Whistling Dixie

Allan Cruickshanks, Opinion Columnist

ACCORDING to Senator and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the state
of South Carolina should remove a Confederate flag displayed on the grounds of
its Statehouse. Why? Not for the typical rhetoric about what the flag may represent,
as the Associated Press reports, but "because the nation should unite under
one banner while at war" — interesting logic for someone who makes such
a big deal about ending the war. Yet the more important question is why, Hillary,
do you think South Carolina cares in the least about your opinion on the issue?

Senator Clinton’s reasoning for why the Confederate flag should be removed
is odd: According to the AP, she thinks "about how many South Carolinians
have served in our military and who are serving today" and believes "we
should have one flag that we all pay honor to." The simplicity of Clinton’s
thought pattern makes it rather amazing she was able to form a complete sentence
about the issue. After all, no one is asking South Carolinians to carry the
Confederate flag into battle, to wear it on uniforms, or to have it in their
consciousness in any way. In fact this has absolutely nothing to do with the
war in Iraq at all. What it does do, however, is to distort historical symbols
for political purposes.

Clinton’s comments bring to light several recent political and social trends.
The first trend is that not potentially offending someone has more weight than
seemingly any other factor. In South Carolina, this factor is the actual history
of the Confederate flag versus the image Clinton played on without directly
addressing. Elsewhere in the country, the de facto subservience to political
correctness has reached into virtually every area — and though intentions may
be good, effects often are not. Take the story of Willow Hill Elementary, outside
Philadelphia, which according to the AP refused to let a fourth grader dress
as Jesus for Halloween because his costume "violated a policy prohibiting
the promotion of religion." That this policy was not applied to the various
witches, devils, goblins or other obvious followers of the occult shows the
principal’s main intention was to prevent controversy — apparently devils and
witches are just kids having fun, whereas Jesus is a dangerous political message.

Similarly, consider the removal earlier this month of the cross that for more
than 65 years was displayed in William & Mary’s Wren Chapel. William &
Mary President Gene Nichol said that he had the cross removed, according to
CNN, "to make the chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths."
Though his intentions may have been in the right place, they led to the wrong
conclusion. Instead of bowing to pressure and ignoring the cultural and historical
significance of the chapel, Nichol could easily have provided space elsewhere
for other religious groups.

Finally, we come to the more disturbing trend: The substitution of or simple
ignorance about historical events in place of one’s own beliefs. The Confederate
flag means many different things to many different people, yet for some reason
radical and horrible groups who misappropriated the flag as a symbol of hatred
are given the final say on its meaning. In reality, every symbol, including
the American flag, has at some point been used by a group to support something
we now consider morally wrong.

This is not in any way meant to imply that the decades of oppression against
African-Americans should be ignored or down-played. However, the deeper and
often-ignored history shows that slavery and hatred are not the only things
the Confederate flag represents and that it should not be remembered as such.
Take for example, the fact that the "Stars and Bars" most people recognize
as the Confederate flag was used only in battle, not as a national symbol for
the Confederacy. In this way it represents the memory of the tens of thousands
who died in service to their states. Likewise, consider that Virginia, the most
populous slave state, actually voted to remain in the Union where it considered
the continuation of slavery most likely. It was not until Lincoln demanded troops
for an invasion of the South that Virginia changed its vote and seceded.

History cannot be ignored either in full or in part. History — recent and
long past — should not be rewritten or exploited to serve political purposes.
A symbol with various meanings should not be repressed just to prevent controversy
over just one of those meanings. Finally, as a society that prides itself on
freedom, it is our duty to enable that freedom by fully understanding the symbols
and issues with which we come in contact.

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