In last week's column, I criticized the politically correct bandwagon that seems to have run over the Confederate battle flag, transforming it from an historic symbol into an emblem of racism. “When I look at the stars and bars,” I said. “I see 19th century racism that reasonable, present-day individuals recognize as part of our American past.” Indulge me as I once more climb up on my soapbox. Furthermore...
I was wrong.
It took well intentioned, articulate Atlantic Highlands Heralds readers to make me see my error. The Confederate battle flag does not solely reflect 19th century racism, as I ignorantly proposed. Rather, as pointed out to me by my son (Atlantic Highlands Herald columnist, Dennis Mikolay), “It isn't about heritage. It's about hate.” The current backlash against the Confederate flag, in his words, is an effort to “end the unreasonable glorification and unnecessary reverence for the Confederacy” and is not an attempt to erase/revise history. While chewing on that statement, a reader named “Mike” sent me an email that definitely gave me pause.
Mike took me to task, likening the Confederate flag to a swastika and speculating how that loathsome symbol is received today by Jews or gypsies. Do they view the swastika as an historic symbol, Mike asked, or as a “feared symbol of a depraved empire?” - a point well taken. Mike advised me to watch South Carolina State Representative Jenny Anderson Horne's impassioned speech supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Representative Horne addressed the notion of the flag as heritage and swayed my opinion when she stated the issue was not about her or her heritage as a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis; rather, the matter at hand was about the people of South Carolina. Representative Horne urged her constituents to find the heart to do something “meaningful and take down a symbol of hate.” Mike also claimed even General Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate forces, did not want any memorials. I turned to the internet to investigate.
A revealing article posted earlier this year on the website “thedailybeast.com” reports “Lee did not want such divisive symbols following him to the grave.” At Lee's funeral in 1870, the Confederate flag was absent; Lee was not buried in his Confederate uniform and former Confederate soldiers marching in the procession did not wear their Rebel attire. The article goes on to say Lee was so sensitive to “extinguishing the fiery passions of the Civil War” that he opposed erecting monuments to the Confederacy on the battlefields. Robert E. Lee wrote, “I think it is wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” If Robert E. Lee viewed the Confederate flag as a divisive symbol, how can it be thought of otherwise?
As a symbol of the deepest civil strife, the Confederate flag should not fly anywhere.
On that note, I thank Mike, my son, and others who thoughtfully commented on my column and helped this ignoramus see the light.