Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Southern Cross

So last night I spent two hours doing something I rarely get to do in my life, debate history and the effect of it with someone who knows what they are talking about and can give me a challenge when it comes to debating. I will say first a foremost, I need to make sure I do this earlier in the evening because I am getting a little older and can’t stay up past 1am on a weeknight anymore. So on to the debate.

For two hours Mason Conservative and I verbally debated the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag when being used in a public, state manner. All of this was stemmed from the issue of George Allen and his move towards racial reconciliation. Now both of us were able to agree on the point that people are able to change their minds on an issue from one point in their life to another. The area of contention for the two of us dealt with whether or not the Battle Flag could be used in a state flag.

Mason Conservative’s point of view was that no it should not. As he argued, the flag was used a symbol of hate which still causes problems today. In addition, how is that Mississippi can have the Battle Flag in their state flag?

Now, both of us argued the issue with valid points. He argued that when it came to the issue of heritage and that Confederate soldiers were fighting for states rights, the core of it still came down to the issue of slavery. The issue he could not get past is how a person can support and revere this flag without keeping in mind the negative aspect of it. In his opinion, the only way a person is able to do that is to selectively choose what it is they want to remember about the flag and ignore the rest of the history behind.

For myself, I argued the lines of heritage groups that outside sources want the flag removed and that their history is being paved over. Granted, it is hard to pave over history. However, once only one particular point of view is allowed to be shown, or acknowledged, then we find ourselves creating a VERY one sided view of history. Mason Conservative himself said, “The African-American definition is as valid as the southern white one, and given our past on racial issues, the black definition should be the standard we hold to.” If that is the case, then the very argument I just mentioned of where we allow only one point of view to exist becomes valid right then and there.

Fact of the Matter

The fact of the matter on this situation is this: the debate over the Battle Flag is a difficult one to wrestle. There is no doubt about this one. However, when it comes to having the Battle Flag in a state flag, we must remember that if the democratic process was done and the people of the state voted to have it in their flag, then the will of the people was spoken.

However, the issue of having a person disassociate themselves from slavery and selectively choose the history they want to look at is something that has been happening for thousands of years. Still, the questioned nagged me as to why it is some Southerners are so passionate about the flag. So it is about 140am and something pops into my head: the American Revolution.

OK, so where am I going with this. Well, let us look at it this way:
1) Both the Civil War and the Revolution had its origins begin ten years before shots were fired.
2) Both conflicts had issues dealing with an over arching federal government that was pushing its will on a segment of the country/empire.
3) Both situations had a group of people arguing that they were preserving the rights of the people based off of the political writings of their predecessors.
4) Undeniably, there was the issue of expansion in both conflicts. For the Revolution, it was American expansion into the west past the Appalachian Mountains. For the South, it was the expansion of slavery in order to keep the institution alive.
5) Now that slavery has been brought up, both conflicts dealt with a group of people holding others in bondage while saying they were fighting for their freedom and their rights.
6) Undeniably, the economic greed and desires of people in both generations were heavily weighed upon in private circles.

So what makes these two conflicts different? When it comes to the American Revolution, the colonists won while the South lost the Civil War. Winston Churchill said that history is written by the winners, and he planned on writing the history. Guess what, he did. So selective history is naturally something that comes up. The winners will always get to have their view points written.

How does this go back to the Battle Flag? Well, because the South lost and there was the creation of the Lost Cause, certainly selective history creates an atmosphere where people look at individual citizens fighting back against an intrusive government that wanted to tell them what to do. However, can we say the Stars and Stripes might not have become a divisive flag/issue had the British won the Revolution?

I mean let’s face it, the Americans were the antagonists when it came to the Revolution. The Sons of Liberty were, by modern standards, terrorists who are now revered. The issue of taxation without representation is, as Mason Conservative seems to like to say, disingenuous because Great Britain had every right to tax its colonies as it saw fit. Example: A History of the United States by Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley has a small section which deals with the Townshend Acts. In it, they write, “Benjamin Franklin had told Parliament that the colonists opposed it (the Stamp Act) because it was an internal tax but that they would accept external taxes, like the import duties.” Continuing on this, the authors write, “Townshend chose to take Franklin at his word. He proposed duties on many items Americans imported: lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea.” The Boston Massacre was forced upon by Americans egging on British soldiers, screaming at them, and when one man flinches, everything goes up in smoke.

Now, I know some folks are saying we can’t ask the what if questions on this part of history. I disagree. Part of asking the “what if” questions is that it allows you to look at other avenues. You are still forced to consider history and the way things happened in the light of history. However, you are also forced to look at other areas of history and shed aspects on the social and economic forces of not only this country, but others. As a result, you find yourself considering multiple points of view.

Back to the Revolution, if the British had won, then the leaders of the Revolution would have been executed the United States would not exist today. Odds are there might be those who would want to fly the Stars and Stripes or acknowledge it in some way because of its history. Would a subject of the British Empire take offense to this and demand it be removed? We don’t know. It didn’t happen that way.

So the key result here is once again who writes the history. Now yes, black history has been something which has only within the past forty some odd years been put to the forefront of historical books with the rise of cultural historians and such. However, these books seem to do detract from the main narrative of history by saying the other groups out there need to have their own history separate of American history.

Even with the Revolution, we see new information coming out. When I was a student in high school, I was taught the British opened fire on the Americans without provocation. It would not be until I was in college I learned otherwise. Now, this information is in the textbooks of school children. They are learning all the aspects of history.

In my opinion, when it comes to revering the Confederacy and the symbols which are associated with it, it all comes down to a personal choice. For me, I think the Confederacy does symbolize an age that is lost to us. We no longer have an age of gentleman and ladies who act in public with certain degree of honor and dignity. Instead, we are replaced with images of songs calling for the beating of women, presidents who wish to stick objects inside interns, and people who feel that it is alright to mouth off at another because their point of view is the only one that matters. Yes, I know there was slavery, but even I am not a fool. In looking at the world of 1860-1900, while slavery was one of the reasons of the war, if the Confederacy were to have won, slavery as an institution would have become economically infeasible.

What is the rationale behind this?
1) The British were already an anti-slavery nation. If they were to have helped secure the Confederacy’s independence, they would have started to press on the CSA the need to free their slaves.
2) In the event the slave trade would have been reopened, British warships would have intercepted slave trading vessels. Maybe not all of them, but certainly enough.
3) As Mason Conservative will tell you, and as will I, the price for buying a slave at auction was rather steep. As a result, very few people could actually buy slaves. As a whole, only about five percent of the Southern white owned large numbers of slaves and would have, if given a chance to buy more, bought the majority of them, thus leaving lower planters to have nothing.
4) Even if the confederacy had wanted to try and maintain the peculiar institution, technological advances would have forced things to change. Even the Empire of Brazil was eventually forced to end slavery before the end of the 19th century.

In today’s standards, the democratic process has shown that people have considered the issue. Mississippi has decided to stick with their flag which shows the Battle Flag in the upper canton. So be it. George decided to change their flag numerous times. Not everyone is going to be happy with the decisions. And certainly everyone is entitled to their own views. However, when we start getting into the name callings and refer to having the symbol the flag as “ass backwards,” then we are no better than the hypocrite who criticize our country as a whole. Name calling does absolutely nothing.

So I end this rather long discussion on this point. Why do I revere the Confederacy? The answer is noble in purpose. What is the measure of a man who lifts up the banner to a cause, willing to give up the most precious gift of all, his life, for it, to march onto a field and face a death made of lead, the roar of a cannon spewing out hot death, comrades falling around him, and even though he might know his cause could be wrong, still fights on? The measure of this man can be found in his principles, his morals, his dignity, and his honor. It is these four ideals, columns of humanity, which I find inspiring. These are things in my opinion we as a society have lost and as such must fin again.

So if I am guilty of selective history, then so be it. But I say to you, sir or madam, do not judge me. For if you still say I am wrong, I say to you that even you are guilty of using selective history. For it is you who are only looking at one side of the sphere of history and it is you who choose to block out the other side.

1 comment:

James E. Martin said...

Hey, BDM (aka a guy i know!) has a blog! That rocks, BTW: it would have been a crime against morality to let slavery go one day longer than humanly possibly... I love how i started a debate thats going on in living room's across the nation.