Last week I posted a little item about the way the Confederate flag is used to sell anything from bedsheets to bikinis. Ken Noe wrote-in wondering why we don’t hear more objections from Southern Heritage groups over the way the flag is represented on various products. I was wondering the same thing and hoped that someone would respond in a way that would allow me to make just that point. Let’s start out by admitting that an argument can be made in support of the Confederate flag in certain situations regardless of whether you agree. For instance, while I do believe that the Confederate flag ought to be removed from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina it does seem reasonable to suggest that a reasonable argument can be made in support of keeping it in its present location.
What I find difficult to understand, however, is how the items linked to in my last post promote Confederate heritage. Why isn’t this considered to be offensive by Southern heritage folks? Consider recent news items involving the display of the flag on high school campuses. Two students in Fort Worth, Texas are suing their school district for being sent home because their purses depicted the Confederate flag. Or consider the refusal of a school in Kentucky to travel for a game owing to the fact that their students waved the Confederate flag in the stands. Both cases raise important questions about the First Amendment, but the assumption that the behavior of these students reflects a sincere interest or concern in highlighting their "heritage" or history is suspect. In other words it seems reasonable to ask whether the simple fact of display implies anything having to do with heritage.
My problem here is that the image of the Confederate battle flag is not by itself sufficient to conclude that the individual associated with it has the interests of the men who carried that flag into battle in mind. There is a danger that the symbol’s historical significance becomes watered down to a point of triviality. Confederate flags on purses or the image being waved at a sporting event seems to have little to do with heritage. The symbolic content of the image is directly connected to the role it played on the battlefield, and the further it is removed from that context the less significant it becomes. I browsed a bit on the internet store for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and noticed a wide range of items that include the image of the flag. There are a few items that include the Confederate flag which are tastefully done. While I have no problem with the identification of the flag as a reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the men who identified and forged relationships around it I do find it troubling that more people don’t see the marketing of it as antithetical to their memory.