Ah yes, the Civil War. What a time of great solidarity and love for the United States. A time we can all look back on with pride as we remember what a great, united nation we are. Oh, wait, is that wrong? Is that not what the Civil War represents? Does it actually represent approximately 620,000 lives lost — almost as many as all other American wars combined? Does it bring us back to a time of great divisiveness, not only between the races but within them as well, between slave holders and abolitionists, Northern industrialists and Southern farmers?
I’ve taken enough history classes to know that the Civil War did not occur because Southerners are bad slave holders and Northerners the great rescuers of African-Americans. There were a large number of more intricate and political reasons, but the fact remains that the Civil War remains as a marker in history for issues of race. The 1860s just as much as the 1960s are inextricably tied to race fights.
And the Confederate flag…the symbol of the South’s failed secession from the Union. There are two main thoughts that I have for why the legislature was right to take down the flag.
- A prevailing argument for not removing flag is that it is a symbol of Southern heritage and pride. Well, you know what’s a symbol of German heritage? The Nazi flag. Yet no government buildings fly it proudly and very few people publicly declare their support for it. The South in the Civil War did not come close to the atrocities the German committed during World War II. But I think there’s a lesson for Southerners in the thought that this country was able to recognize that their ancestors had done wrong. They are able to feel shame at the thought of what their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents allowed to happen to others. They allowed fellow humans to be degraded, dehumanized, forced into slave labor and killed…kind of like what our Southern ancestors did. For me, bringing down the flag is not just a matter of being politically correct. It is a matter of humility. It is a chance for America to admit that this country is not infallible, that we have done some terrible things, and we are not proud of them. I believe we would be stronger than ever if we could just admit we had faults.
- Another reason I think the flag should have been taken down is simple: our black fellow citizens are asking us to. Now I know not all black people want the flag to come down; some are fine with it, and have come to terms with having it flying about state houses. But so many people view it as a reminder of the horrors their ancestors had to go through. Again, parallels with Germany: would we consider Jews ridiculous for asking that a swastika be removed? No. Because we are able to recognize that what was done to them was inhumane and definitely nothing to be proud of. This insistence on keeping the flag up implies that we think our ancestors did nothing wrong; that keeping another human being as a forced laborer is fine and dandy. It’s not. It’s unthinkable. If we want to be one nation, one that can truly call itself the “United States” we must allow that there will be differences of opinion. Sometimes, the right thing to do is honor a brother or sister’s wishes and take down an offensive symbol. Maybe it’s not offensive to you, young white man who grew up in the South with the flag hanging over your bed. But to a young black man who grew up in a poor neighborhood, still feeling the effects of lingering racism, it is. So take it down.
As a clarification, I don’t think we should take down all memories of the Civil War. I don’t think they should be removed from museums or hidden in basements. We need to remember what happened. It is imperative that we remember what happened.
We just need to stop being proud of it.