The Soldiers’ Flag?

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:

Courtesy Wikipedia images.
Courtesy Wikipedia images.

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:

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons
CSA 3 flag
Source: Wikipedia Commons

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.

Bubba’s General Lee Undergoes a Change

Word comes from the Pensacola News Journal that PGA golfer (and two-time Masters champion) Bubba Watson’s going to repaint the “Dukes of Hazzard” General Lee car in his possession, replacing the Confederate Battle Flag adorning the roof with the United States flag. As Watson said on Twitter: “All men ARE created equal, I believe that so I will be painting the American flag over the roof of the General Lee #USA.”

John Schneider, who played “Bo Duke” in the series and who autographed Watson’s car, isn’t happy with the decision. No word yet from Ben Jones, who played “Cooter,” although the chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans is also the proud self-appointed guardian of what he calls Hazzard Nation.

We note that once again Pensacola’s loudest defender of Confederate heritage let this one slip by, although she adores Bubba. Guess she’s not doing too well when it comes to changing hearts and minds toward her favorite cause. Whether she’ll now denounce Watson as she did former Confederate heritage defender Nikki Haley remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, another sweet southern boy has seen the light.

Return From Europe

I’ve just returned from nearly three weeks in Europe, much of which was devoted to visiting battlefields and historic sites. I spent several days at Waterloo, and walked the field all day on the 200th anniversary of the battle on June 18; I also visited in turn Bastogne, Quatre Bras (also on the 200th anniversary of the action there), Ligny (ditto), Ghent, Flanders, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Cambrai, Reims, Verdun, Chateau-Thierry, the Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihiel, and Metz, before returning to my point of departure, Luxembourg City. It was a busy trip, and it took a day or so to recover fully from over 24 hours of continuous travel.

I’ll be posting my reflections on what I saw in the next several weeks: although I kept up with administering this blog despite uncertain internet connections, I decided to approach the events at Charleston and its aftermath with some caution as well as curiosity for how the story would play out. I’m pleased with that decision, because I think that for me, given where I was, prudence and restraint paid off. However, I know that there were people who wondered what was going on (or why I wasn’t speaking out more frequently on whatever they wanted to hear). I preferred in this instance to watch from afar and select my spots. After all, other historians were quite visible, including several who had not taken part in previous debates about Confederate heritage; moreover, judging from site hits and posts read, I know that this blog served as a resource for others curious about aspects of this discussion. Whether that makes me a “content blogger” is another matter altogether. :)

Should You Be Able to Buy a Confederate Flag?

One of the ramifications of the events of the last several weeks is the decision of many retailers and resellers not to stock Confederate flags for sale. This is, of course, their right, and the people who are complaining about this (and thus implicitly think that some outlets should be forced to carry such items … so much for private enterprise and freedom of choice, folks) miss the point (of course, some of these folks are the same folks who think bakers should not be forced to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, but then consistent logic has never been their strong suit). After all, other providers will still market an assortment of Confederate flags, and we know there will be buyers.

Yet, as we seek some clarity and clear thinking about recent discussions, I think it’s a fair question to ask: should one be allowed to purchase such items? There is, of course, a good argument to be made that one should be allowed to do so (and I’m in that camp). However, if we do see these flags as symbols of hate, when why allow them on the market?

As for myself, I had my eye on a replica of the banner of the 28th North Carolina to purchase for my wife, who had an ancestor serve in that regiment, but I can no longer find it (it disappeared from eBay). I’m sure this will astonish some of my (mindless) critics, who will ignore that statement in their rush to characterize me in whatever way suits their agenda. But I do notice that the Virginia Flaggers were making a lot of noise about raising yet another flag just before the Charleston murders took place (and they did raise it, working alongside another Confederate heritage group recently denounced by the Virginia Division of the CSA). Since then, it’s been rather quiet.

Notes on the Confederate Flag Controversy

It has been an interesting month. We have witnessed changes that would have seemed improbable not all that many years ago. Here are a few observations concerning the controversy over Confederate flags, symbols, and icons:

1. It remains regrettable that it took the murder of nine people in cold blood for Americans to have this discussion. The debating points have been out there for some time.

2. For all the chatter in some quarters about this debate being driven by left liberal Marxist Southern-hating politically-correct academics and their allies in the evil executive branch of the federal government, the politicans who have made the key decisions in several prominent instances were at one time the darlings of the heritage crowd. Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, and Mitch McConnell are not favorites of the radical liberal movement. Neither is the current president of the College of Charleston. The heritage folks may find it difficult to understand how those they once trusted came to betray them, but then they also confuse political correctness with political pragmatism. I don’t believe these politicans experienced a change of heart: however, they know how to count votes.

3. Confederate heritage organizations have proven to be utter failures in achieving their objectives. The ranting and whining remain unchanged, as has the anger and ill-concealed bigotry in many corners. Ben Jones, the chief of heritage operations for the SCV, has proved unable to chart a new path, precisely because he, too, held fast to the traditional mantras. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ben. I did. As for the various flagging organizations and their cheerleaders, they seem overwhelmed, ineffective, and confused.

4. However, there is hope for these folks. That rests in the overreaction in some quarters as well as the incidents of vandalism against CSA monuments. More on that later.


Down It Comes … Now What?

It certainly looks like the days of the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the grounds of the state house in Columbia, South Carolina are numbered. This is in large part due to prominent South Carolina political leaders changing positions under pressure given the recent mass murder in the state.

No one can deny that. The arguments concerning the display of that particular flag are neither more nor less valid than before. Nor will the flag’s removal silence white supremacists and Confederate heritage advocates (especially those who have freely associated with white supremacists).

So, what’s next? Will this debate subside or continue, as people look to other uses of Confederate icons and symbols? Is this simply about a flag that is as much a symbol of resistance to civil rights and equality as it was a symbol for soldiers whose performance on the battlefield might have secured the independence of a republic founded upon the cornerstone of white supremacy and inequality?

One thing is clear: it has not been a good ten days for Confederate heritage advocates. Between licence plates, several SCV divisions rebuking other Confederate heritage groups for outrageous and childish behavior, and the fallout from Charleston, it may be that in 2015 people marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War by doing to Confederate heritage what Grant and Sherman did to the Confederacy itself in 1865.

Simple Questions

I think it’s time for all this discussion about the proper display of the Confederate flag … which in some quarters appears to obscure the enormity of the massacre at Charleston … to get to the heart of the matter.

You tell me …

Should the Confederate Battle Flag [CBF] (including its versions as the ANV flag, the AoT flag, and the Confederate navy jack) be flown outside, period?

Do you favor the removal of the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State House? Why?

If you believe that the flying of the CBF on the grounds of the South Carolina State House should cease, are there any conditions when a CBF should appear outside?

Should the CBF be banned from public display elsewhere (t-shirts, bumper stickers, headgear)?

Are your restrictions limited to the CBF alone, or do they extend to other flags flown by the Confederacy (such as the trio of national flags)?

The comments section is open.

Charleston: White Supremacy, Black Lives, and Red Blood

I’ve watched and read the public reaction to the slaughter of nine people–nine African American people–by a white supremacist gunman who warrants the description of a terrorist. As I read that commentary, I wonder how people would react if the gunman was a black male and the victims were white.

Make no mistake about it: such a terrorist act is the logical if extreme outcome of white supremacy and intolerance. Apparently, reasons this particular white supremacist gunman, if you can’t own them, exploit them, or remove them, you kill them.

As one might expect, the gunman’s fondness for Confederate heritage has become a focus of discussion. We’ve had people calling for the banning of Confederate flags as symbols of hate while certain defenders of Confederate heritage, sometimes after offering perfunctory statements of regret, rush to disassociate their cause from this mass murder or to offer other explanations for the gunman’s behavior. That’s to be expected, and it is to be regretted. We’ve had far too much discussion of the Confederate flag, both by people who hate it and people who love it, that trivialize the whole matter by turning it into a screaming match between extremes. Thoughtful commentary flounders in such environments, precisely because both sides will assail it.

It’s Sunday. If you haven’t already done so, think about the victims and their families and friends. Pray for those who have suffered. And think before you respond … because if you think that this whole matter can be reduced to whether we should allow the display of the Confederate flag, you really aren’t advancing the discussion very far.