They say it’s about heritage, they say it’s a soldiers’ flag, they say it’s about free speech. They are right. And from where I sit, no one with any sense is trying to deny the would-be Confederates any of this. While the flag came down from a government building – as it should – anyone who wants to wave it can, freely and without legal repercussions.
But these flag wavers are missing the point by a Confederate mile. Just yesterday – Rebel apologists staged a “rally” of sorts in Gettysburg and marched brandishing their banners along Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Avenue, in protest of the recent removal of the Battle Flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.
They are trying so very very very hard to distance their ancestors from the Confederacy’s not so glorious past – or trying to deny altogether that their past lacks any glory. If you follow the comments on the Gettysburg Museum of History Facebook page (where I found this image above) you will note that flag supporters bring up the usual arguments. Most Confederates didn’t own slaves, soldiers fought to protect their homes, slavery existed in the United States, etc, etc.
Again – all true. Except that they are leaving out a fairly significant detail. Secession only happened to perpetuate oppression – to protect an institution that white southerners feared was in danger. The bid for Confederate independence – the Cause, if you like – was to ensure that slavery didn’t go anywhere. The ONLY way that one can deny this today is by ignoring the evidence, which apparently is a pretty fashionable thing to do among apologists.
Now, no one wants to associate their ancestors with a horrible thing, which is understandable. But all of you who are pointing fingers and accusing the “liberal agenda” (whatever that is) of erasing history might want to stop and consider this: like it or not – your ancestors who fought under that flag fought for oppression – no matter their individual reasons for enlisting. It was the national cause. Call it heritage if you must, but that is the fact. Just be sure to remember that little tidbit of history when you wave your flags.
These days all things Confederate are under fire. This last week at Gettysburg illustrated to me that would-be Rebels are making yet another stand – this time to preserve what they insist is nothing more than their heritage. Though the controversy has captured America’s attention for the time being (the Kardashians are having a slow week) I would like to point out that attacks on Confederate symbolism are nothing new.
At the base of the Virginia State Memorial on Seminary Ridge is a weather-beaten plaque admonishing potential vandals who might try and stick a proverbial bayonet in the still-defiant Confederacy. Though there are other southern monuments on the field (few in comparison to Union monuments and with only a couple of exceptions, all state memorials) this is the only warning sign. And judging by its aged appearance, it looks to have been there a while.
This suggests to me that both in a modern context and for quite a while, Virginia – and by extension, Robert E. Lee, whose likeness (and Traveller’s) sit atop the monument, specifically represent the Confederate nation and its ideological underpinnings. Why else would this particular monument – as opposed to North Carolina’s or Alabama’s – be singled out for potential vandalism? The Virginian Lee is Confederate ideology and nationalism personified. This was true in the 1860s and has been true ever since. Those who choose to attack physically Confederate ideology (particularly racial oppression in the form of chattel slavery) would naturally set their sights on the nation’s most salient symbols: Lee and the Old Dominion – and thus the Virginia memorial seems in especial danger…and has been for some time.
As you all most certainly know, especially if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, I have spent the last few days in Gettysburg participating in the Gettysburg Sacred Trust talks and book signing event. I met a number of captivating people on and off the battlefield, took part in a great panel discussion featuring a lengthy and engaging question and answer section, and I signed a shit ton of books. I could not have had a better time.
Though I have been to Gettysburg many times over the years this was the fist time I have been during the anniversary of the battle. I was surprised that there were so few people on the field itself. Folks with whom I spoke said that interest had died down since the 150th anniversary. Go figure. The people I did meet on the field had quite a bit to say, what with the flag controversy and all. Let’s just say there were strong opinions all around and leave it at that.
I took about a zillion photos and videos – here are a few highlights:
Well, I learned from reading Kevin Levin’s blog this morning that the good people of South Carolina may no longer have the Rebel battle flag represented among the national and state colors flying over their statehouse. Now if you have been following the flagger/flaggie/flagist news you will most likely note that this will be quite the blow to the “heritage” crowd.
I for one am glad to see it go. If only because it offends a significant portion of the Palmetto State’s population and thus should not be included in a public setting. Your thoughts are welcome.