And So What?

Recently I noted that of several cyber CSA “heritage” groups which have attracted my attention, only the Virginia Flaggers seem to have made any dent in the public consciousness. Oh, there are other groups, but, as even one of their supporters admits, they don’t amount to much in terms of impact even as they remain an endless source of amusement. But one must admit that the Virginia Flaggers have left their impression on several recent so-called “heritage” discussions in the press, even if they simply served as the token representative of “another viewpoint” in various pieces that hungered for a CBF-bearing group to fill out the usual story.

Other than that, the group has had little impact. Its founder realizes that this is because much of its support is passive. As the group’s website header explains:

Patriots in the trenches do not want cheers, they need people in the trenches with them. Our heritage is something nice to debate amongst ourselves. Well that ain’t gonna get anything done in the movement, the nose must be put to the grindstone once and awhile. Keep talking without action and watch the memory of our heroes, heritage, flags and honour fall into oblivion. We better start joining in and help each other before it’s too late! Will you stand with someone??

Judging from various field reports, the answer is no. Oh, there’s a small dedicated group of Flaggers, and for larger events, such as the demonstrations in Lexington and Appomattox, Virginia, some more people show up, but this is not a movement that shows much stable long-term growth. Nor has the group succeeded in its objectives when it counts. The Museum of the Confederacy still does not fly a Confederate flag on the grounds. Nor has Lexington, Virginia, bent on its city council’s decision on which flags could be displayed on city-owned light posts. Finally, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts still has not backed away from its decision regarding the display of Confederate flags at Pelham Chapel. That’s what this group has to show for nearly eight months of work.

I believe the entire Flagger movement is based upon a false premise. It is said that to return (or to display) the Confederate flag as this group proposes is to “restore the honor.” This suggests that people have in in their power to deprive Confederate soldiers of the honor of their service by refusing to display a CSA flag as the Flaggers would have them do. That’s laughable. We today cannot add or detract from the honor of the service of these soldiers. It is correct to say that the refusal to display that flag may be taken as a refusal to honor the service of those soldiers, but that’s a different matter, and I don’t see that any of the sites in question sees service in the ranks of the Confederate military as dishonorable.

That said, I want to raise a question that I think is worth pondering. What if the Flaggers achieved all three of their objectives? What if Waite Rawls decided that a CSA Third National Flag (and a 35-star US flag) should be flown outside its Appomattox facility (recall that I did not think this was unreasonable)? What if the VFMA relented and flew Confederate banners at Pelham Chapel? What if one could fly Confederate flags on the light posts in Lexington during Lee-Jackson Day? So what? Would this lead to a deeper understanding of American history or the history of the Confederacy? Would it alter the story being told at the MOC’s Appomattox museum? Would the Flaggers have achieved anything meaningful? Would it change a single mind? Would we really care?

In the end, debates about the display of “the” Confederate flag (whatever flag is being discussed) use the issue as a surrogate for other issues. True, flags are powerful symbols (as we will see tomorrow, Memorial Day), and symbols are important. But how much would really change if the Flaggers prevailed in these three instances? Should we care whether they do?

The floor is open for your comments.

One thought on “And So What?

  1. Mark May 30, 2012 / 12:29 pm

    I agree the issue is a surrogate for other issues. As far as how much would really change if the Flaggers prevailed, I would think the main thing it would affect is CW memory. No laws, statues, or policies would likely change, because for all the heat of these groups we agree on fundamental things no matter what they pretend. But the memory issue is significant nonetheless I think. Even if nothing changes substantively as I think it likely wouldn’t, what the open and widespread veneration of these symbols would do is undermine confidence in the Union cause, which is the American cause in my view.

    Because the biggest surprise for me when I started studying CW history fifteen years ago is that those who identify themselves with the Union cause but don’t know the history of it (I was one) tend to have a guilt complex that I suspect was brought about by the Myth of the Lost Cause. (Not to say there isn’t also some Western self-loathing of our own making that the LC amplifies.) The sneaking suspicion that there really was something ignoble about the cause and/or the means employed of putting down the Rebellion (and later ending slavery). So it comes down to what is a measure of true cultural confidence worth. Impossible to quantify, but I think just as lack of confidence is problematic in individuals for the reasons we all know, it is at least as problematic for a nation if it isn’t grounded in factual knowledge. It would impoverish many lives here and abroad.

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