Full disclosure: When I was a kid, I thought the Confederate Battle Flag was pretty cool because I was a huge fan of The Dukes of Hazzard and thought everything about the Duke boys’ General Lee was awesome. I didn’t know much about the flag’s connotations then and thought the South was just two good ol’ boys never meanin’ no harm.
The controversy over whether the Confederate Flag (or variations thereof) should be flown on government sites is not a new one, but remains relevant. South Carolina still flies it on its state capitol grounds. The Mississippi state flag employs it prominently in its design, as did the Georgia state flag as recently as 2001. Much has been said about what the flag symbolizes, both positive (history, Southern tradition and values) and negative (slavery, racism). While interpretation can be argued ’til the pigs come home, there’s one argument that’s indisputable, but that I never hear: it’s the flag of an enemy state. Why fly/honor the flag of a rogue government that perpetrated the greatest act of treason in U.S. history and caused more war deaths (by far) than any other U.S. conflict? How disrespectful and unpatriotic is that? It’s akin to states in the early Republic flying the British flag or Texas flying the Mexican flag.
I understand wanting to honor fallen soldiers, which is South Carolina’s particular case. But you can honor the individuals who gave their lives for something they believed in without validating that entirely wrong belief. (Don’t let the “states rights” historians fool you; secession and the Civil War were about slavery and related economic reasons. If they were really about states rights, why would the Confederacy have adopted a constitution similar to the existing U.S. Constitution, including a Supremacy Clause granting ultimate power to that constitution?) Isn’t the statue enough?
A final word about the history/tradition argument. First, neither Mississippi nor Georgia adopted Confederate Flag elements into their state flags during the Civil War or even immediately following the war. Mississippi adopted it in 1894, as Jim Crow laws were taking hold. Georgia didn’t adopt it until 1956, at the height of the civil rights movement. The timing of these adoptions point much more toward sending a message than toward honoring history. Second, out of your ~200 years of statehood, are those 5 years really the shining beacon of history you want to honor? Don’t you have older/better events and traditions to honor in your flag and/or on your state grounds? How about your state tree or whatever you put on your state quarter? A tribute to your soldiers who fought in other wars? A jug of moonshine? A succulent slow-roasted pig? The logo of your state’s SEC team? I’m sure you can think of something that doesn’t spit in the face of the United States.