The fact that the Confederate battle flag (CBF) is flying above the US Flag (or at all) in South Carolina in this century is simply absurd. It really doesn’t matter if you feel worked up about the injustice of the War of Northern Oppression and how it was only partially about slavery. It doesn’t matter if you, justifiably, think that there should be a distinct and glorious symbol that recognizes the true sacrifice of Confederate soldiers during that war. All that matters, and I can’t say this clearly enough, is that you believe in the United States of America.
And we already have a flag for this county; it represents UNITY and the common interests of all men and women of all colors in this nation. The only remaining purpose of the Confederate battle flag is to intentionally perpetuate hostility between states, people and cultures in a nation that has more than enough problems already — that, and to slap every African American in the face every single time they see that obscenity flying anywhere.
Let’s take a walk down the sweet, sweet road of reductio ad absurdum (not a Harry Potter reference) and the inevitable Nazi swastika comparison. The swastika was once a proud symbol of “auspiciousness” in eastern religions until it was coopted by Hitler to stand for the rising power of the Third Reich. Most Americans and the world in general saw it flying during the 1936 “Nazi” Summer Olympics and thought little of it. Yep, the Germans had a bad time of it after WWI and overwhelming burden of reparations. Good on them on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and adopting such proud and jaunty iconography as their own. What was a little Jewish persecution compared with progress?
Leap forward over the smoking bodies of 13 million exterminated Jews, Gypsies and other human detritus, and the German swastika was no longer associated with its prior meaning—it was, is, and always shall be the symbol of the holocaust. Whatever earlier meaning it may have had, however many German soldiers died proudly in trenches serving their nation and not the Nazi party, it doesn’t matter; the German swastika is a symbol of evil, an affront to every living person of Jewish descent, and an important reminder of the true lunacy and depravity of which our species is capable. If the German swastika is preserved at all, it should not be on a flag, but only in textbooks to help us remember the true cost of racial hatred.
Likewise, the Confederate flag was once perhaps a symbol of something other than white supremacist bigotry. It may have stood for all things proud and wonderful in southern history. It may have meant something unbelievably wonderful, but quite frankly, no one in their right minds gives a damn. The Confederate battle flag is stained indelibly with the blood, anguish and genocide of slavery. It is forever imbued with the stench of human atrocity, collective racial sadism and the willful dehumanization of human beings based on their skin tone. We should preserve the CBF, not as a symbol of southern heritage, but as yet another reminder that human beings are capable of being unmitigated assholes (See “swastika”).
There a fairly famous phrase about a “more perfect Union” in the Preamble to the US Constitution that is key to everything we hold dear today, and also everything represented by the Stars & Stripes (you know, the other flag). Under the Articles of Confederation, the US colonies were incredibly weak. The reason we were able to realize the genius of our Constitution was very simple; without it, we were going to be torn apart by Britain and other foreign powers and reduced to little more than feeble, obsequious colonies on the Atlantic coast of the new world. We chose unity to survive, and I can’t emphasize how strongly these terms are related.
We face enormous, absurd, almost insurmountable challenges as a nation today. The rise of foreign economic powers, the burgeoning menace of organized global terrorism, strains posed by our staggering population on the collective resources of the world, and far more. We have only survived as a nation this long because we have come together when threatened. We came together to bind a nation as one under the Constitution, to fight the spread of German expansionism in two world wars, and again to oppose the tyranny of the USSR and global socialism. We came together to celebrate the space program, cure polio and so much more. We came together because unity is survival.
So when I see the Confederate battle flag, I see it for what it is; an affront to every living being who has ever faced sadism at the hands of another, and a threat to the very unity of this country. Because make no mistake—when a southerner waves the CBF, he or she does it not to prove they are part of the US, but to show that they are separate from it, above it, and unanswerable to the moral framework of the Constitution. They are giving the Stars and Stripes, and you, the finger. And that pisses me off.
If you’re awake, it should make you apoplectic with rage. But hey, maybe it only really affects those poor black people over there in that neighborhood you never drive through. I mean, come on, Game of Thrones is on.
So why get off your ass and do anything about it? We haven’t done it yet. Maybe we never will. Maybe our “more perfect Union” was an inside joke by white guys in the 18th Century. But I don’t believe that; I can’t. There is a certain amount of Kool-Aid you have to drink to believe in anything anymore, and this is Kool-Aid I drink willingly. We are a challenged nation, a flawed nation, but there is greatness in us and that greatness comes from unity. We just to remind ourselves of that.
We’re Americans, damn it (with all the pride and shame that comes with it). We’ve interned people in internment camps, and that was pretty messed up, but we also rebuilt Germany after WWII and put men on the moon with less computer power than you’ll find in your Fitbit. We invented the internet, pants and deep-fried everything. Are you seriously telling me that you have so little faith in this nation that the only way to raise yourself up is to tear someone else down? What if it’s not a zero sum game? What if supply-side morality actually works and a rising tide raises all races? Isn’t it at least worth a chance to put hatred away and try something else for just a little while?
I’m too old to know how to really make social media work. I think if I posted this with a picture of a kitten hugging a chicken quoting Rodney King I’d get a billion likes and Pulitzer. Fortunately, I’m also too old to care.
Here’s a hashtag: “#FuckTheSouthernSwastika.” Better yet, here’s an idea; just take down the damn flag, say you’re sorry, and let’s figure out how to help our fellow Americans lead better lives.
Jon Oliver on the Confederacy
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