I am reluctant to write about this topic because the subject of the Confederate flag along with some other recent events have generated more anger and rudeness online than I have ever seen. I’ve watched friends turn on each other and rather than try to speak rationally about a topic, they simply “unfriend” each other on Facebook.
However, other things have happened this week or occurred to me that, I think, had shown me some different angles on the topic that I felt compelled to share because I haven’t seen some of them mentioned.
First off, I’ve seen written in newspaper reports that the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina was flying above the state house. First, this is not true. Second, this is being reported by the media, which seeks to have to public trust them, but can’t get the story right. The Confederate flag is flying above a Confederate memorial on the grounds of the state house. It did fly for years above the state house, placed there by a Democrat administration. A Republican administration moved it to the Confederate memorial. Yet, the Republicans are the ones being accused of being racially insensitive by the Democrats for supposedly doing what the Democrats actually did.
Politics aside, the controversy over the flag has now led to people calling for the removal of Confederate memorials, names, and statues from everything. I have seen more vitriol about this issue than there was among the actual veterans who fought and died under the flags during the Civil War.
In 1913, more than 57,000 Civil War veterans came together in Gettysburg. It was the largest reunion of actual veterans ever held and included both Union and Confederate veterans. Just before the event happened, a rumor spread that no flags of the Confederacy would be allowed. Confederate veterans started to talk about boycotting the event. The organizers heard what was happening and issued a statement that essentially said that all flags from the war would be allowed, but the United States flag would be the largest and fly the highest.
Just about everyone was fine with this. Confederate General E. J. Hunter said, “This is a united country, and has only one flag. The fact that the one flag is the flag carried by our war enemies 50 years ago means nothing any more. We left our sacred emblems home.”
Pictures from the reunion show both flags flying with the United States flag predominant, as it should be.
During the week-long event, former enemies walked together, laughed together, and shared memories. They did not yell at each other and call each other names. They did not belittle each other because one side was the victor and the other wasn’t.
They engaged in civil discourse.
Today, it has gotten to the point that groups want to replace the American flag and remove the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson was a slaveholder. The memorial isn’t there to help people remember that Jefferson was a slaveholder. It’s there because he was the third President of the United States, the man who doubled the size of America, and the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Where I live in Gettysburg, the sponsors of a living history event have said that they aren’t going to allow the Confederate flag to fly at the event. So are they uninviting Confederate re-enactors? Are they only going to tell one side of the story of the Civil War?
These are certainly attempts to rewrite history. I’ve heard “rewriting history” applied to a different interpretation of facts. I may not like the interpretation, but as long as facts are used, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s when the facts are altered, misrepresented, and omitted that I have a problem.
The current efforts against the Confederate flag remind me of when an iconic photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was altered to remove the cigarette holder from his mouth years ago. What it showed was a lie because the group didn’t want to deal with the fact that Roosevelt smoked.
I was working on a newspaper column this week and went to research a subject at the local historical society. In doing so, I found a letter written by a college history professor to the author of an article that ripped apart an article the author had written.
He wrote, in part, “Until the law requires training and license to practice history, we can expect to find almost anything in speech and print which from those whose method is best described as without fear and without research.”
While I don’t disagree with the latter part of his statement, I do disagree with the former. First, it would be a violation of free speech and I was stunned that a professor would actually advocate that. Second, it promoted the government as the gatekeeper for what is correct. That would lead to government-approved speech, and you can see where that will get you with all of the politically correct speech out there.
There are lots of historical stories out there and lots of viewpoints. Let them all be told. Let them even be challenged. Then teach our children to think with their heads and not their hearts so that they can evaluate what they read.
Instead what I see is that the politically incorrect views are being ignored or even written out of history books. There’s no chance of civil debate or one side swaying the other. The topic is simply presented as “settled.” If that was true, the country wouldn’t be ripping itself apart right now.
The old saying goes, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”
Leaving out a full representation of both sides of debate is how it starts.
To see how it ends, look at what happened to other cultures that forgot their roots. That is, if you can find it in a history book.