By: Steven Nelms
Now when it comes to the Confederate flag, we’re talking about something a little different than just tradition. As all of the coverage over this debate has been careful to specify, the Confederate flag was not the national flag of the Confederacy. It was very specifically the battle flag of the Confederacy. To many southerners today it simply represents the stalwart passion and courage of the south. It represents the rebel in every child born and raised on sweet tea and corn bread. It represents the little guy standing up to the big guy.
But the reality is, this same flag that could mean all of those things to a few southerners also means a whole host of atrocities to pretty much the rest of the country. To the rest of the country, this flag represents institutional slavery, brother fighting against brother, and the darkest moments in the history of the United States of America. It represents the very worst of the human capacity to dehumanize their fellow man, woman, and child to such an extent as to possess another person as property. And this is a very good reason to have strong feelings against the display of this flag, especially in government buildings.
However, for me, the issue doesn’t necessarily revolve around the institution of slavery, as tragic of an institution as it is. What I feel is more imminent is the fact that this battle flag is just that. It’s a battle flag of the losing side of a civil war. Waving the battle flag of the losing side after being absorbed back into the nation that they sought to tear apart sounds like little less than treason. To me this is a much more legislative issue. Take any flag of any nation (or battle flag) of any conflict the United States has ever been involved in. It would not take a second thought to arrest, prosecute, and penalize the person responsible for flying a Mexico flag at the capitol building of Austin, TX. No one would hesitate to be in unanimous agreement that the Nazi flag (which was not the country’s flag, or a battle flag, but a political partisan flag) should not be displayed anywhere. They were the losing side of a world war. That’s really all that needs saying.
Yes, the swastika now represents the worst attempt at genocide in recorded human history. Yes, that flag represents horrors and oppression and atrocities that Stephen King could have never fathomed for his next novel. Yes, that symbol still makes some people cringe and become inflamed with anger and fear. But at the end of the day, there is no need for moral or ethical debate surrounding what the flag has come to represent. There is no need for talk about tradition or intention or the original meaning of the symbol. There is no need to discuss the cultural or historical value of that image. The facts of history are that the Nazi army lost the war. Any soldier who would have theoretically stuck around long enough to rejoin any army, would not have been allowed to adorn their eagle button. It is a symbol of the losing side of a war. To wear such a symbol would be to infer allegiance to an army that fought against the current government authority. The Confederate flag is no different.
When the Confederacy united to rebel and fight against the Union, they were separated from the northern states. They had seceded from the Union and were no longer apart of the same nation. Battle flag or national flag, it doesn’t matter. The flag is the flag representing an army that sought to defeat the army of the government that is currently in authority over our nation. The constitution stood steadfast, the Union won, and the southern states were shown mercy during reconstruction and were brought back into what would soon become the United States of America. To display a flag of the army that sought to defeat and dissolve the current governing body is nothing other than treason. It really is as simple as that.
I don’t mean to be insensitive to all of the history of racial division and all the people who have fallen victim of hate groups who adorn this flag. But if it’s just a flag that symbolizes racism and racial hate, then honestly it comes down to an argument of ethics and to what extent a government has the right to legislate their preferred ethics. And if it's all about the ethics of a symbol, then there’s really not much swift action that can be taken, because the debate will only war on about what the symbol actually means. Is it the tough snuff, boot-straps, country strong courage of the southern tradition? Or is it the most tragic era of our nation’s history where man bought and sold man and inflicted a national wound of racial prejudice? The conversation will go back and forth about meaning and interpretation and symbolism and ethics. None of these are immediate cause for swift legislative or judicial action.
Yet, the fact remains that this battle flag represents an army that declared war against our current government. And they lost. (With all my southern upbringing, I still find myself inclined to say we lost.) To display the flag of the losing army in a building of the government that the losing army declared war against, is a challenge to an allegiance to the United States of America and a blatant act of treason. I really do think it is as simple as that. There is no excuse to fly the flag of the enemy. And I don’t think that language is too harsh either. It was a war. They were the enemy to the Union. The Confederacy lost. They were defeated. The Union stands. The conversation concerning racial hate absolutely needs to happen. But the conversation about the Confederate flag is really quite straight forward. It’s treason. Take it down or lock'em up.
[Disclaimer: This post reflects only the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of W.A.G. or the rest of the community of contributing authors]