We know that in the modern age, many consumers of media are like kittens–attentive only until the next sunbeam or ball of yarn comes their way. So while we get that the whole Confederate flag thing has already trended away from “hot” to “not,” Jewdar nonetheless has a lot of Ranting to do. Let’s first establish our bona fides. Jewdar was stationed in the South for two years, and, at least on a personal level, has nothing but nice things to say. Friendly people, girls with Southern accents, and the Shoney’s All-You-Can-Eat breakfast bar (and just a quick shout out, “Shoney’s” is named after founder NJB Alex Schoenbaum). Between our personal experience and our reading on the subject–a pet peeve of ours–we understand something about Southerners’ relationship to the flag and to the Confederacy as a whole.
1. For all that the Stars and Bars are, of course, a favorite symbol of White Supremacists, they are also a favorite symbol of people who–for all the wrong reasons–see them as a symbol of a Southern identity and heritage which has been stripped of its grotesque racist and treasonous meaning. Indeed, Southern heritage provides perhaps the most perfect example of how historiography can shape–or in this case, misshape–our understanding of the past. After a century of misinformation and celebration of Confederate heroes, many Southerners honestly have no clue as to the true implications of the “War of Northern Aggression.” Not only that, but as with Holocaust deniers, their ignorance has been turned into a strength, as they’ve managed to convince themselves that any argument to the contrary is simply PC liberal brainwashing. Not only that, but like those who cry about the “War on Christmas” while December TV schedules do nothing about celebrate the holiday, Southern partisans manage to see themselves as beleaguered even while from Birth of a Nation to Hell on Wheels and the Keeping Room, Hollywood loves nothing more than to revere the Lost Cause and its devotees. Sure, there will be the occasional 12 Years a Slave, but when it comes to the war itself, the Confederate veteran is lionized and romanticized.
2. The South is different. Let Jewdar make this clear–we are are not a fan of the smarmy liberal tendency to paint all Southerners as illiterate rednecks. Fun fact–while Obama won among the most educated voters, he also won among the least educated. But when we say the South is different, we mean more than just voting patterns and education levels. We mean that for a long, long time–even before the Civil War–there was a Southern identity distinct from the the rest of the country. Again, even before the Civil War, Sir Walter Scott was writing about Southrons, and it was clear to many that in terms of economics and demographics, the North and West, industrializing and receiving waves of immigration–much of it Catholic, were becoming very different places from a rural South still made up overwhelmingly of the descendants of Protestant British immigrants. That sense of difference was only heightened by the antebellum conflict over slavery, the Civil War itself, Reconstruction, and the succeeding century of further immigration, segregation, and historiographical recreation. Jewdar grew up in the Midwest, and while we do recognize some regional affinity, it is not the same as being a Southerner, so we do recognize that for some, the flag is not a symbol of racism, or even the Confederacy, but simply “Southernness.”
3. It is worth pointing out that the Stars and Bars began flying over statehouses not in the wake of the Civil War, but during the struggle over Civil Rights a century later. And with the Civil War itself being reimagined as a struggle for “states rights” or “small government” or “opposition to Yankee aggression,” the flying of the flag came to be seen by many not merely as a sign of Southern identity, but of being a “rebel,” so that even some Northerners (including a former army roommate of Jewdar’s from Pennsylvania) took to flying the flag for that reason.
4. That said, let’s be clear–while Lincoln might not have been fighting initially to end slavery but only to preserve the Union, the Confederacy was formed, predicated on, and existed solely for the purpose of preserving slavery. If some people don’t want to listen to a leftie like Jewdar, let’s go with Alexander Stephens. Stephens was a US senator from Georgia, who, after the war, became a leading figure in the effort to recast secession as being simply about tariffs. He was also the vice-president of the Confederate States of America. And it was in that capacity in 1861 that he gave a speech known as the Cornerstone Address, in which he made his feelings extremely clear. While Jewdar is not a fan of speech laws, there is a part of us that feels that nobody should be legally allowed to discuss the causes of the Civil War unless they have read it. Here is an excerpt:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.
If that’s not enough, I recommend reading the actual articles of secession, and see what the Confederate states actually thought was the reason for secession; let’s go with South Carolina itself, since that is state is currently at the center of the storm:
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.
Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.
We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.
Adopted December 24, 1860
Understand then, that when Southern men went to war in 1861, they didn’t go to war for some nebulous notion of state sovereignty, or small government, or Southern identity, or any of the other ridiculous reasons given. They went to war to preserve the institution of slavery of Africans, in a country founded precisely for that principle.
5. Of course, Southern partisans will argue that the war couldn’t have been for slavery, because relatively few Southerners owned slaves, and state that it was “a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight,” as if that’s some unique status in the history of war. “Gosh, really? A war in which only the wealthy benefited but the poor had to fight? Wow, that’s unusual!” By that logic the 100 Years War must not have been about the throne of France, because, after all, almost none of the soldiers on the field of Crecy had a claim to the throne. The average Confederate soldier wasn’t fighting because he owned slaves, but because he felt that he derived some benefit from the institution of slavery (or at the very least, because he preferred slavery to the alternative of a large free black population). It is not coincidental that those parts of the South without many slaves were also the areas that were the most strongly Unionist.
6. Finally, after all is said and done, let’s leave the issue of slavery aside. Let’s say that all the reasons that Southern apologists give are completely true. Let’s say that the Confederacy was formed, not, as Alexander Stephens said in 1861, to preserve slavery, but as he said in 1868, to escape a tariff. Who cares? They were still all a bunch of traitors. Let Jewdar make this very clear–we loves us the US Army, and we loves us some America. When we joined up, we swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. When all those noble Southern officers and gentlemen joined, they swore the following:
“I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”
As far as Jewdar is concerned, all those Confederate generals and politicians were nothing but traitors who betrayed not only Jewdar’s country, but Jewdar’s army. Nor is this only hypothetical. Southerners may call it the War of Northern Aggression, but it was the Confederacy that went about seizing control of federal armories and forts, culminating in the attack on Ft. Sumter. Think about it–in what other context could a group of people open fire on a US military base, launch a war against US, lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and then have their symbols embraced as a sign of patriotism?
So let’s wrap things up. As far as Jewdar is concerned, all the traitorous political leaders of the Confederacy (who, with the exception of Judah Benjamin, were slaveowners) can fuck themselves. All the traitorous military leaders of the Confederacy (including Robert E. Lee, who was in many ways a gracious and decent man, but still betrayed Jewdar’s country and army, not to mention had an escaped slave whipped and brine soaked into the wound). All the traitorous soldiers who chose to betray America and kill Americans all for the sake of defending slavery can fuck themselves. And while Jewdar is too decent to say all their misled descendants and defenders should fuck themselves, we do believe they should educate themselves about the truth of what their ancestors fought for.
Still, Jewdar is all about the love. If, after that period of self-education, some people still want to fly the Stars and Bars on their private property, they should absomurfly have the right to do so. Whatever personal meaning that flag has for them is their business. We might think they are being ignorant, or dishonest, or just plain racist, but that’s precisely the kind of constitutional right that Jewdar was all-too-ready to kill or die. But whatever personal feelings they have should be irrelevant to the public role that flag should play in American society. It’s time that flag came down–not because of what one lone racist did on one day, but because of what that flag has meant from the very first day it was flown.