Billy Kennedy (10 July) argues that we should show respect for the Confederate battle flag. I acknowledge Kennedy’s articulate glimpses of the historic background of those who supported the Confederate nation, but he knowingly avoids addressing the contemporary issues with this symbol.
For this American and many of my co-patriots, the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism.
The primary motivating factor behind American states to secede and form a separate nation was to defend their desire to maintain slavery. Sometimes this argument is made in the name of the rights of individual states versus the higher federal government. But let’s be honest: if there had been no desire to maintain slavery, there would have been no Confederacy and no Confederate flag. For Kennedy to say that the Confederate flag has “nothing to do with racism!” simply ignores the truth.
Kennedy says that men and women fought with great courage and nobility, but were defeated by the “numerically stronger and better equipped Union Army”. Furthermore, he states the argument that the Confederate cause was “lawful and respectable”. Slavery may have been legal at the time, but was it ever morally respectable? There is nothing noble about the inhumanity of slavery. And one could not say it was brave to subjugate a race of people; bravery on behalf of a bullwhip and auction block?
Far from flying from many civic buildings, the Confederate battle flag is now deemed too divisive in American society, and has been removed as an official symbol of display in Southern states. In July 2000, the Confederate battle flag was permanently removed from the South Carolina statehouse. In January 2001, Georgia unveiled a new state flag, whereby the Stars and Bars was retained, but significantly reduced in size. However, this compromise upset both those who felt it was an assault on their heritage, while others believed it was a poorly designed representation of the state. In April this year, the Georgia legislature approved an even newer flag, and one that contains no Confederate battle flag.
I’m not asking for a whitewash of history. The new flag of Georgia is a direct adaptation of early Confederate National flags (especially the 1861 Stars & Bars and the 1863 Stainless Banner). The new flag includes that official state seal and the familiar American motto, “In God We Trust”. This is an example of how history and contemporary vision can be reconciled.
This is not the case back in the homeland of Ulster, however. Loyalists who illegally hoist this flag of secession, or separate nation, have no interest in reconciling the negative aspects of the past with a positive vision of the future. Their intent is clear — they wish to impose their worldview and intimidate anyone who does not share it. If the Confederate flag was not such a provocative and indicative symbol of this hatred, would they have chosen to use it?