Think about it.
When was the last time your government threatened to deploy the military of your government to your neck of the woods. Of course, I’m not talking about a simple military exercise, but a full-blown deployment set on silencing what appeared to be… for better or worse, whether you were in agreement with it or not… the majority voice. When, in your lifetime, have you experienced this, firsthand?
The problem today, is that many can’t fathom the differences that existed between then and today, and we most certainly cannot fathom what I mentioned above. Superimposing modern thinking on a time, well over 100 years ago, is a poor lens to the past.
Enter the discussion of the Confederate flag and monuments:
I fully understand how the Confederate flag has been used since the Civil War, and, despite efforts in more recent times to redefine meaning, it has been used, specifically, for vile purposes. I also fully understand what the Confederate flag meant during the Civil War. Even during the war, at the core, the banner was a symbol representing a government which was built on a foundation (please… by all means… read the documents on secession that came from the lower South… the first seven Confederate states) which clearly expressed a determination to uphold the “right” to own other human beings, and that these other human beings were of a lower class.
Furthermore, there were even those in the South (and in the North for that matter) who did not own slaves who, yet, had vested interests in slavery. If it failed, in their minds, so too would they fail… economically and socially. The dull beat of the drums of abolition behind the Lincoln administration (and over the course of years before Lincoln rose to the presidency) were actually shrills to many in the South. Despite promises to protect the institution of slavery, the writing was on the wall. In the current Union, slavery’s days were numbered.
I argue, however, that there is also a valid case to be made for those who saw secession under a different light… that there was a number… a percentage that is probably impossible to clearly identify… that eventually saw secession as a necessary step… and was not inspired by slavery. True… who knows how many were swayed by the influential rhetoric of those who had a clear interest in preserving slavery (after all, those with slave interests needed the people after the actions of their “elected” officials), who sold the secession package in the allusion of an enticing carrot. But, even beyond this lot, there were others who may not have been influenced, but felt that an invading army truly would threaten hearth and home… and even that such made for an unholy war (I’ll have to get back to this one in another post).
Secession may have even been a step which those of a free mind argued against up until a particular point… and eventually was a step which even they agreed must be taken because an army was being raised with the intent of being sent to suppress the majority voice in the region to which they could personally identify… a like people. Even though they might not agree with the majority voice, there was a bond (which it seems some can’t understand, today) with their people, and it is one that had been defined, and regularly reinforced in minds, for two to three generations.
It is that these “conditional Unionists” would have to lay aside their differences with the majority… whether those differences were based on the concept that their understanding of Union differed from that of others… or even that their ideas that slavery was an institution which must be dissolved for the better of all would have to come second, for now. Of the two disagreeables, one held higher urgency… immediacy… over the other. In one, whether in the name of preserving slavery or not… it actually was about states rights… but understand, it was whether states rights meant the right to preserve what appeared to be a Constitutional right to own slaves… or a states rights issue which suggested that the Federal authority was overstepping its authority and must be countered.
The Confederate flag, by this point, has already developed different meanings… many layers… to different people, even if solely limited to how Southern people looked upon the flag at that time.
Granted, there is a catch in this, and it is an unavoidable catch. Not only have I categorized different people and their motivations… I’ve whittled down to an uncountable percent of people, but… perhaps more importantly… despite what might appear to be more sustainable reasoning… by joining the Confederacy, it is impossible to deny the fact that, under that single banner, all were tied, at least for now, to a government set on the preservation of slavery. This is something one cannot dismiss.
Nevertheless… they went to war… against a government that they identified as a foreign one, AND amongst themselves. Region against region, and region against itself.
For those who did fill the ranks… no matter their reasoning… no matter their differences… bonds existed (both in community bonds… considering how companies and regiments were raised in the South… and via regional bonds I’ve already mentioned). It was for a common purpose and different purposes, but both were in need of the other… for now. The flag may have meant one thing to the government, but to the soldiers in the field… perhaps depending on the regions from which they hailed… it could have meant something different. It was a rallying point on a battlefield, and even an emblem representing home… after all, many a flag has been made at home, by the women who these soldiers held dear. Looking at that flag often meant looking at home.
When that war ended, men walked away… some men, not all. The flag began taking on different meanings. While some raised it again with ill intent… others, looking back… the common soldier… the women and children who had remained at home… depending who they were and their reasoning at the time they put something or someone into the war… may have looked on the flag for comrades lost… friends lost… family lost.
More layers to the flag.
I could go on, but as this is a blog post, there is a need for brevity.
In the past week (and, in my case, much longer)… this is a discussion of the flag that I have failed to hear… from those who hate it, and those who defend it.
Yet, those flags I mention at the end are not on government buildings. Those that are on the buildings are seen by some as representing those in the museums… but are they really? In fact, I think they come with even more layers than those in museums. They are not the cherished relics of a people… but those in the museums are… and in these museums, they can be interpreted as I just did, above. The flag is complicated and we need to understand that… and yes, even appreciate that.
As for the Confederate monuments, I see something different. Something that demands greater attention… greater urgency… than the flag. They are original to the people who reflected… just as they had on the original flags. True, some saw them as rallying points for white supremacy… others saw them as symbols of something else… representative of those men who stood in lines and fought more for each other and their communities than for a government. In some… even today… in the absence of a grave… they can be silent points on which people can reflect… and consider what Civil War memory is to them. These monuments are places of contemplation… of reflection… that we cannot and should not erase from our landscapes.
At this point, while we may disagree on the display of the flag, it is at these monuments where we need to find common ground. We may disagree on how they are interpreted, but they are ours to interpret. These are places where history is served.
Postscript/Update 1: You’ll please pardon the delay in my finally posting about this subject in depth… life happens… and the blog has a lower level of importance when life takes priority. Furthermore, I’m left wondering if this sort of post is a lightning rod to both extremes in the argument. I guess we’ll see. It was not written with the intent of “scoring blog numbers” or agitating… nor does it offer a position that should be considered above the real grief experienced by those directly impacted by the Charleson Massacre… people and community… and people beyond that community who come together as a realized larger community. Sadly, the spiral beyond how symbolism was used by the accused has continued to run out of control, despite that real world, real time grief. What you see above, and in my posts over the last week are merely my thoughts as events have unfolded.
Update 2: I intended to add a point to this post, but seem to have forgotten in the process of writing it. Readers will note that I didn’t address the matter of removing the Confederate flag as a reaction specifically to the massacre. Honestly, as things have unfolded since the incident, this has gotten out of hand, and has moved far beyond addressing the incident. I stated clearly, above, that it’s obvious enough that the accused used Confederate iconography (and other iconography tied with, for example, Rwanda) as a source of inspiration in his distribution of hate. I think I made this clear in my two posts from the past week. Let me also be clear, that while Confederatre iconography has been used for hate.. .and yes, it has… it has also been an inspiration to others for the good of the US, and frankly, the world. I know this doesn’t set well with a lot of people, and to be honest, it’s a shame this seems to be lost on people… because the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Case in point… I wrote this piece, last November, on Chesty Puller (and then, too, there’s the legacy of the Lost Cause as an inspiration to George S. Patton… which I haven’t addressed). It adds another element that can be as inconvenient to extremists on one end of the pendulum swing, as the thought of not having the flag on government buildings can be to those on the other end of the pendulum swing. I’m just callin’ it as I see it. Truth in history isn’t always convenient.