Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Debate on Whether the Confederate Flag is the Moral and Cultural Equivalent of the Nazi Swastika

[Stephen Hand's words will be in blue; Martin's in green; Jim Scott's in purple; I'm from Michigan; Stephen is from Boston, Martin from Tennessee. I don't know where Jim Scott lives.]

Southern man
better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

(Neil Young [originally from Canada], Southern Man)


American flag: symbol of many great and noble things, but which also flew over 89 years of institutionalized slavery, near-annihilation of the Indians, Jim Crow and segregation for 100 years, nuclear obliteration and fire-bombing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the 1940s, and the legal wholesale slaughter of 50 million preborn children, from 1973 to the present.

Stephen Hand had written on his website:

[A] young blogger . . . recently put up a "non-racist" states rights "only" symbol of the confederacy at his website; see the exact graphic here which he took down after it was sadly noted; Curiously, I don't recall ever seeing a cross or crucifix at his page one. [This person], despite all future disclaimers and verbose illogical somersaults, seems oblivious or indifferent to the fact that one can no more divorce that symbol from the horrible history of racism and slavery anymore than one could put up a Swastika claiming it is "only" an ancient symbol used even by Christians here and there. Tragic. . . . I hope the good lad will change his mind about carrying such odious symbols at his site and consider putting up a crucifix instead."

I replied on my blog:

I don't buy this argument. I agree with Walter Williams (a black conservative, which fact will be relevant shortly) when he says that the American flag itself flew over the nation for 89 years, when slavery was perfectly legal and enshrined in the Constitution (and with Washington and Jefferson both slaveholders; whereas Gen. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Gen. Longstreet all opposed slavery, as I recall). Not to mention that this flag also flew over a nation which attempted a wicked, ruthless, brutal near-genocide of the Indians.

So if we condemn the Confederate flag, how can we not also condemn the American flag on a far more consistent basis? I agree that the Confederate flag may have partially symbolized or "stood for" slavery (also states' rights, opposition to excessive federalism, etc.) - I oppose the Southern argument sometimes heard, that slavery was strictly a secondary issue in that war - , but it did so for a mere four years.

I would also add that the same American flag now flies over a system of the institutionalized holocaust of child-killing, for 33 years now. So why do you not call for the banning of the American flag, on the same basis? The South is the most enlightened part of the country now, by far: being quite pro-life. It is the North which favors butchery and slaughter of the smallest and most defenseless among us. So why do we keep living in the past?

Why keep harping on slavery (which went by the wayside 141 years ago, when 4000 a day are being slaughtered today? You know this, of course; it is just a matter of seeing the inconsistency here.

And (I should note for my Southern friends), I write as a Michigander who is passionately opposed to slavery and would, no doubt, have been a radical abolitionist in those days, just as I am a radical pro-lifer now (five arrests, participation in 25 rescues, etc.).

This may be a great post and thread if we get any discussion on it. I'll make a separate thread if so. I love talking about these kinds of issues.

How about the sensitivities of our Afro-American brothers and Sisters as they ponder Shawn's Confederate Flag, Dave? Should they get all misty-eyed when they see rope on a tree too?

They have to approach the issue with reason, just as Walter Williams (himself an African-American) did. I understand that some things are extremely emotional. But this is also an issue that needs to be rationally discussed.

If the Confederate flag has to go on these grounds, then my argument was that there is far more reason for the American flag to go with it. But it makes no sense to be against one and not the other. So either be in favor of both, or against both, if the argument is the one you used.

And if you wish to argue in this fashion, what about the sensitivities of Southerners, who do not think that the only reason many thousands of their ancestors were willing to fight and die was simply because of slavery. The vast majority of the fighting men did not own slaves.

Yet they are not allowed to cherish any part of that effort in their past history, even having the old Confederate flag? That's just the same old substitute of simplistic, stereotypical approach for substance and solid reasoning: every instance of a Confederate flag MUST prove incipient racism, just as (for some folks) every mention of a Jewish person, if at all critical, or criticism of Israel, "proves" incipient anti-Semitism.

It just ain't so.

Ok, fine. I will put up a Confederate Flag on my house tonight.

As for all the implicit referential meanings associated with it ( lynchings, no "niggers" vote, slavery, Jim Crow, back of the bus, Amos and Andy, Bull Connor) I will urge people to use, er, reason.

Thanks for the advice. Strange Fruit...



So you are maintaining that the Confederacy (or for that matter the South for the last 140 years) had no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever? That the whole effort in 1861-1865 on their part was sheer evil, akin to Naziism? Is that your position, Stephen? I'm sure my Southern readers would be delighted to hear you say that.

This is an example of purely emotional, illogical reasoning (hence you utterly ignore my American flag argument), just as you and I are both critiquing in Shawn. You are no more immune to it than the next guy.

I will point out when something has no reasonable basis, no matter how politically incorrect the opinion may be. It's always been fashionable (in certain circles) to bash the South as a bunch of redneck, gun-toting, toothless, barefoot, Moonshine-making, racist, Bible-thumping know-nothings, while ignoring every good thing that came from that region, and all the evil that has far more characterized the northern regions of the country. You contribute to that prejudice by concentrating only on bad things associated with the South.

I also disagree about your continued claim that Shawn and Greg are not Catholics because they think the nuclear bombings can be justified acc. to Catholic ethics. I disagree with them in the strongest terms (and am paying mightily for it by being endlessly smeared), but your conclusion doesn't follow. It just ratchets up the false accusations and ill will and is another species of evil-speaking that we both wish to decry. Don't condemn it out of one side of your mouth and do it with the other!

C'mon! You need to apply more Boston/Harvard intellect and less Irish feistiness and hyper-emotionalism (I say as a part-Irishman myself and very proud of it).

"Dixie Flag" comments....

Ok, Dave, I'll try and see if I can make an intellectual point .

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the "War between the States" ended 100 years ago. As a Tennesee native I can tell you it was still being fought just 40 years ago when I was growing up. There were lots of Confederate flags around then (including one high school that only quit flying it a few years ago) and whites and blacks knew that the flag was not there to highlight the rights of the States as opposed to the Federal govenment. These flags were a clear sign: "NO BLACKS ALLOWED".

Just as the whites wearing the flags were letting the blacks know where they could go if you were stupid enough to were one cause it was "cool" you would get a not so gentle physical reminder from the other side of the tracks if you wandered there alone at night that they knew what you meant.

Yes, there were good aspects to Dixie. And good aspects to the Nazi government: dont forget who gave us the Volkswagon and an excellent anatomy textbook for plastic sugeons( two guesses on how they did it). In the end though the confederate flag = the swastika. We just got to wave it longer.

That's interesting, coming from a Southerner, and point well-taken. You have issued a reasonable challenge. I have at least three Southern friends, however, who would, I'm pretty sure, take great offense at this characterization you have made.

But couldn't one still argue that those uses of the flag were for nefarious purposes, but not all such use must be that? And how do you overcome my US flag comparison / dilemma? Do you concede that the US flag can have just as compelling a case made against it as a symbol for some pretty evil things?

If in fact, the use of the Confederate flag is almost always in this understood racist / territorial fashion, then I think that would be a good point, and I might have to reconsider my position. How would one prove such a thing?

E.g., many Southern states had the Stars and Bars as part of their state flags, until pressured to remove them (even in your state till quite recently, as I recall). Are you saying that in all cases this was a racist motive?

In the face of injustice reason unspoken often tells emotion, as when Our Lord turned over the tables of the buyers and the sellers in the Temple to show defilement of heart by greed. Surely to the Temple Guard he looked merely overwrought. But it was not so.

His act was pure eloquence.

The Confederate flag, in addition to Ben's reason, must be rejected for the offense and fright it will cause our Afro-American sisters and brothers. To give offense and fear is sinful and any appeal to a curious, apologetical opinion confused with with "reason" is really merely finding a reason to offend against charity.

If you wrote Fr. Hardon on this, God rest his soul, or Rome, David, I am sure you would be advised against your eccentric view of "reason" in the face of such an affront.

And then "the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of," which some apologists, being neck deep in mere argument daily forget. Reason is most reason when it supports charity and does not offend. (Eph 4:12)

Some Neo-Nazis find other meanings in the Nazi flag than a Holocaust they will do not even admit happened . That does not justify their desire to fly the Nazi flag over Catholic homes, brother.

I'm willing to change my position on this flag business if convinced. But will you reply to my American flag argument (3rd time now I've asked you)? I'd really like to know. Are you prepared to renounce it as a symbol, since it has been the symbol of a country that has legally butchered more than 50 million preborn human beings, dropped atomic bombs on civilians (and remember, the same flag flew over slavery for 89 years too)?

If the flag is THAT entirely identified with a nation and that nation's actions (per your Confederate flag argument), then it seems to me that you coldn't possibly fly the American flag, on the same grounds.


Confederate "Battle flag": 1861-1865: four years of flying over a culture which sanctioned and fought for the continuance of slavery and also committed the horrible sins of opposing federalism, fighting for its homelands, and asserting the right of states to secede from a larger political union: pecisely as the original 13 colonies had revolted against Mother England. Is it the equivalent of a Nazi swastika?

On the other hand, you could maintain that any flag stands for good and bad things both, just like the nation it represents, made up of (last time I checked) 100% sinners like you and I.

Martin's argument actually was a solid argument. I would like to see that elaborated upon by him and other Southerners. Since I did not grow up there, this is the sort of thing I wouldn't know one way or the other (how the symbol was habitually used in day-to-day life).

Are there respectable, certified non-racists who still fly it, etc.? Or does everyone just cave in because it is "PC" now to be against these flags, and "we dare not offend our Northern overlords who know what is best for us, and we will be tarred as racists if we dare do it" etc.?

And then "the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of," which some apologists, being neck deep in mere argument daily forget.

Stephen: obviously you still don't know me very well, if you think I am all reason and no heart. Both of my conversions (to evangelicalism and to Catholicism) were based in large part on "non-logical" or "non-rational" (as opposed to irrational) factors.

The first (1977) was based on an intuitive, instinctive knowledge that Christian moral teaching was correct, and a profound conversion experience and encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The second (1990) began with - again - an instinctive understanding that contraception was wrong and that Catholic moral theology was profoundly right all down the line. It didn't come from rational argument, but from the heart.

Don't even start accusing me of being insensitive to black people (if that is where this is going). I've studied race relations issues for almost 40 years now: longer than any other subject I've ever been interested in. I'm highly concerned about not offending anyone, and about social justice, especially with regard to minorities.

But since Walter Williams was the guy I first heard this argument from, it seems to me that there is some chance that not all black people have the same opinion about the Confederate flag. I can't say I know for sure (which is why I am asking for further feedback). But I think there is more discussion here than you make out with your breezy dismissals.

If the South is so horrible even to this day, then why aren't more blacks leaving and coming north, as in the post-WWI period? I've heard that they are actually starting to go back south now, and that they prefer the open racism of Southern society (where it exists) to the subtle, sneaky northern variety of racism.

Confederate flag is NOT EVEN the Confederate flag. That is the flag that flew over the insurrectionist rebel goverment known as the Confederate States of America. It's the Battle Flag that was flown by the Confederate Army.

I don't think Martin Luther King ever said anything against the Battle Flag. He was more concerned with denouncing the burning of crosses and the murder of black Americans then some artifical modern PC contrivance of the Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's of the world.

Hey, but if you want to waste your time complaining about it go ahead.

Yes, the American Flag, that object of near idolatrous devotion, means little to me (Catholics are universal), reminds me more of American genocide and trying to convert Catholics called pagans by the President back then in the Phillipines and elsewhere more than freedom for the elite few at the expense of the many of the world. So yes, you can have it.

But the Confederate Flag is even more odious to your Church for its many referential meanings, like the nazi Flag analogized above. Telling people to get reason in this instance is unreasonable.

As for the Confederate flag and racism, you evidently haven't thought this through deeply, or you have a blind spot, friend, even if you think you have not. Consult your spiritual father or bishop on this one. Very shallow here, thee, Dave.

I hope my last post did not slur southerners. I meant to imply that those who fly the Dixie battle flag are racists, not all southerners. I’d be willing to modify this opinion too if shown wrong.

More to the point: A flag is a symbol of a country good and bad. Looking at the stars and stripes you should keep in mind that nowhere else do you have the right to so easily point to Americas faults. Yes, abortion is a scourge on the country as is the serious double black eye our dear president has given us by allowing torture in prisons. But please remember these things are not the norm for this country they are the exceptions. This would be my point about flags. I could sympathize with someone who shivers when they see the flag but I also live with my wife, the Japanese-American immigrant, who gets teary-eyed each July 4th and can tell you at length why she still sees this as a great country.

Let’s contrast that with Nazi Germany and the Swastika. The 20 million killed, the war, the hate: these are not incidental to that government but was integral to it. The Swastika deserves its feared reputation because that’s what they built and no one (ok, maybe except American Indians) can use it and claim they are just looking at the “good side” of that government.

So what about the Dixie battle flag? Ok, what does it represent? First, it is a symbol for an army, a government dedicated to the principle that slavery is just. (Please don’t trot out ideas that this was a State/Federal argument. Do you think either side would have gone to a bitter war over an interstate highways or a cotton tax?). Second, after the war it became enshrined as a symbol of that war. No co-incidence that the same war was repeated 100 years later, circa 1960, as the Union army almost literally had to go back into the South to finally end what had become an institutionalized slavery. No co-incidence that the Southerners on the fighting end were still flying the same flag.

Stephen: As for your argument (and in part mine) that the flag offends blacks thus should not be flown. What about the cross? My Jewish, catholic hating sister-in-law would gladly ban that “hated symbol” from the world. Being feared an hated is not irrelevant but is not enough at the end of the day.

Dave: As I am fresh back from a trip to Tennessee I am struck by the fact that, when I was young, you could stop at a truckstop and find Dixie decorated hats, license plates, cups whatever. Maybe there are still some around but they are not in full view, nor did I see the inevitable Dixie battle flags on the backs of pickups and such. Slowly the south is changing and blacks are responding. And, yes, I’ve had black neighbors tell me they do find it refreshing to have people be straightforward with their prejudices instead of backhanded….don’t know would I prefer a knife in the back or in the face?

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