The Banning of the Confederate Flag & Censoring History – America slouches towards 1984

Posted on June 26, 2015

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The banning of the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina statehouse and the avalanche of suppression of other images and symbols, is an indication of the state of health of democracy in America. Triage is badly needed – America’s tradition of free expression is in a state of emergency. As you have no doubt noted, because it has been one of the big items in the news cycle of the last week, the Confederate flag is being tagged as an inspiration to Dylann Roof, the 21 year old disturbed killer who murdered 9 members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Typical of the outcry against the Confederate Flag, is this from Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in the Atlantic:

Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol—the Confederate flag. Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators.

As a consequence of the hysteria, a press conference was held on June 22nd with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and several other prominent South Carolina politicians including Jim Clyburn, Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham, and Mark Sanford, calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol.

The national flag of the Confederacy or Confederate States eventually centered on a design by William T. Thompson, a newspaper editor and writer based in Savannah, Georgia, and William Ross Postell, a Confederate blockade runner. It was named the “Stainless Banner”. Of the flag and what it represented, Thompson wrote in the Daily Morning News:

As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.

And:

As a people we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.

The design of the 2nd National Flag of the Confederacy is essentially identical to the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The cause of slavery and its practice as well as the sentiment of White supremacy are indefensible, although this was not always the case. Slavery and suppression of Blacks was obviously viewed favorably by a large contingent of Americans in the first century of our nationhood and for over a century prior to that. Nevertheless, our society’s collective values in the present day reject these practices and rightly so.

My argument against the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse and the other tempestuous actions that have been inspired by the convulsive news coverage and political grandstanding following the tragic Charleston church killings – is based on the troubling fact that politicians and public figures are succumbing to an irrational phobia of images.

The implication behind the sequestering and quarantining of the Confederate flag is that it may have been in part, responsible for inspiring Dylann Roof to perpetrate a hate crime. While it is possible, though extremely unlikely, the reasonable view is that there are any number of images that might unforseeably trigger an impulsive act of some individual who is either delusional, affected by the side effects of anti-depressants, under the influence of some other substance, schizophrenic or just simply hateful to a murderous extent.

We’ve been down this road numerous times. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, speculation will arise as to the influence of a heavy metal rock band, a video game, a social trend,etc. Some, including Charlie Manson himself claimed the Beatles’ album track Helter Skelter was inspirational in the Tate-La Bianca murders. And bookending that, is the assertion that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris used Marilyn Manson’s music as their soundtrack and catalyst leading to the Columbine school shootings.  Numerous studies including that of Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University in the Journal of Communication, found no clear relationship between the increasingly graphic nature of movies and games and the frequency of societal violence from the early 20th century to today.

The crusade to censor Southern history is characterized by President Derrick Johnson of the Mississippi NAACP – “Would you fly a Swastika in this country today knowing the atrocity that the Nazis brought upon the Jewish? Would we fly the flag of Al Qaeda today knowing that symbols actually matter?”

The frenzied response to everything visual that can remotely be identified with this terrible crime is unwarranted to say the least, and the list is growing by the hour.

Some examples:

  • There is a Confederate flag at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Wichita which the NAACP and Sunflower Community Action Group are clamoring to remove.
  • The Governor of Virginia is moving to ban the Confederate flag from state license plates.
  • National retailers like K-Mart, WalMart, Sears, Amazon and eBay are now prohibiting the sale of merchandise that involves the motif of the Confederate flag. “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer,” Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said. “We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site.”
  • A North Charleston police officer was fired from the department, having posted a photo on Facebook of himself wearing Confederate flag boxer shorts. “Your posting in this manner led to you being publicly identified as a North Charleston Police officer and associated both you and the Department with an image that symbolizes hate and oppression to a significant portion of the citizens we are sworn to serve,” Police Chief Eddie Driggers wrote, as reported by WCIV.

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Even statues of historical figures like Confederate General Robert E. Lee are being discussed for censure in places like Lee Circle in New Orleans and Apple is removing games from their app store because they include accurate historical images of the Confederate Army, namely the flag in question. The creator of the video game, Ultimate General: Gettysburg, Maxim Zasov of Game Labs, had this to say about the short sighted decision making at Apple:

Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical “Gettysburg” movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money.

It would be an overreach to assume that NASCAR fans wave the Confederate flag to express deep seated racial feelings. And rock music fans will tell you that nearly every major Southern Rock act, used the flag as a motif – even integrated bands like the Allman Brothers. As Alison Fensterstock, writing in the Times-Picayune noted, in reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band most associated with the image:

But the symbol is bigger than that; it cannot only say what Brad Paisley – or Colt Ford, Kid Rock, Trace Adkins, Hank Williams, Jr. and other country artists who sing about the flag or wear its image on clothes and jewelry – means or wants it to. It’s even questionable what Lynyrd Skynyrd wanted it to mean; according to the 2006 Southern-rock history “Dixie Lullaby,” whose subtitle is “A Story of Race, Music and New Beginnings in a New South,” the band’s Confederate flag-waving rebel-outlaw brand was a creation of producer Al Kooper, who is from Brooklyn.

And this leads me to my point. Images are interpretive. The Confederate flag means different things to different people. Many see nothing more in it than a memo from the distant past, reminding us of bad decisions made by courageous men, not to be repeated.

More than this however, is the hazard of anticipating everything that might be an affront or a grievance to a group clinging to victimhood status. What you wind up with is a society with constant anxiety about offensive speech and optics and militant fiends on the prowl for idols or icons to destroy as the “Ministry Of Truth” in George Orwell’s bleak, authoritarian state Oceania from “1984”. The Islamic State, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany also come to mind.

Finally, censorship, if anything, creates an allure to the banned object, book, movie or image. Now, instead of the flag being examined in a historical context and prompting a healthy discussion of its meaning, it will now even more so, be exalted as an insignia of rebellion and resentment.

Liberals and your censorship crusades – be careful what you wish for.

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