Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Confederacy of Dunces

June 5, 2005

This weekend, the disgusting spectacle of the Confederate flag reared its ugly head once again, this time in Missouri. Republican Governor Matt Blunt ordered the flag to be flown for a day during a memorial service attended at the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville.
The 400 people in attendance didn't just lay roses and sing "Dixie." They raised the question as to whether the national Republican leadership is just whistling Dixie when it comes to celebrating the old South. The GOP leadership, from Trent Lott, John Ashcroft and Jim Demint to Haley Barbour, George Allen and President Bush himself, have refused to denounce the CSA flag for what it is, a symbol of racial hatred, treason and tragedy.
A quick history highlights the opportunism and racial politics of these born-again confederates. Let's start with Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, who lost his Senate Majority Leadership post for his praise of Dixiecrat and staunch segregationist Strom Thurmond. "I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him." Lott boasted. "We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Lott has been very clear in myriad other ways that "the old times there are not forgotten." Lott was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression."
Trent Lott is not the only Mississippi politician to support groups like the CCC and honor the Confederate flag. Former Republican National Committee Chairman and now Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wore a lapel pin with the image during his campaign and attended a CCC barbeque in 2003.
Another neocon (that is, neo-Confederate) is former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft granted a long interview to the Southern Partisan, in which he stated, "Your magazine helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."
Past presidential aspirant Ashcroft is joined by future 2008 GOP hopeful, Virginia Senator George Allen. Allen, who in 2005 co-sponsored a resolution apologizing for the Senate's past use of the filibuster against anti-lynching legislation in the 1920's, displayed a Confederate flag and a noose at his home. While governor of Virginia, Allen declared "Confederate Heritage Month" and branded the NAACP an extremist group."
Senate newcomer Jim Demint from South Carolina, epicenter of the Confederate flag controversy, is yet another supporter of the CSA flag. During his Senate primary campaign against Governor David Beasley, who was dogged by his opposition to the flag, Demint said of the South Carolina rebel flag, "it should stay right where it is and I don't think the state legislature or governor should spend any more time on it."
And what of President Bush? During the 2000 presidential primaries, he refused to call for the confederate flag to be taken down in South Carolina. And in the aftermath of Trent Lott's downfall, Bush again refused to use the opportunity to call for an end to the flag.
It is long past time for the leaders of both political parties to speak out against the Confederate flag and the hagiography of the Confederacy and its henchmen. No one is opposed to the sons and daughters of the South honoring their ancestors. "We recognize citizens have a right to honor their ancestors and heroes," said Harold Crumpton, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP. "But they don't have the right to use state funds and property to pass on the venom of their symbols of hatred."
Mr. Crumpton is spot on. The Confederate flag is not a symbol of a proud, noble heritage, but of slavery, racial hatred, treason and secession. Over 600,000 Americans died in battle because of that banner. There can be no doubt that Confederate soldiers were courageous and even heroic. But their their cause was an abomination. To display and celebrate its symbols is an affront to all Americans, white and black.
Looking back at the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appamattox Court House, Ulysses S. Grant himself said he was "depressed at the defeat of a foe who had fought so valiantly." He added, though, it was for "the worst cause for which anyone ever fought".
It is worth noting that Lee was overcome with gratitude by Grant's generous surrender terms. "General Grant, this will have the most happy effect upon my men."
It's long past time for the sons of the South to return the favor.

5 comments on “Confederacy of Dunces”

  1. one day, my idiot ex-brother-in-law was sporting a t-shirt that displayed the "southern cross", with the caption "heritage, not hate". i asked him to explain the "heritage" to me. "you were born in california, and your parents are from chicago! how is that flag representative of YOUR heritage?!" i went on to explain that the confederate flag is always found at klan rallies and white supremacy gatherings, and that to wear that shirt in certain areas - say, oakland, or south central l.a. - would certainly result in an ass-kicking. "tell me how there's no hate in any of that!"
    i got through to him that day, but he lives in a small rural town in northern cali, and that kind of stuff tends to run rampant in those places....

  2. talk about misguided passion. what are you going to do, ban the confederate flag? let the racists show their true colors.
    for what it's worth, i think that flag is beautiful. it is also a somber reminder of that horrific war, the terror visited upon men that was slavery, and the fact that this country was built upon the the labor of such slaves, and not just african slaves, but chinese slaves, poor european slaves, and mexican slaves. blame all those who see a human life as capital, not just the south.

  3. So, if we pass a flag antidesecration ammendment, will it apply to every American flag?
    "Don't Tread on me?"
    "The Crown of the Colonies?"
    "The Fortyeight States?"
    "The Confederate States of America?"
    And since the US flag code prohibits the use of any portion of the flag on athletic uniforms, will our entire Olympic team go to jail?
    Oh, yeah, the US flag code prefers that the be burned.
    What up?

  4. After finding this site and article by accident, I find it quite profound that so many outside the South find it so important to involve yourselves in something profoundly Southern?
    Why do we as Southerners remember and love our Confederate Battle Flag? As a direct decendant of a Confederate Soldier and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I will be glad to tell you.
    We have a duty to God, given to us in the Ten Commandments, to honor our fathers. By logical extension, this would seem to apply to all of our forebears. Those who revel in the heritage and history of their ancestors are justifiably proud of their great-great-grandfathers participation in the greatest conflict our nation has ever fought. Why should I be inclined to sit idly by when someone suggests that my ancestor, who was dirt-poor farmer from Dunklin County Missouri, fought to preserve slavery? What should I do about that vein that pops out in my forehead when someone suggests that he was a traitor or worse? The answer is to learn and to educate.
    The fact is that no Confederate leader was ever tried for treason, much less convicted. When a trial was contemplated for Jefferson Davis, Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase advised strongly against it. He knew that Davis's defense was center around the constitutionality of secession. Chase, in a letter to President Andrew Johnson said, "The war was fought to determine that secession was illegal. Let it remain illegal." Jefferson Davis was released from his dungeon prison shortly thereafter.
    This passage probably best sums up our reverence for our Confederate ancestors and their flags and symbols.
    "The Confederate soldiers were our kinfolk and our heroes. We testify to the country our enduring fidelity to their memory. We commemorate their valor and devotion. There were some things that were not surrendered at Appomattox! We did not surrender our rights in history, nor was it one of the conditions of surrender that unfriendly lips should be suffered to tell the story of that war or that unfriendly hands should write the epitaphs of the Confederate dead. We have a right to teach our children the true history of that war, the causes that led up to it, and the principles involved."
    Senator Edward W. Carmack, 1903
    Several organizations are active in the United States to preserve the history of this conflict. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is aproaching 100,000 strong and is the fastest-growing heritage organization in the United States. We have 48 camps in the State of Texas alone, with 12 in the North Texas area. We conduct a variety of educational, historical, and memorial endeavors both locally, and at a state and national level. In 1906, we were given a charge by General Stephen Dill Lee, who was then the commander of the United Confederate Veterans.
    "To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we submit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which made him glorious, and which you also cherish. Remember it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations."
    Just after the end of the War between the States, Englishman, Sir John Dahlberg, also known as Lord Acton, whose most famous quote is, "Absolute power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" wrote Lee after the northern victory. Dahlberg was one of, if not the most erudite political philosophers of his time. In his letter asking for Lee's opinion of the result of the war he wrote:
    ".....The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo."
    Lee replied:
    ". I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, essential to . safeguard ..the continuance of a free government. whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.......The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution, and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance to it."
    Later Dahlberg wrote an analysis of the war in which he said:
    "The North has used the doctrines of Democracy to destroy self-government. The South applied the principle of conditional federation to cure the evils and to correct the errors of a false interpretation of Democracy................[and the inevitable result of an unfettered federal government will be] the initiative in administration; the function of universal guardian and paymaster; the resources of coercion, intimidation, and corruption; the habit of preferring the public interest of the moment to the established law; .............. a public creditor; a prodigious budget these things will remain to the future government of the Federal Union, and will make it approximate more closely to the imperial than to the republican type of democracy."

  5. James, Steve,
    I fully support the right of any individual American to display the Confederate flag and its variants in any way you see fit.
    As a matter of free speech, I would fight to protect your right to communicate all of the values of the Confederacy, the good, the bad and the ugly. I disagree with them, would argue against them, but support your right to advocate for them.
    And as your posts show, you understandably feel strongly about what you see as the noble elements of the Confederate cause and heritage. But you can't pick and choose between the noble and the noxious, the admirable and the abominable. You are carrying the banner of the whole package.
    And that's the heart of the problem. It ultimately doesn't matter what positive attributes you see or commemorate in Dixie, but the pain felt by millions of your fellow Americans, north and south, black and white. You see courage and dedication to states' rights; most Americans see human bondage, secession and four years of carnage. Of course, you personally don't owe them an apology, but as an American, you do owe them your consideration.
    Ultimately, you are well within your rights as private citizens to communicate any values you see fit. We can disagree but respect that. But government and public institutions are another matter.
    By all means, honor your Confederate ancestors of yore. But states that do so with public symbols do so at the price (I would argue, an unacceptable price) of insulting and humiliating many of their own residents and neighbors.
    Speaking of humility, in 1869, several Congressman sought to add to Capitol rotunda a huge mural depicting Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox. President-elect Grant would have none of it. "No, gentlemen," he said, "it won't do. No power on earth will make me agree to your proposal. I will not humiliate General Lee or our Southern friends in depicting their humiliation and then celebrating the event in the nation's capitol."
    Respectfully, I would argue that today's men of the South would do well to follow Grant's wise and sensitive counsel.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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