By David Pratt
If I have learned anything recently, it’s that people really like flags. I mean really like them, even more than some people hate same-sex marriage. A favorite sports team is the only thing that raises a comparable level of passion among people…and they have flags for them too!
Of course, some flags have more import than others. My neighbor down the street displaying a New England Patriots flag at both entrances to his circular driveway isn’t making any kind of statement other than he’s sort of a dumbass. Whereas the Stars & Stripes represents the ideals of liberty, equality and justice that our country is supposed to embody.
So there’s good reason in tipping your hat or saluting the flag, showing a little bit of respect, not for the piece of cloth itself but for the lofty goals we are said to aspire to and to those who lay down their lives for them…But don’t turn that piece of cloth into some kind of false idol and only pay lip service to what it represents. Ideals are nice and all, but they’re even more ephemeral than a flag blowing in the wind. Trampling liberty, equality and justice into the dirt is more of a desecration than anything you could ever do to the flag.
If you travel to other parts of the world Old Glory means something a little less glorious. Even here at home in our comfortable complacency it’s general knowledge that we far too often fall far too short of the ideals we profess. But that doesn’t mean we should “take it down.” It means we need to start living up to it.
The Rebel flag is a little different. It doesn’t quite represent the same ideals. Personally, I am not offended by it, but I am a Yankee white boy. To me it’s just a convenient identifier of a cultural stereotype. I see the flag and I expect pick-ups and good ol’ boys are right around the corner, cowboy hats and country music, cold beers down at the fishing hole. I think of moonshiners and muscle cars, the Duke Boys and Smokey and the Bandit. And I also think of slavery and the civil war and the KKK and lynchings and segregation and racist rednecks straight out of Deliverance. Right or wrong, those are the connotations it triggers in me.
It doesn’t mean that to everybody, clearly, but to pretend that it has never represented any racist views in its history is dishonest. South Carolina was the first state to secede, two months after the election of Abraham Lincoln. It was in South Carolina that the Civil War began, when the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. They drew first blood. Their reasoning for doing so was thus:
…A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
Ironically, the famous rebel battle flag was never the flag of the Confederacy. It wasn’t even South Carolina’s battle flag, so why exactly it is flying over their state capitol is unclear to me. Not to mention flying a flag of rebellion against a country that you are now a willing member of, with a voice in its government and a federal funding allocation that you don’t mind spending…well, I dig a rebel as much as the next person, but this just kind of makes you look like dumbasses.