Why Do We Care About The Confederate Flag?

I just read a news report about Warner Brothers and how they’re taking the Confederate flag off the top of the General Lee.  This surprised me on many levels, not the least of which being that they were spending money on digital editing while not renaming the car.

Turns out the story was misleading (Shock! Amaze!); all they did was take the flag off every authorized Dukes of Hazzard toy.  And they did it nearly two years ago, so it’s not exactly news anymore, which makes me wonder why it popped up in my searches today.  Maybe it’s because of Memorial Day; who knows?

I was doubly annoyed because it’s not the Confederate Flag that flies atop the General Lee anyway.

Confederacy2

The one on the left is the flag of the Confederacy, adopted in 1861, and known as the “Stars and Bars”.  The one on the right is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, sometimes called the “Southern Cross”.  (There’s more to it; if you care to look there’s an article on Wikipedia.)

I mention this because, if something’s important to you — like it or hate it — then you should take the trouble to get the details right.  This is especially true if you’re attempting to persuade someone, because it might be important to them too.  If you don’t bother, you’re just going to automatically offend people who might otherwise be convinceable.  Annoy someone enough and they’ll say black is white just to spite you; humans can be contrary by nature.

The funny thing about these flags is that, like every flag, like every symbol ever invented, they mean different things to different people.  There’s a bunch of folks who were raised on the Duke Boys and Outlaw Country that equate the Southern Cross with an innocent and idyllic past — not so much long-lost Dixieland as their own youth, good music and simple times.  There’s others that see it and are instantly reminded of racism and the evils of slavery.  The few hundred surviving Klansmen still rally behind the banners of the Confederacy, ironically enough a nation with which they have almost nothing in common.  Loner and sociopath Dylan Roof picked one as his sigil when he shot up a church; he intended to start a race riot but in the end only managed to make the Southern Cross unpalatable to retailers and politicians alike.

Waylon is dead now.  So’s Johnny Cash and most of the rest of the Outlaw Country and Southern Rock movements of the early seventies.  But their music lives on, powerful and evocative, and it is inextricable from the symbols of a long-vanished Confederacy, a pride in the land of its birth.

And then there’s the General Lee, which looks so sad now, lost without its trademark flag.  The show’s been pulled off the air, that one association enough to doom it forever despite its themes of freedom, personal honor, kindness, and generosity.  Racial equality was a common plot element, but that flag–!

Slavery was outlawed a century and a half ago, and nobody sane enough to keep their underwear off their head would seriously suggest we bring it back.  The aristocratic values of the Confederacy are antiquated, meaningless in modern society.  We continue to reject it as though it were something to be feared, though, and that’s an error, for in so doing we lend a quondam validity to fringe causes that ought better be ridiculed or forgotten.

What’s worse, by burying our own history, we cost ourselves the benefit of its lessons.  Which, if one accepts common wisdom, dooms us to repeat it one day.

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2 comments

  1. 1) good article overall.
    2) I’m one of the DoH generation, the General Lee symbolized good times and a bit of careful disregard for authority that stepped beyond itself. Oh, and Daisy Duke. I paid no attention to the flag.
    3) While you are careful to say it means different things to different people, your line about it meaning racism and slavery get a bit lost. Let’s not put “good music and simple times” on an equal footing with slavery, eh?
    4) In the same way that you simply Do Not use the swastika anymore — regardless of its original meaning — we should not be using the battle flag anymore.
    5) This battle flag represented treason against the United States. I find it ironic-to-amusing that people are publicly crusading to keep this.

    Like

    1. I appreciate your perspective, sir, and I thank you for posting it here.

      With respect to your points:
      (1) Thank you.
      (2) I always thought she was too skinny.
      (3) I’m sure people will notice.
      (4) You’re really going to love the next article.
      (5) To very few of those who followed it did this flag represent anything apart from loyalty to the country they called home. It’s tough to practice treason while being loyal.

      This fifth point deserves some expansion.

      There were several career soldiers who had sworn an oath to serve the United States; the text is worthy of remark:
      “I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”

      Notice that the United States here was a plural, not singular, and it will provide perspective and some food for thought.

      http://www.history.army.mil/html/faq/oaths.html

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