What's in a Symbol?
In the wake of the recent killings of black parishioners in South Carolina, a Facebook photo was discovered with the killer wearing a Confederate flag patch. Now a movement is afoot across the nation to remove the Confederate flag from all public, and perhaps even private spaces. Some are calling the flag hate speech, and not protected under the 1st Amendment. Now, the Confederate battle flag has finally been removed from over the South Carolina capital, as well as several other southern state capitals.
Being a white man in the south, I wanted to approach this subject with an open mind. I wanted to see this issue from the perspective of those offended by the Confederate flag. To do this, I had to ask myself two questions.
First, are there concepts or symbols so vile they deserve to be wiped from public spaces, and maybe even private spaces, too? Looking to more recent history, the Nazi flag bearing the dreaded swastika is outlawed in many places. Most people alive today are familiar with the faces and policies behind the Nazi flag. We know the evil behind that symbol. So, for now at least, for the sake of argument, I’m going to accept the premise there are things so hateful and hurtful they are not protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment.
Question two: Does such evil lurk behind the rebel flag, and all things Confederate, that their mere presence is hate speech? I could not answer that question until I researched the history of the symbol itself. This research led me down some unexpected, and uncomfortable roads.
From this point on, I ask readers to put aside their preconceptions, their prejudices and have an open mind. Please keep your finger away from the mouse and keyboard until we’ve reached the gate and the fasten seatbelt sign is extinguished.
Here we go.
The Hate Flag.
First, some background facts. The familiar Stars and Bars is NOT the Confederate flag, it was a battle flag carried by southern armies into battle. It never officially stood for the south. The Confederacy had several official flags, some of which incorporated the Stars and Bars. Now, that doesn’t really matter, because in the minds of most people the Stars and Bars stands for the Confederacy. So lets put that issue to the side as irrelevant, and call the Stars and Bars the “Confederate flag” from this point onward.
The Confederacy stood sovereign for over four years on North American soil from 1861 to 1865, ruling over 3.5 million slaves. Slavery was written into the Confederate constitution, and was the official policy of that short lived government. That pretty much qualifies the flag as a symbol of oppression.
Case closed - the Confederate flag is a pretty damn horrible symbol of hate and oppression, especially for black Americans. However, that still didn’t answer the question. Are the crimes against humanity committed in those four years so heinous that the flag itself, as well as all Confederate symbols of that period, be banned? I still didn't know, so I had to dig deeper.
We all know Hitler and the Nazi Party lurked behind the swastika. They made the symbol evil. So, who lurked behind the Stars and Bars? This is where things got interesting…and disturbing. Read on if you dare.
The Man Who Made the Flag
This distinguished gentleman is William Porcher Miles. Take a good look at him, because this South Carolinian created the Confederate battle flag. He was a college professor who served as mayor of Charleston, then in the House of Representatives, and finally as a member of the Confederate Congress. Before the war, he was part of a group of radical secessionist called “Fire Eaters”
The Fire Eaters were a faction of the Democratic party. Think Occupy Movement or Tea Party today. Except these guys were really bad, like Death Eaters without the magic. These guys thought slavery was about the best thing damn thing ever, and blacks were worse than muggles. In fact, they loved slavery so much they thought any attempt to stop it was a good excuse to secede and start a civil war.
From the Fire-Eaters, I dug deeper into the Democratic Party of the time. At this point, my research drifted away from the Confederate flag, and rested solely on the political party that gave birth to it.
The Party That Made the Flag.
Support of slavery was the policy of the Democratic Party of the time. However, this began to change leading up to the last party convention before the Civil War, when it began to fracture over the issue of slavery. The Southern Democrats wanted slavery to remain in the party platform, as well as ensuring slavery would be spread to the new western territories. The Northern Democrats, led by Stephen Douglas, wanted to simultaneously preserve the party, but also wanted to halt the spread of slavery.
Did the Northern Democrats fight to abolish slavery at their convention? No. They only wanted to remove advocating slavery from their party platform. Douglas and the rest of the Northern Democrats fought to preserve party unity at all costs. If the party split, the election would go to the newly formed abolitionist Republican Party and their candidate Abraham Lincoln. Raw political power was more important than the liberation of 3.5 million slaves suffering under Democratically controlled statehouses across the South.
Accommodation and compromise with its tyrannical slavery wing cost the Democrats the election, and would lead to war. Even their modest compromises weren’t enough for the Southern faction, which split and nominated their own presidential candidate and, eventually, seceded. While there were no official parties in the Confederacy, their leaders were almost exclusively former Democrats, and it was Democrat policies they pursued. The South actively rebelled by force against the US government. It opened fire first at Fort Sumpter and war ensued. Over 600,000 Americans died on both sides.
The Confederacy was a creation of the Democratic Party, born purely from both its policies and failures. It was the Democratic Party that spawned the Stars and Bars. These were the faces and politics behind the evil symbol.
However, its not fair to judge a great political party by one black mark in its history, so I decided to go back in time and learn more about how the Democratic Party started. To my horror, I found that ethnic cleansing and genocide were this party’s first major acts.
The Birth of a Party.
The Democrats trace their official birth to the 1830s, and its first president was war hero Andrew Jackson. What was Jackson’s legacy?
As a general and warlord, Jackson was instrumental in purging the eastern US of most of its indigenous peoples. During the War of 1812, he crushed the Creek Nation in battle after battle. He swindled other nations, like the Choctaws and Chickasaws, out of their lands by duplicitous treaties. Once president, he implemented a “final solution” to the indian problem in the east - the Indian Removal Act. The native Americans called it the Trail of Tears.
When the Cherokee Nation won in the Supreme Court to keep their lands, Andrew Jackson simply ignored the order. By official policy and one illegal act, the Democrat Party, via their elected president, purged half a continent of its indigenous peoples. 5,000 dead and 50,000 displaced were added to the Democratic Party’s legacy of victims.
It is not without irony that all these lands, 25 million acres, were all in what would shortly become the Confederacy. The Four Civilized Tribes were ejected to make way for plantations and slaves. These are facts, not opinions.
I wanted to know more, so I resumed the story of the Democrat Party at the end of the Civil War. Surely Reconstruction would bring about a reformed party, more like the party we see today.
The Post-War Party.
As the South surrendered, the carnage inflicted by the policies and failures of the Democratic Party swelled past 4 million dead, wounded and displaced. When Germany fell at the end of World War II, the Nazi party was outlawed. To the contrary, the Democrats were given a fresh start. Did the Democratic National Convention reject these Southern Democrats? No, they gladly took them back into the fold, which helped the party to slowly regain power.
The Reconstruction South fell to the Democrats immediately, and effectively stayed that way until the late 1960s. Unleashed from any responsibility or accountability by their party, Southern Democrats began a reign of disenfranchisement and terror against the newly freed slaves. Paramilitary groups like the Klan effectively became terrorist arms of the Democratic party, unleashed to purge blacks and Republicans from office throughout the South. In fact, as late as 1924, the Democrats refused to officially condemn the Klu Klux Klan at their convention when given a chance. This was the era of poll taxes, Jim Crow, cross burnings, lynchings, murders, and segregation.
Even during the Civil Rights movement, it was Democrats that stood against the tide - the firehoses, the dogs, bombings, and shootings. Wallace, Bull Conner, James Earl Ray…the trail of blood and carnage leads back to Democrats, which brings us back to the Confederate flag.
The Confederate Flag had been absent in any official role from Southern state capitals until the 1960s. Then, governors like South Carolina’s Fritz Hollings, signed laws restoring the Confederate battle flag atop their statehouse in direct defiance of the growing civil rights movement gaining steam in Washington D.C. It was in this period Democrats even elected openly defiant Klan members to congress, like Senator Robert Byrd, who boldly filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Why did the Northern Democrats accept the political power handed to them repeatedly by the South? Perhaps the power was too sweet. Even progressive reformer Woodrow Wilson avoided confrontation with the tyrannical wing of his own party, and refused to integrate the civil service when given the chance.
Not just Blacks and Indians.
The Democrats’ disposition to tyranny wasn’t limited to Southern Democrats, nor was it limited to oppressing blacks and Native Americans. In 1941, shortly following Pearl Harbor, it was FDR who signed the order to place 120,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. Somehow, Italian- and German-Americans were spared.
Democrat Harry Truman was the only man in history to order a nuclear attack on another nation…twice. Add another 250,000 to the body count.
When you talk white privilege, you’re really talking about the history of the Democratic Party.
Things are different now…right?
The modern Democratic Party is a progressive, forward thinking organization committed to human rights. However, a central tenet of the party is abortion rights. Since Roe v. Wade, 57 million abortions have been conducted in the US. 57 million human lives snuffed out in the womb. Some will argue the unborn are not really people. Perhaps, but that was the same argument Democrats made against the Indians, and again against blacks to justify the atrocities of earlier generations.
Which brings me back to my original two questions.
If a symbol or object can be so permeated with hatred that it must be banned, then few symbols in this world should be so reviled as the symbol of the Democratic Party. The Rebel Flag flew for four years and died. The Democratic Party, however, has reigned dominant for almost 200 years. Its policies have resulted in over 62 million dead, wounded and displaced. In comparison, the Communist Chinese only killed 60 million of their own people to seal their power, and the Soviets only 20 million. Even the dreaded Nazis killed a mere 6 million. The Democrats have them all beat.
Looking back on US history at the places we truly hang our head in shame, you find the Democratic party at the helm. The Confederate Flag is a symbol of oppression and hate, but it pales in comparison to the symbol of the party that gave it birth. Supporting the Democratic party is the same as supporting institutional hate, oppression, and racism.
Go ahead, ban the Rebel flag. But while you’re at it, I think you need to keep going and ban the party behind the flag, too.
Those reading this blog are likely fall into one of three camps. The first group didn’t even finish, and quit reading in anger and disgust. The second group kept reading, but are busy looking for the comments section to leave a full caps angry reply, or perhaps are unfriending me on Facebook right now. The third group is pounding their desk in fervent agreement.
There isn’t a single wrong fact in this entire blog piece. My facts were meticulously researched and presented. Yet, I will freely admit this entire article was a great big misrepresentation.
Yeah, you heard me right. A lie. Crap. Bullshit.
Sure, the Democrat Party has done some bad stuff in its time. It also has done a lot of good stuff, too. A few things come to mind, like the Civil Rights Act, or the space program, or Social Security, and school lunches and leading our great nation through the Great Depression and World War II. JFK is one of my heroes. I think Truman was alright, too. People in our past were prisoners of their own times, and its not fair to judge them by our modern standards. We stand on their shoulders, not the other way around. Given another issue, any issue, I could have written an equally damning article about the Republicans, too. The point is, our political parties are voted in by Americans. Their sins are our sins.
I wrote this article to make a point, and it wasn’t that the Democrats are evil. I wrote this to prove that we are becoming WAY too easy to manipulate, and our passions are leading us to do some silly, and dangerous stuff.
In the few minutes people read this, they were quickly divided into camps and pitted against one another. One camp, about 31% of the US population, was vilified. They were made to look as if they supported a horrible political party. About 40% of my readers wanted to believe everything I said. They wanted to believe Democrats are racists, and bad people.
I followed a template common in the media today. I used real facts, cherry picked and presented in such a way as to do one thing - damn a whole group of people for the sins of their past, regardless of all their virtues. These types of pieces don’t inspire, they manipulate. They are intentionally meant to divide, agitate and inflame. These are the tactics of despots and can lead to dangerous places, and I firmly believe they are leading to dangerous places now.
I believe certain groups are using the South Carolina incident, via media tactics just like I used in this piece, as an excuse to implement acts of censorship. They are not doing it to protect people from being offended, but to promote their own political power. Not only have a chorus of voices called for the removal of the Confederate flag from public spaces, but private spaces. They began to call for Confederate monuments to be torn down, and for Confederate soldiers’ graves to be removed from public cemeteries. Statues of historic Confederate heroes are being defaced and now the NAACP is trying to have the carving of Confederate generals erased from the face of Stone Mountain, Georgia. The last example is chillingly reminiscent of when the Taliban destroyed a 1700 year old statue of the Buddha in Afghanistan, or ISIS’s current campaign of destruction against ancient ruins in Iraq. Oh, and don’t forget TV Land won’t show Dukes of Hazard anymore.
None of these events compelled me to write this blog. It was the most chilling event of all, Amazon’s announced policy of removing books with the Confederate flag on their covers from its listings. It was when this madness crossed over into the realm of books, of ideas, when an alarm went off in my soul. We are now flirting with open censorship, and, so many people are okay with that. As a writer, this is a poison-tipped arrow pointed at the heart of all I consider sacred. This is why I wrote this blog.
Let’s revisit Question One: Are there concepts or symbols so vile they deserve to be wiped from public spaces, and maybe even private spaces, too? Yes, and that is the very reason they should never been removed or censored from our collective consciousness. A million Confederate flags are not nearly as dangerous as one call for censorship.
Beware the soothing, reasonable voice eager to destroy and censor. They will be the same voices pointing the accusing fingers, they will be the voices vilifying, dividing, and accusing. Don’t take the bait. They will take your freedom, and eventually visit far worse upon you and yours.
Think. Reason. Challenge. Don't take the bait. Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Its okay to be offended, its not okay to be silenced.