FROM THE WELTER of democratic hysteria, illogic, historical ignorance, and political self-positioning and posturing, the eminently sensible remark by Tate Reeves, lieutenant governor of Mississippi, regarding the public display of the Confederate Battle Flag stands like a stone wall above the general confusion. “Flags and emblems,” Mr. Reeves said, “are chosen by a group of people as a symbol of all that unites and ties the group together. The good and bad in our shared history, and all that we have learned from it, is [sic] something that ties [sic] us together.”
The good and the bad together . . . Without doubt, the history represented by the Battle Flag encompasses both. It is beyond question also that this particular flag is an offense to many people, though perhaps not so many as those for whom it remains an inspiration of the sort only a tragic emblem can be. But precisely the same thing can be said of the federal flag, the Stars and Stripes. A century after the War Between the States ended, protesters on the nation’s college campuses and in the streets of its greatest cities trampled on and burned the flag celebrated at Fort McHenry by Francis Scott Key, which to them represented exploitive capitalism, militarism, and imperialism, as well as racism in both the South and the North. No country is without its sins as well as its virtues, and a symbol of that country must necessarily stand for both. Since a flag, being a graphic design and not several fluttering columns of credits and indictments, cannot possibly suggest these, in order not to offend diverse sensitive minorities the choice is between a pragmatic suspension of particular sensibilities or no flag at all. In the case of the Confederate Battle Flag, progressive opinion insists on the second solution. But why does the American flag still wave?
The liberal answer is that the Battle Flag, because it represents the dead and buried history of the evil Confederacy, belongs in a museum, not on public display. But that is a misunderstanding of history. A very great deal of history remains on display, here and all over the world—the Tower of London, the Alamo, the White House—some of it memorializing nice things, some bad ones, as every national flag does. But the North today, by consigning Southern history to the bonfire of vanities, contradicts Lincoln’s claim that the federal Union was one and indivisible, that America must be one thing, not two. By the sainted President’s own logic, therefore, the history of North and South are inextricably intertwined, Siamese twins that cannot be surgically separated. The South is as much a part of American history as the North is, and people who accept the one while rejecting the other not only play history false, but the American Republic as well.Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture JULY 01, 2015