Gods & Generals” (a great film) shows. Each regiment had a flag that represented a heck of a lot more than loyalty to some party or state legislature. I shake my head at the utter foolishness of people who try to tie the Union and Confederacy to the Republican and Democratic parties of today. It is especially foolish to tie army and regimental flags to political parties.
5. Slavery, ultimately, was an American institution. So was racism. The Confederacy didn’t invent slavery. The U.S. Constitution recognized slavery, and a series of compromises kept the country from civil war until 1861. Meanwhile, under the Stars & Stripes, the U.S. waged vicious imperialistic wars against Native Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos, and others. The “white man’s burden” was fully acknowledged and taken up by the white politicians of the Northern establishment. There are well-known pictures, like the one above, of the KKK using the Stars & Stripes. This was generally the “second KKK”, the KKK of the 1920’s revival that saw itself as a guardian of WASP purity against mostly Catholic immigrants (my ancestry would cause them nothing but irritation, since I’m the product of WASP and immigrant families of that time).
They didn’t view themselves as custodians of Southern heritage, as do many people who display the battle flag today. They viewed themselves as proud and loyal Americans, fighting for the racial and religious purity of the United States. They hated my Lebanese ancestors, just like they hated the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, and others.
According to leftist logic, I should be able to demand the removal of the American flag from all public places. It could serve as a painful reminder of a time when the KKK was at the high-point of its popularity in the United States, rallying millions of WASPs under its folds in their shared hatred of my poor great-grandparents who came here looking for work and freedom. Instead I remember how shocked and angry my Lebanese grandmother got when, for some reason, in her presence, as a child, I said “America sucks.” I was set straight that day.
6. Finally, I disagree with Rand Paul, quite obviously. But he has an election to win. So whatever. I don’t expect him to defend the flag. But he is dead wrong. And so is Jack Hunter. I realize the guy is atoning for his past as an obnoxious hillbilly, but his recent interview with Chris Hayes, exemplar of the modern American thought police, was disgusting.