General Robert E. Lee in 1863 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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This was a follow-up dialogue on my previous related post, Michigander Defends the Confederate Flag, which took place on the Patheos Facebook page. Samuel Alfred Justin Chasuk is from Louisiana. His words will be in blue.
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Your argument is mostly persuasive, which is why I have no real love for the American flag and choose not to salute it or fly it. (It has flown over many more evils than just abortion.)
However, it seems to me that there can be a distinction amongst the injustices/atrocities which occur under a given flag. America isn’t defined by abortion (for better or worse) the way that the Nazis were/are defined by their anti-Semitism, or that the South was defined by its commitment to the peculiar institution. So the American flag’s connection to that evil isn’t as direct as the swastika’s or the Dixie flag’s connection to their respective evils. It doesn’t stand for that evil the way the latter symbols do.
Is that an inconsistent perception? Almost certainly. Yet it is the cultural perception, which means that it isn’t able to be dismissed for what “ought” to be the case hypothetically.
I don’t buy the distinction. If you can distinguish between good and bad stuff in America that the flag represents, why cannot you do the same with the Confederacy? Are you saying that it had nothing good in it whatsoever and was pure evil?
The majority of Southerners didn’t own slaves, and so the majority of Confederate soldiers were not fighting because of that issue (nor were the Union soldiers). Even if we consider slavery itself (which I absolutely loathe and detest), the North upheld the institution by buying Southern cotton and sanctioning wicked laws like the Fugitive Slave Law, that Henry David Thoreau and the abolitionists raged about. No one was clean over slavery. The behavior of Northerners after slavery was abolished, showed that the North didn’t — as whole — give a damn about black people, either.
I fail, then, to see how the South is somehow uniquely evil: so much so that it dare not even fly the Confederate flag for any reason other than hatred towards black people. It’s the presupposition that this flag stands for slavery and hatred of black people only, and nothing else, that I reject. The premise is wrong, and so the reasoning based on it is also wrong.
A symbol like the Nazi swastika, on the other hand, has no redeeming value whatever. If it has similarities, it is much more to the American flag than to the Confederate one, since the former has flown over the abortion holocaust, which has surpassed in numbers the Nazi holocaust by some eight or nine times.
We also slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German civilians and many thousands of Indians. So if we’re looking for similarities to the swastika, the American flag fits that bill.
I think your reasoning is sound here, and I said as much in my prior comment—but it’s undeniable that that presupposition is a cultural reality. The South isn’t uniquely evil, as the Union it was seeking to secede from was equally complicit in slavery as well as the author of other national evils. Yet the battle flag does have the connotation of racism, like it or not. No amount of “ought” reasoning (solid as it may be) negates that factual “is”.
That’s where my idealism comes in. I don’t care if someone thinks a false thing about something I do or advocate. Lots of folks think we Catholics are in favor of pedophilia and that 90% (rather than less than 1%) or our priests engage in it. That’s a lie that millions of people believe. So what are we to do about it? Ban the Roman collar, which for many is now a symbol of rank sexual sin? Pretend that sexual sin is uniquely and singularly Catholic and doesn’t infect all of society? Pretend that homosexuality wasn’t the leading indicator in those tragic cases, not priesthood per se, or the celibate priesthood?
Lots of people think mere political criticism of President Obama must come from racist motives. So what do we do? Stop making any criticism because of that? Lots of people think the vast majority of cops are out there intending to seek out and kill innocent black kids. So do we kow-tow and believe that lie? Do we refrain from talking about the rule of law and pointing out that grand juries found no evidence in high profile cases? Do we stop talking about black-on-black crime because Black Lives Matter says it is a naughty no-no, and that movement wants to put its collective head in the sand and deny reality and hard facts?
It’s this sort of “PC” anti-thinking that I reject, and so should anyone else.
I’m not fond of likening the Roman collar to the battle flag. There’s a reason we’ve seen a concerted cultural effort to de-normalize the battle flag, but not the collar. (Or the crucifix, or any number of other Catholic signifiers.)
This isn’t about being PC. It’s about realizing what symbols are conducive to love of neighbor, and what symbols (regardless of the rational “ought”) are impediments.
Further, I find it interesting that you see the logical implication of the rejection of the battle flag—the rejection of the American flag—and you choose to stick with both bloody symbols rather than reject them both.
It’s funny how much I disagree with you here, given how much I’ll agree with other things of yours I’ve read.
I’m not nuts about the American flag. I never said I was a big advocate of it (my favored symbol is the crucifix), so I remain consistent. All I’m defending is the right to fly a Confederate flag without being thought of as an unrepentant racist pig, and I point out the hypocrisy of those who think the American flag is fine and dandy and condemn the other flag, based on bad stuff being done during its “period.”All about calling out that hypocrisy. We’re just emphasizing it differently then.
Now this is an excellent mini-debate (thank you). I despaired of ever having one about this topic.
Happy to oblige! I saw your mention of the lack of substantive interaction, and took it as a cry for help.
Glad you did! I think you have made what is the best argument for not flying it:
It’s about realizing what symbols are conducive to love of neighbor, and what symbols (regardless of the rational “ought”) are impediments.
That is sensible and thoughtful of others. I would flip it around, though, and say also, “It’s about realizing that symbols mean different things to different folks and that condemning all who do it as pro-slavery racists is also not conducive to love of neighbor and is arguably a manifest anti-Southern prejudice.”
And I see that you are from Louisiana.
That point, regarding the varying meanings of symbols, is very true. There was a Vox piece (I think) which collected testimonies of Southern blacks regarding the battle flag. They definitely didn’t all fit the narrative in their views.
And yup, LA born and raised! My state is about the largest entity I am willing to consider myself a citizen of.
. . . which gets to one of the issues in the Civil War: states’ rights. That was at least as prominent as some drive (among those who had no self-interest) to defend slavery.
Secession seems ethically and legally indistinguishable to me from the 13 colonies declaring independence from England. That went against existing law as well.
I have said that if the South seceded and became a pro-life country (which has actually been seriously discussed), I would move down there ASAP.
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Some other interactions:
Michael Damian Jeter: As a Southerner by birth and a Catholic by the Grace of God and God’s Sacraments, I find the flag a disgusting symbol of terrorism, treason, and yes, slavery.
The idea of Northerners further defending this piece of toilet paper sickens me.
You see nothing worthwhile in your own Southern heritage? You’re that ashamed of it? The South fought for totally dishonorable reasons in 1861-1865? Most Southern soldiers didn’t have slaves. It’s not why they fought. Most Northern soldiers weren’t fighting to free the slaves, either, but rather, to preserve the union, which was Lincoln’s original rationale.
Believe what you wish. I have said what I believe. I hate the South except for its food and music.
I love the South. Hatred gets no one nowhere, and it’s usually based on a lot of exaggeration and misinformation. Southerners ain’t perfect, but (shock!), neither is anyone else. We’re all sinners, last time I checked.
Anthony John Mathison [from South Carolina]: Thanks a lot, Dave. This means a great deal to us Southron boys.
Glad you like it. It’s about time we heard another side of this. It’s way too one-sided. The trouble is that a lot of Southerners (having been relentlessly bashed) act ashamed of the good stuff in their heritage. No region has a lock on sin. My mother’s father was from Alabama, so I got some Southern blood meself.
My thoughts exactly.
Rod Bennett [from Georgia] There’s a lot to hate in the Secessionist cause. I hate some of it myself. Trouble is, I’m not sure Mr. Jeter could tell us what it is, beyond the obvious. Is it racism? Then he’ll have to hate that other flag, too (the one with the Stars & Stripes rather than the Stars & Bars) because there was just as much of it in the rest of the Union as down South. The very same soldiers, for instance, who blocked Lee’s escape at Appomattox were sent, a few years later, to liquidate the Indians out West. Not to mention the fact that all the bloodiest race violence of the 20th century happened in places like Philadelphia, Boston, and Buffalo.
Yep, yep, yep. I’ve made all these arguments, pretty much, but they fall on deaf ears. No one has overcome my analogical argument from the American flag, which came originally from black conservative Walter Williams.
Dr. Martin Luther King thought Chicago racism was far worse than what he encountered down south. The marches there were extremely ugly and brutal. He stated on 5 August 1966 after a march in Chicago: ‘‘I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today’’. The segregation up North is more extreme than in the South. I have seen this myself, firsthand.
Some topics simply cannot be rationally discussed, for the most part. I think it’s sad. People lose all sense of proportion, just as is often the case in discussions about race relations in general.
The whole point is that the Confederate flag is not only about racism. It’s assumed that it is. Of course it is for some people who are indeed bigots, but not all Southerners who fly it, by a long shot.
Why not also for the American flag, then? I could argue that it “stands for” legal abortion. Over 50 million babies slaughtered legally . . . Why does not the American flag stand for that, and all the other evils that have been committed in America?
Why is it that the South is seen as the locus of all evil in America? It’s certainly not that way today. The South is conservative and pro-life.
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