The Internet and the Civil War

Imagine if 30 years ago someone were to tell you that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, and to prove it showed you a quote like this one from General Robert E. Lee, here taken from Confederate American Pride:

There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery is an institution of a moral and political evil

Assuming that you believed the quote to be accurate, you might be left scratching your head and wondering why this seems so contradictory to what you’ve always heard. You’re probably not going to run to the library to research Robert E. Lee quotes to see the context from which that quote was taken. Which is, by the way, via Wikipedia and Rad Geek,

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise God.

Of course, 30 years ago, few people would have heard the misleading out-of-context quote to begin with, so the Internet helps spread lies along with the truths that debunk them. Which is why there are still so many Confederate battle flag lovers who think the flag isn’t a symbol of racism.

I know that such true believers exist, but if they honestly do their research, they should have a change of heart.

People with busy lives who don’t think much about the flag and what it has stood for may be forgiven for not knowing the truth. But for anyone willing to make a stand, the Internet leaves little excuse for such ignorance. By the time someone is yelling “baaa, baaa” into a bullhorn at counter-protesters to a Confederate rally to drown out the truth, or has compiled a website full of out-of-context quotes and misleading facts, that person is not a true believer. That person is a liar.

To Confederates Who Don’t Hate

I’ve come across a lot of folks who display the Confederate flag but claim not to be racists, and claim that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism. I think most of them are full of shit.

This post is for the rest of you.

I’ve seen Confederates described as Dirt Ignorant, Flag Waving Bigots, but I know it doesn’t apply to all of you. I’ve also seen a Black Confederates’ website, I’ve read the Five IMPORTANT Facts I Did Not Know About That Flag. I saw a Confederate sticker next to an Obama sticker on a pick-up truck and an Obama sign in front of a Confederate statue in a neighbor’s yard. I see “Heritage not Hate” all over the place, and I’ve met people with Confederate tattoos who were among the kindest people in the world.

But I still say the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism.

Do I still need a history lesson? Fine. Send me some more links and I’ll take a look at them too. But only if you look at a couple of mine. Because I have read from Confederate apologist websites and spoken to people who claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but I can’t imagine anything anyone can say or write that would carry more weight than the words of the secessionists themselves.

Texas Declaration of Causes of Secession

So read The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States or the excerpts included in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article in The Atlantic. Note such statements as

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery..

, and

The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.

To get an idea of how dedicated the South was to slavery, read how it managed to continue the practice even after reconstruction, in this Wikepedia article and this excerpt from Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon.

… Green Cottenham was arrested by the sheriff of Shelby County, Alabama, and charged with “vagrancy.” … The next day … Cottenham was sold. … Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, gave the county $12 a month to pay off Cottenham’s fine and fees … Cottenham was subject to the whip for failure to dig the requisite amount, at risk of physical torture for disobedience, and vulnerable to the sexual predations of other miners— many of whom already had passed years or decades in their own chthonian confinement. …

Read how the Confederate Flag that you’re displaying was never really a symbol of Southern Heritage until the opponents of civil rights made it so.

But as a political symbol, the flag was revived when northern Democrats began to press for an end to the South’s system of racial oppression. In 1948, the Dixiecrats revolted against President Harry Truman—who had desegregated the armed forces and supported anti-lynching bills. The movement began in Mississippi in February of 1948, with thousands of activists “shouting rebel yells and waving the Confederate flag,” as the Associated Press reported at the time. Some actually removed old, mothballed flags from the trunks where they had until then been gathering dust.

The Southern Cross was created as a battle flag in a rebellion to defend slavery. It wasn’t even the original design.

Sure, the Civil War was about states rights, and it was also about economics, as so many wars are. But to say it wasn’t about slavery is ignorant or dishonest. The declarations made it absolutely clear.

Illustration Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike the swastika, which had been used for various purposes by diverse peoples for thousands of years, the Confederate battle flag was born for no other reason than to be used in the war to preserve slavery in America.

Another difference between a swastika and a Confederate flag is, thanks to those who claim “heritage not hate”, bigots can display the flag as a signal to others while avoiding the consequences of openly declaring their perverted views. A Confederate bigot may occasionally bump into a Confederate who doesn’t hate, but he doesn’t have to worry as much as other bigots about outing himself to anyone who might cause him grief for doing so.

I know that “Heritage not Hate” exists. I know there are people who fly the flag and don’t mean any ill will by it. You are not a racist, and maybe you feel that being from the South provides you with a heritage that is separate from the rest of the United States but also separate from Slavery. But the evidence says otherwise.

The flag of the United States of America is yours as much as it is mine. I know that it too is stained with the mark of slavery. We have enslaved Africans, slaughtered Native Americans, threw Japanese Americans into concentration camps, and committed multitudes of other atrocities. But despite horrific setbacks, we progressed toward the ideal of equality under the law. That progress toward A More Perfect Union is what the American Flag stands for. The Confederate flag symbolizes resistance to that progress.

You still have your First Amendment right to fly whatever flag you want, but it’s time to stop lying to yourself and others about what the Confederate flag stood for, and acknowledge the hate you’re helping to spread by supporting its use.

If you don’t hate, then take down the flag.