Now I’m going to discuss another topic that should have little impact to anyone yet seems to be one of the big issues in our country purely based on news media and Facebook stats…the Confederate flag. Oh yes, one real post in and let’s get right into it!
First, let’s start with some things about me. It’s my blog so I can talk about myself all I want. My education was…varied, to say the least. To this day I have never attended the same school, from kindergarten to college, for more than two and a half consecutive years. I have gone to public school, private school, home school, big universities (University of Florida), community college, and smaller universities (University of Nevada Reno). I’ve taken a fairly large range of topics; in high school I took AP Calculus, English, U.S. History, Physics, and Computer Programming. In college I started with a Computer Engineering degree, then switched to Philosophy, then Speech Communication, and finally a General Studies degree with a focus on Speech Communication, History, and Political Science. I learned a lot from my parents, and my mother is a strongly Catholic teacher from Minnesota and my father is a strongly opinionated pilot with a degree in history and law from Mississippi. I have lived in California, the Florida Keys, Miami (those are two different countries, basically), mid Florida, Nevada, and Hawaii, and have traveled to essentially every state in the U.S. as well as Japan, Hong Kong, England, Austria, and Italy. I’ve also been a Marine for almost 9 years now, and although I haven’t been deployed, I’ve worked closely with people from all over the country and world extensively.
So what, you ask? Why did I bring all that up? I bring it up to give you perspective on why I believe the things I believe. That, in a single
long paragraph, is essentially my history. It’s a list of facts that make up where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. It doesn’t tell you everything but it tells you a lot. This will be important later.
Back to the flag. As you have probably heard, assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, there was a horrible tragedy recently in which a racist psychopath murdered a bunch of people in a church. This opened up a whole new discussion on racism
which finally didn’t involve the police and somehow people got focused on the Confederate flag rather than, well, racism. Look, if Wikipedia isn’t going to bother explaining how the discussion went from a mass murderer to a flag, I’m not going to bother wasting my time looking it up. It doesn’t really matter anyway, the discussion is out there and in force.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve studied a bunch of U.S. History, so when “facts” about the Confederate flag started getting thrown around, naturally I was intrigued. And yes, I use quotes because, from what I’ve seen so far, the majority of these facts are…what’s a diplomatic way to say this…complete bullshit. And I use that in the kindest, most heartfelt way. I’m going to be throwing a lot of links to Wikipedia around because this is not a scholarly journal and we all know scholarly journals are made by reading Wikipedia and then citing the bottom of the page anyway. I’m on to you, lazy graduate students!
First of all, when I say the “Confederate flag” I am talking about the flag below:
This is commonly considered the Confederate flag today. In reality, it is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. We’ll get to exactly what that means in a minute. There is a lot of misinformation spreading around about the American Civil War. Note that this discussion is specifically about U.S. politics, so when I talk about the Civil War you know which one I’m talking about. I’m going to spread some facts, and feel free to look them up. Let’s do a Myth/Fact setup, because those seem to be popular. I’m going to do it slightly different, though; my myths will have a touch of truth. After all, the best lies are at least partially true.
Myth: The United States had more slaves and more reliance on slavery that most of the rest of the world, mostly concentrated in the southern states. In fact, around 10.7 million slaves were shipped to the New World, making this the largest forced migration in history.
Fact: Around 10-11 million slaves were shipped to the New World, and of those, 500,000-600,000 ended up in the United States. Close to 5 million of them ended up in Brazil, and around a million went to Cuba. Millions more (over a longer period of time) were sent to the Middle East; during the primary “slave trade” periods of the world the Arab nations imported an estimated 10-18 million slaves. Brazil and Cuba didn’t end the practice of slavery until the 1880s, 15 years after the U.S., and most of the Middle East didn’t abolish slavery until the mid 20th century, and exists unofficially to this day in many parts of the Middle East and Africa (although you could easily argue that human trafficking is essentially slavery, and is of course a worldwide problem).
Sadly, while this was a massive movement of people, the Atlantic slave trade was not actually the largest forced migration in history. After World War II the Allies created a similar situation with the Germans, displacing a similar number to the entire New World importation in a fraction of the time. And I could go on and on about the massive number of refugees forced to leave their homes over the years in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
The truth is that the U.S. was certainly involved with slavery, and was up there with the racist ideology (which we shared with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabs), but we were by no means unusual. The U.S. was right in the middle as far as slavery goes, on the lower end of raw numbers, higher end of racist ideology, and center of abolition. Most people didn’t fight a war to end it, however, which is going to come up in my argument later.
Myth: The Confederate flag symbolizes slavery and racism. William T. Thompson, the creator of the Confederate flag, referred to its design using the following language:
As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause… Such a flag…would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.… As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.
The flag was taken out of retirement later to terrorize blacks during the Civil Rights movement a hundred years later. Any attempt to argue that it represents something other than slavery and racism is wrong and driven by a desire to glorify a horrible past, also known as the “Lost Cause” history. This historical revisionist ideal believes that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, not over slavery, but the South seceded due to slavery, not due to states’ rights.
Fact: This is probably the biggest argument I keep seeing, and it’s the easily the most deceptive. It has a lot of truth mixed up in there; William T. Thompson did design a Confederate flag, he did say that in reference to the flag he designed, the South did secede primarily due to slavery, and people did use the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and racism during the Civil Rights movement. These statements are all true, and my somewhat ambiguous phrasing is intentional.
There’s just one problem. William T. Thompson didn’t design the flag I posted earlier. He actually designed this flag:
I added the black border for clarity; the original flag is pure white except for the portion in the upper-left. Yes, I see how that flag is similar to the flag I posted earlier. But the other portion was created two years earlier and by a different person. Thompson’s “masterful” design, which he had the arrogance to try and explain the symbolism for, was literally an Army battle flag placed in the corner of a white sheet. Get it? White flag = white supremacy? The “a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause” part make a little more sense when looking at the actual flag? I would be shocked if there weren’t some rolled eyes back then, too. After two years the South got rid of it anyway by adding a big red stripe to the end because, and this shows more of Thompson’s brilliance, the flag looked too similar to the white flag of surrender. History is history, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be irony in it! Also, it’s always fun to laugh at stupid people, especially stupid despicable people.
So what? It was a Confederate flag, made by a Confederate racist, right? Aren’t you just splitting hairs?
No, no I’m not. Why? Because the actual Confederate flag’s “symbolism” is well known, and it has nothing to do with slavery. Here’s what the first Confederate flag looked like:
Look similar to any other flag? Especially from a distance? Guess what happens when your Armies are flying a flag that looks pretty similar to the flag your enemies are using? If you guessed “friendly fire” you get a white star!
So what’s a general to do when his troops are getting shelled by his own guns because of crappy spyglasses? He tells someone to make a new freaking flag. And that’s exactly that P. G. T. Beauregard did; he asked his aide, William P. Miles, to make a new flag. And thus the flag I posted in the first part of this discussion was born. It wasn’t because of racism, it wasn’t because of slavery, it was because someone was given the task “make our flag look different, but still match the general theme”…and he did. That’s all there was to it.
So now that we’ve establish the history of the flag, let’s take a look at the history of the Civil War, Barney-style. I’m going to hit the big myth right off the bat…the Civil War was not fought due to slavery. It simply wasn’t. No other country that I can find fought a war to abolish slavery, and I’ve never seen any convincing evidence that, had the South not seceded, the Civil War would have been fought anyway. In fact, considering the President of the United States at the time, Abraham Lincoln, literally stated on multiple occasions that he was fighting to preserve the Union, and even said that he would allow slavery if it would prevent secession, I think there’s pretty solid evidence that the war was NOT fought over slavery.
It was fought over secession, plain and simple. Now, wait a minute, you say. Didn’t you say earlier that the South seceding due to slavery was a true statement? Yes, yes I did. Well, strictly speaking the main catalyst for the secession was Lincoln’s election as President, but the primary reason the South didn’t want him is because they believed he was going to end slavery (which was dumb, as Lincoln had said many times prior to being elected that he did not intend to abolish slavery in the South).
So isn’t slavery still the driving force? Aren’t you splitting hairs again? No, and here is why. The South didn’t have to secede. They believed they did, and did it, but I can see no compelling evidence that slavery would have been abolished if they hadn’t done so (although the practice was already dying worldwide so it was a lost cause anyway…rim shot). Likewise, the North didn’t have to fight. They could have allowed secession, let 13 states go and do their own thing, waited for them to grow up and start acting like adults, and the country most likely would have reunited in a decade or so once the stress of westward expansion died off. But neither side was willing to be the bigger man and let it go (arguably a case for much of our world conflict) so we got into a huge fight that affects our country’s beliefs 150 years later.
Make no mistake…the South was not blameless in the Civil War. They made a lot of dumb decisions are were ultimately driven to fight a war due to pride, arrogance, and a culture of cruelty and selfishness. But the North was not the “good guy” in this story. They were driven by many of the same things, and were so angry that someone would dare leave their club they beat them up and then tied them down with laws that affect our current political system in what I would argue are very negative ways.
Still not convinced the Civil War wasn’t about slavery? What about the Emancipation Proclamation? Wasn’t that an act to free the slaves? No, no it wasn’t. It only freed the slaves in the rebelling states (granted, partially because Lincoln didn’t have the authority to do so elsewhere). Both New Hampshire and New Jersey did not abolish slavery until the 13th amendment in 1865, after the Civil War was already over. If the North fought for four years with over 620,000 casualties between both sides due to slavery it seems they’d want to ban it in their own states first. Yet during the war Lincoln responded to a well-known abolitionist that he would not end slavery even in the North; his entire focus was on preserving the Union.
Last part of the myth (take a deep breath, we’re almost done!); the Civil Rights movement. As I mentioned earlier, the Confederate flag was flown as a symbol of white supremacy. So was the American Flag. So was the Christian Cross. In fact, the official symbol of the most influential white supremacy hate group in existence doesn’t include the Confederate flag at all; it’s a white cross. I don’t see many people trying to ban those symbols, and if you say that the cross doesn’t actually mean the centuries of hatred and ethnic cleansing performed under its banner (including long before the U.S. existed), but that it has a different meaning entirely, well then you just argued my exact point six paragraphs ago about the Confederate flag.
I strongly believe the best way to fight bigotry of any kind is to attack ignorance. To teach people the truth. I’ve found that, behind the majority of racist, sexist, and other discriminatory beliefs is a whole lot of misunderstanding and lies. You don’t fight that by hiding things from people, or forcing them to accept your way of thinking because you said so; you fight it by revealing the truth and exposing the lie for what it is. When we go after a flag and start posting lies and misinformation about it, smug in our own superiority because anyone who argues otherwise is automatically labeled a racist, we aren’t fixing the problem…we’re just making people angry.
And angry, ignorant people are much more of a problem than the 154-year-old flag of a dead army.