With all of the attention the Sons of Confederate Veterans have received over their silly little flag in Flordia it is easy to exaggerate their popularity and influence. It would be a mistake to believe that the SCV speaks for most white Americans; in fact, my guess is that in terms of sheer numbers their organization doesn’t even appear on the radar screen, which brings me to today’s editorial by John Martin, who is a staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times. Martin’s editorial serves to remind us that the overwhelming majority of the descendants of Confederate soldiers do not believe that the SCV’s mission and projects reflect their values.
I could join the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But I won’t.
As a giant battle flag of the Confederate States of America flew over Hillsborough County early this month, I thought about my Civil War story. Like millions of Americans, my ancestors fought for the Confederacy. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose local chapter raised the flag, extends an invitation to men like me, “descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.” I’m convinced the Civil War still has lessons to teach us: About the costs of war, and motives for waging war that slip through your fingers. About fiery rhetoric that divides, rather than heals. About humanity and inhumanity and reconciliation.
But those are lessons you won’t find at the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Web site. There is a lot of talk about honor and “heritage defense.” The “Second American Revolution,” as the Civil War is called there, was about honorable Confederate men, and honorable Confederate intentions. Honor has its place, but honoring without understanding is a set of blinders I’m not prepared to wear.
As the Confederate flag flew June 3 to honor (what else?) Jefferson Davis and the 200th anniversary of his birth, I thought of the threat that the flag symbolizes to many people. It’s impossible for me to downplay its power as an instrument of fear. The Sons of Confederate Veterans seem blissfully, defiantly indifferent to that.
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