Several weeks ago a well-known Confederate apologist blogger posted one of her many efforts at communication through graphics:
To be sure, it wasn’t quite as effective as this commentary on recent debates over Confederate heritage, but still, it’s worth considering on what we will generously term its own merits.
First, I think it is worth observing that the statement makes a valid point. While many people dislike the Confederate Battle Flag, that dislike rarely rises to the point of hatred. Disgust, yes; but whatever hatred there is is reserved for (a) the self-confessed cornerstone of the Confederacy, slavery, and (b) the effort by white supremacists to battle civil rights while waving that very flag nearly a century after that failed effort for Confederate independence. So it’s what the flag represents to them, not the flag itself, that is at the center of this discussion.
I accept that a rather significant number of advocates of Confederate heritage are in denial about the fundamental role that slavery played in the formation of the Confederacy, or the fundamental nature of slavery, period. A good many of them also seem uncomfortable about the civil rights movement, to the point that they continue to do business with people who don’t want black folks around. Sometimes, in fact, they march with white supremacists or take selfies with them.
It’s gotta take a lotta passion to do that. Such actions remind me of the importance of the need for commitment.
So I will stipulate that Confederate heritage apologist extremists love the Confederate Battle Flag far more than many more Americans hate it. It’s worth remembering that Confederate heritage apologist extremists often project their propensity to hate on others … maybe it makes them feel better. That’s why they can never quite celebrate the raising of a flag without speculating that someone else might be hating that moment. So much for honoring the sacrifice of the Confederate soldier.
That said, what do we make of “win this battle”?
First, we would have to define what one means by “battle.” Is it the battle over Confederate heritage? Over how we understand the Confederacy in American history? Over the simple display of the Confederate Battle Flag (or other Confederate flags)? Or does someone just like to use the word “battle” without context? After all, the Virginia Flaggers like to fly flags without context, so don’t go dismissing that last option too quickly.
Second, we would have to define what victory looks like in order to determine when one could fairly declare to have won this battle.
I don’t think Confederate heritage is winning much of anything lately. Oh, people are debating over taking down a flag here or moving/removing a monument there, but it is safe to say that the best Confederate heritage advocates can hope for right now is to hold the line, because I don’t see much of a movement in favor of increased memorialization or commemoration of the Confederate cause. Even several battles to preserve the status quo did not turn out well.
Nor is the Confederacy doing too well in the history books. Sure, there are a few “activist historians” who try to defend the Confederate experiment in human inequality as a form of “Confederate correctness” in line with their own political views (and sometimes as a way to promote said views), but those folks don’t have an impact on mainstream scholarship. When I hear one of these folks cry about “political correctness” while toeing their own party line, I know that it’s not about history, but heritage, and more likely about personal political philosophy.
It’s not going too well for the display of the Confederate Battle Flag (or other Confederate flags), either. Fewer public places fly the Confederate flag today than did two years ago, and even several loudly-celebrated victories (Danville, Virginia, and Pensacola, Florida) are no longer triumphs. By now we all know about the big failures in Richmond, Appomattox, and Lexington, Virginia, as well at the lowering of the battle flag on the state house grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. Efforts to counter such decisions through protests and erecting flagpoles on private property no longer attract much attention: the biggest publicity given the Virginia Flaggers in the past several months was in connection with the arrest of one Flagger in connection with the kidnapping of a little girl, and on that issue the Flaggers were quiet … very quiet. In fact, one might conclude that the Flaggers think their own silence rooted in fear and humiliation is just another successful battle tactic. Or maybe they’ve learned from the experiences of their screeching mouthpiece that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
None of that looks like victory to me.
Besides, one does have reason to doubt whether such folks as the Flaggers and their supporters really are willing to do what must be done to prevail. Susan Hathaway gave up her day job outside the VMFA to save her day job with a company which contracts with the VMFA. A South Carolina-based flagger who repeatedly declared his determination to confront Klansmen over the use of his precious battle flag was nowhere to be seen when Klansmen descended upon Columbia, South Carolina, to embrace that very flag. Neither is evidence to support the idea that there is really all that much love for that flag, because these latter day wannabe Rebs are simply unwilling to make anywhere near the same sort of sacrifices their ancestors who actually followed that flag did.
In such circumstances, it’s hard to achieve victory.
In the end, of course, it’s not who wins the battles. Ask Robert E. Lee. It’s who wins the campaigns … and the war.
Some people never learn.