My Old Virginia buddy [Williams deleted the post] seems to be upset with me over my recent post on the Confederate flag. Since Richard’s response is short I will present it here in full:
I’m puzzled though, how come those so “concerned” with the use and display of the Confederate battle flag don’t express the same concern over the United States flag? As one commenter notes, ” the very same thing can be said of Old Glory.” Precisely, but this really isn’t about the proper respect for a flag or even criticism over the use and display of the Confederate flag. It is, as another commenter notes, about “attempts to belittle and bash.” Observe and learn.
You hear this argument all the time, but I still fail to appreciate the point that is being made. On the one hand, I agree. The flag of this country has been used in ways that I find morally abhorrent, but is this really all my detractors wish me to say? Does such an admission tell us anything more about the continuing debate surrounding the Confederate flag? I think not.
The salient point that is almost always overlooked, however, is that the Confederate flag is not my flag. And regardless of whether you fly the Confederate flag from your home, salute it, or attach meaning to it, is not your flag either. The Stars and Stripes (“Old Glory”) is our flag and each of us is responsible for its symbolism.
It represents the nation in which I find myself as a citizen. The flag symbolizes my rights as an American citizen and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that so many have made over the years to maintain this democracy. It represents what America is and what it can be given its founding principles. No one alive occupies the same place in reference to the Confederate flag so it is silly to suggest that any sort of comparison is justified along these lines.
The funny thing is if I were to make the comparative point, Richard Williams would be the first one to accuse me of being unpatriotic and/or not appreciating American Exceptionalism.
Tomorrow at 12 noon [E.S.T.] Myra Chandler Sampson and I will be interviewed on the Voice of Russia radio to discuss our recent Civil War Times article about Silas Chandler and Black Confederates as well as other issues related to Civil War memory. The interview will be about 45 minutes long and you should be able to listen live. If not, I will make sure to make it available once it is archived. Myra and I are looking forward to it.
I thought we might have a little fun in light of the lawsuit that was filed yesterday by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the city of Lexington. Many of you are no doubt familiar with Michael Bradley’s poem, “I Am Their Flag” as well as H.K. Edgerton’s powerful interpretation that he will be happy to deliver if the price is right. I would like to see us expand on this great work. Take a shot at writing your own stanza that places the flag at any point in time from Reconstruction through the present day. What would the flag say in 1915, 1939, 1954, 1964, 1993, 2012?
“I Am Their Flag”
In 1861, when they perceived their rights to be threatened, when those who would alter the nature of the government of their fathers were placed in charge, when threatened with change they could not accept, the mighty men of valor began to gather. A band of brothers, native to the Southern soil, they pledged themselves to a cause: the cause of defending family, fireside, and faith. Between the desolation of war and their homes they interposed their bodies and they chose me for their symbol.
I Am Their Flag.
Their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took scissors and thimbles, needles and thread, and from silk or cotton or calico – whatever was the best they had – even from the fabric of their wedding dresses, they cut my pieces and stitched my seams.
I Am Their Flag.
Click to continue
The last few posts on the important place that slavery occupied in the Deep South’s secession documents [and here] has been entertaining and informative, but as we all know it quickly gets old as both sides begin to rehash the same arguments. In the end, white southerners made it perfectly clear as to how slavery led them to secession. All too often, however, we lose sight of the fact that many of the official secession documents that were meant to announce to people on the local, state, regional, and even international levels why political ties ties had been severed with the United States also reflect how white southerners viewed themselves in contrast with the North. In other words, the defense of slavery was a catalyst for secession because it occupied such an important place in southern culture.
It’s a crucial step to take, especially in the classroom, since it gets us beyond the old canard of how few southerners actually owned slaves and other distractions. Instead of getting bogged down in the priority of causes or who owned what and how much, the goal is to better understand the meaning that white southerners (slave and non-slaveowner alike as well as those who remained loyal to the Union) attached to the institution. Not surprisingly, they wrote extensively about this on the eve of the Civil War as part of the difficult process of nation building. Consider the following March 14, 1861 editorial from the Richmond Examiner:
Those who suppose the present difficulties of the United States to be the result of an agitation against negro slavery, see only the surface. The true cause of the approaching separation of this country into two parts is the fact that it is inhabited by two peoples, two utterly distinct nations…. It [slavery] has developed our peculiar qualities and peculiar faults, all of them the exact reverses of those created by the system of leveling materialism and of numerical majorities which has attained in the North a logical perfection of application hitherto unknown and unheard of in any part of the whole world. Under the operation of these causes, we repeat the North and the South have come to be inhabited by two nations. They are different in everything that can constitute difference in national character; in their persons, in their pronunciation, in their dress, in their port, in their religious ideas, in their sentiments toward women, in their manners to each other, in their favourite foods, in their houses and domestic arrangements, in their method of doing business, in their national aspirations, in all their tastes, all their principles, in all their pride and in all their shame. The French are not more unlike the English than the Yankees are unlike the Southerners.
The editorial excerpt was pulled from Paul Quigley’s, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865, (p. 144).
Let’s not get all worked up about George Lucas’s recent interview on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show over his comments about the the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Lucas talked about the difficulties in securing Hollywood financing for his new film, Red Tails, owing to the film’s all-black cast. Lucas told Stewart:
I wanted to make it inspirational for teenaged boys. I wanted to show that they have heroes, they’re real American heroes, they’re patriots that helped to make the country what it is today. And it’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fodder. It’s like a real, they were real heroes.
Lucas is not suggesting that the men of the 54th were not brave in battle or do not deserve to be remembered. He is commenting on the way in which they are remembered in film and he is right to point out that the story is told largely through the eyes of a white protagonist. Does anyone seriously believe that Glory could have been made any other way?
The Second World War is largely remembered as a white man’s war, so we shall see if Lucas is able to tell a story with no white leading roles. Click here for an extended movie trailer.