One of the common refrains we hear from defenders of Confederate heritage is that the flag they choose to display represents not the Confederate government but the soldiers of various Confederate armies, specifically the big two: the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee.
This is almost correct.
The two flags in question represent military organizations, as their names clearly indicate: the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee. The soldiers did not adopt these flags: the commanders of these armies did. Indeed, the Virginia Flaggers often botch this whole matter up, using the banner flown by the Army of Tennessee to honor the Army of Northern Virginia (maybe they are all closet James Longstreet fans) or using the Confederate navy jack to honor Confederate soldiers (why not honor the Confederate navy?).
Once we understand that the flags in question are those of an army, we can have a more intelligent discussion about what those armies did (such as the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia was under orders to capture and send south supposed escaped slaves during that army’s invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863).
For example, here is the flag of the German navy flown during World War II:
Would you find it acceptable to display this flag to honor the sailors of the Kriegsmarine? After all, you aren’t endorsing Hitler or the Nazi regime: you are simply honoring the heritage of service by displaying the sailors’ flag, right? After all, weren’t they fighting for what they believed in, and don’t we always honor those soldiers and sailors who do, never pausing to ask what they believed in or what would be the consequence of their success on the battlefield?
Now, before some of you go frothing at the mouth or claim that this is all easily dismissed by invoking that foolishness known as Godwin’s Law (click the link for an explanation), I’m not saying that Confederates were Nazis, or anything like that. That you might claim otherwise suggests that in your subconscious you make that link. I’m talking about Confederate service personnel versus German service personnel, each flying the flag of their military branch or organization. Also, note this comment from the above source:
Although falling foul of Godwin’s law tends to cause the individual making the comparison to lose his argument or credibility, Godwin’s law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent’s argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate.
After all, here’s the flag of the commanding general of the Wehrmacht:
And here’s the headquarters flag of Robert E. Lee:
I note that I could not find the latter flag on Amazon.
Now, you might say, with good reason, that it is the swastika, associated with the Nazi party, that makes the two German military flags objectionable. Fair enough. Then we should note what appears on the second and third Confederate national flag:
Oh, that’s right: the Confederate Battle Flag found its way onto both banners (and Lee’s headquarters flag is a simple manipulation of the first national flag). Thus, by war’s end, the image commonly associated with the Confederate battle flag had also become part of the iconography of the Confederacy, period. Thus it cannot be said simply to represent the soldiers and sailors themselves … it represented something more.
I’m looking for meaningful explanations and justifications. You can provide them in the comments section.