The Civil War is Over. Let the Battle Flag Be.
Over the past several months, the NAACP has launched a campaign against the Confederate Battle Flag by protesting its presence at the South Carolina statehouse. Governor Nikki Haley did not respond to the demands of the NAACP to remove it. In a similar matter, black protesters have called for the removal of the Battle Flag from a Georgian cemetery that happens to have interred the bones of Confederate soldiers. And now, most recently, Republican presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry of Texas has become the newest target of the NAACP over whether the Battle Flag should appear on license plates. In the end, Perry decided against the idea.
Facts remain: there was indeed a Civil War, and one cannot just simply wish it -- or its symbols -- away. Yet it seems that the NAACP and their friends wish to delete a symbol that, while controversial and complex in what it does or does not stand for, is still seen by many Southerners as a cultural symbol with no racial overtones.
Do the NAACP and their allies also wish to blacklist Robert E. Lee and everyone else who, from the standpoint of the South, fought for the rights of Southern states to be free from a federal government that they saw as tyrannical, and that transcended just the issue of slavery? And if the Battle Flag is deemed as a "Southern Swastika" that should be banned, will Stone Mountain -- the memorial for Confederate war veterans -- be the next symbol removed?
It is hard not to see the battle to do away with Southern symbols from the Civil War as nothing more than the first step in an all-out deconstruction of America in toto. It should be remembered that it was under the Stars and Stripes that Africans were taken here as slaves -- not the 1861-1865 Southern flags. Perhaps we should ban "Old Glory" as a racist symbol as well?
The destruction of Stone Mountain, should it come to pass -- and it should not be unthinkable in today's America -- would be no different from the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhist statues ten years ago at Bamiyan. The Civil War ended over a century and a half ago, yet the NAACP and other groups seem incapable of coming to terms with that. Will Southerners and other Americans ever say "enough is enough"? When will the time come for Americans of all colors and creeds to finally say, "It is over, and let's get over it"
Yet in spite of the passage of over 150 years, it appears that America is still fighting the Civil War de facto, if not de jure. Many Southern people feel that the Battle Flag and the Stars and Bars are part of American history. This is not to say that "the Flag" does not conjure deep emotions on both sides. However, to view the tortured and complex history of the Civil War as simply a war to end slavery would be naïve. The story of a chivalrous North fighting against a racist South to end slavery is seen by many in the South as hypocritical. Indeed, if the war was fought exclusively to end slavery, why did the North have its own slave states?
Ironically, men like Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan all held racist views against blacks, Jews, and American Indians. As for Grant, he did not free his slaves until December of 1865, after the Thirteenth Amendment had been ratified. However, Robert E. Lee freed the slaves living on his plantation in 1862. It was Lee who said that slavery was an "evil." Yet, whether apocryphal or true, it has been written that Grant, when confronted as to why he did not free his slaves until the end of 1865, stated that "good help is hard to come by these days." And all this says nothing of Grant's anti-Semitic "General Order Number 11." Meanwhile, even Lincoln stated that his main goal was the preservation of the Union, with or without slavery.
It is long overdue for people of goodwill and fairness to address the real racial and other issues plaguing this once-great country without pandering to those who have nothing else on their minds but a flag that to many people represents heritage and not racism. This is not to say that America has been a paragon of virtue when it comes to race or that hate groups have never used the Battle Flag for their own nefarious purposes. But it should be emphasized that racism is a two-way street. Black people can -- and do -- hate white people as much as the reverse. Indeed, while American officialdom is loath to admit it, most racial crimes are committed by blacks against whites. Why is this issue never raised by any presidential or other political candidate?
Attorney General Eric Holder has said that "we are a nation of cowards" when it comes to race. Indeed, regarding many people, he is correct. However, some may argue that it is white people who are a nation of cowards when it comes to racial issues. For if they raise the issues of discrimination against whites (e.g., "affirmative action"), black-on-white crime, or even bilingualism, they will certainly fear being called the worst word in the English language: "racist."
Instead of automatically trashing the Battle Flag and everything Southern, let us address the above issues forthrightly. If not, America will continue toward a state of chaos that may well spell the dissolution of this country. It is past time to have a true and honest discussion on race and other issues, and how they have affected the moral fiber of this country in many ways -- not just regarding a flag that hasn't been officially used in over a century and a half (and then only on a battlefield).
There are pros and cons on both sides of this issue. However, for racial healing to finally and truly begin, people have to engage in a civilized dialogue and not let their emotions rule. Until that day arrives -- if ever -- America will continue to be plagued by demagogues, cowards, and anarchists who live only to stoke the flames and fires of racial, economic, and class hatred.
Steven Simpson is a writer/researcher who has a B.A. in political science and a master's degree in library science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.