Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) offers his thoughts on the Confederate flag kerfluffle:
This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War. The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.
But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.
I have to quibble a bit with Webb on the significance of the Confederate flag, though I do agree that such symbols are opportunities for engagement, understanding, and reflection.
My quibble? The reasons for the separation of the South from the North were entirely rooted in the enslavement of 3 million souls. Three million.
While the Confederate flag might have enjoyed a renaissance during the New South era as a symbol of Southern honor, it was always a shield for a parade of horribles that scurried underneath it: Jim Crow, segregation, “separate but equal” and the benign neglect of an entire class of human beings over the last 50 years.
True, the historian will respond that Virginia’s reasons for separation were far different than South Carolina’s — Lincoln’s calling of the troops was specifically listed as the reason in Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession — but the fact of the matter remains: a lot of really terrible stuff happened under that battle flag, and it didn’t happen 150 years ago — it happened 50 years ago.
That’s the problem. What’s worse is that in the intervening years, America hasn’t exactly sent opportunity, good schools, and entrepreneurship into minority communities to help restore what was misappropriated from decades and centuries of generational theft. We sent in social workers, welfare checks, public schools built to the lowest common denominator, and Planned Parenthood clinics.
No small wonder why the symbols of the South mean different things to different people.