On June 17 a cowardly waste of human flesh walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine people who went to pray in God's house dead. He did this because he believed in hatred, and he wanted to start a "race war." He failed in that respect, and for that I am happy. I am amazed at the response of the victims' families, as they display a far greater sense of courage and forgiveness than I think I could ever muster in the same situation. I am also hopeful the coward who I will not name here understands that a community he hoped to divide with his actions is far stronger in spite of them. He failed, and he will live with that for the rest of his sorry existence. He is a failure.
Recently, there has been an outcry that extends beyond the walls of that church and to the state government in South Carolina. It seems as though the Confederate Battle Flag has been flying over the capitol in Charleston for some time, and people are asking that the state government take that flag down because "the Confederate Flag is a symbol of racism."
Well...it's not that easy. First of all, those of us who actually take the time to study such things will tell you what flies over the Charleston capitol isn't the Confederate Flag. That image is below:
And for those of you who need reminding, the following is the Confederate Battle Flag, or CBF, or "Rebel Flag:"
There is a big difference between the two, and most people who are involved in this debate do not make the distinction. Allow me to help a little bit. The images in the first photo are three different designs flown over state capitals in the CSA. The Confederate "Battle Flag" was flown by CSA troops when they went into battle with Union forces during the civil war. The former was a symbol of a government born out of an idea that "we didn't need the Northern states, and we're better off without you." The Battle Flag was the ultimate "screw you" to every single person that was a part of the Union or sympathized with the Union. By bringing the "Stars and Bars" into battle, the Confederacy said to the Union forces "We believe in our cause so much that we want to rub it in your face every time you fight us."
Trouble is that cause the CSA espoused was pretty crappy. The concept of slavery and the notions that other human beings were little more than tools to be used as needed was and is still despicable, and yet this is what men in the South were willing to fight and die for. The Battle Flag is a reminder that at one point in our nation's history men were willing to kill one another for the right to sell people and force those individuals to do their bidding. That's not something to be proud of. Flying that flag is a reminder that we screwed up as a nation on that one point, and we need to move forward from that ugly historical moment in time where brothers were literally fighting and killing their own family members over a horrible ideological position.
The Battle Flag is an image of a very ugly time in our nation's history, and one we should not forget. I completely understand and sympathize with the decision to take that away from the Charleston capital building and would wholeheartedly endorse not flying a Battle Flag over any state capital. But when you start talking about the flags, and you're having a discussion on why the "Confederate Flag" shouldn't be flown, just make the distinction over what you're discussing and call it the "Battle Flag."
I discussed this issue with a few friends and colleagues on Facebook, and a point was made that I think needs to be specifically addressed here. If you are not making the distinction between the Battle Flag and the Confederate Flag, then you don't understand the history behind both and you're fighting over the latest offense celebre. If your response is "Most people don't know what the difference is anyway and the average American doesn't want a history lesson" then you just hit the nail on the head with the root problem behind all of this. Americans need to remember that time in history, because it was something that tore us apart for terrible reasons. We need to keep ingrained in the public conscious the Battle Flag was a symbol of our nation's history that at one point in time we were willing to fight and die over the issue of whether we could treat someone else like they were less than human solely over the color of their skin. We need to tell people repeatedly the Confederate Flag was different because it is a symbol of a time when people said "We are not one country, we're different and we're going to stay different because we disagree with those who say they represent us." Every child that gets a history lesson needs to know the Confederate Flag is anathema to the concept of "E Pluribus Unum" we espouse as Americans, and the Battle Flag of the CSA was the most vulgar way the Confederacy could think of to tell Union troops they didn't buy into Union ways of thinking.
We should do this, and we will do this, because Americans are reminded on a daily basis that racism is real, that it exists in this modern era, and that we need to have a frank discussion about race and racial issues in our society. Our President admits it, our local elected officials admit it, and I'd be willing to bet that even the self-styled "Community Organizer" you follow on Twitter has said the same thing a million times. Well, yes, we do need to have a discussion about race, and we need to have a discussion about racism. In the context of that discussion we should remember that point in history when Americans felt it was completely justifiable to treat persons of color as subhuman. We should educate people on the issues that led to the Civil War, and we should be mindful of the plight of all Americans during the Reconstruction. We should never let our children forget that a handful of really rich people in the South felt it was perfectly acceptable to maintain herds of humans and buy and sell the same like they were property.
Otherwise we're going to forget the past, and say it doesn't matter. Then we're doomed to repeat it. History exists to prevent stuff like the Civil War from ever happening again--let's make sure that as we're talking about symbols from that era, we're doing so correctly and putting them in the proper context. Otherwise words mean nothing, the lessons of the past our great-great grandparents can teach us are lost, and so much blood was shed over nothing more than hollow talking points.