My Stance on the Confederate Battle Flag and Public Displays of Confederate Symbols
December 22, 2015 Leave a comment
I wrote this on Facebook soon after the Charleston shooting and the ensuing controversy. But it looks like the issue isn’t receding anytime soon. This is what I said then, and what I stand by now:
There’s been a lot of talk on the matter of the Confederate flag recently.
Is it appropriate to display Dixie’s Battle Flag on public buildings? This flag being the symbol of the *Confederate Army*, not the actual CSA, by the way.
In my view one of the most admirable things about America has been the spirit of magnanimity regarding Confederate symbolism and Southern patriotism.
Plenty of honourable, decent Americans at the time believed that secession was lawful. It so happened that legality of it was never decided in the courtroom, but on the battlefield. The contest of 1861-65 was a matter of might over right. Had the South prevailed, nobody would be questioning its right to exist, no more than we do in regards to Canada today.
Race slavery would have continued for a few decades, but as in every country in the western hemisphere, it would have died a natural death. It’s feasible that several states in the Union could have maintained slavery for a time. Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia kept it up during the war and after the Emancipation Proclamation (which only applied to rebel-held territory). Secession might even have speeded up the process. If the Union had no obligation to return escaped slaves without the fugitive slave law, slavery might have collapsed from the number of runaways.
All this is hypothetical, though. The South lost a war, in which many men took up arms against the federal government because they felt it was oppressive and that a new one would suit them better. Rather in the spirit of 1776, isn’t it? From what I have read, there were plenty of legally valid and logical reasons for secession, held by men of honour, intelligence, and principle. Robert E. Lee was one of them. And he wasn’t defeated by the forces of law or logic, but by being out-manned and out-gunned.
I don’t like the modern efforts by some cultural militants to cleanse the South of all patriotic sentiment and Confederate symbolism, from renaming schools to removing the portraits of Confederate generals at the war colleges. They see this as unfinished business and have no shame in stomping on the faces of the defeated all over again.
It’s not in the spirit of consensual, constitutional government to treat such vanquished people like mere bandits. I prefer that old spirit of magnanimity, diversity of opinion, and respect for the ambiguities of the war.